Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Smaller nations eye China's rise nervously

Sep 29, 2010

Beijing must reassure neighbours it will not be a regional bully


By Peh Shing Huei

IN 1944, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill met at the Moscow Conference and decided on how to divide south-eastern Europe into spheres of influence.

The result was the infamous 'Percentages Agreement', where the then Soviet Union would have 90 per cent influence in Romania, Britain 90 per cent in Greece, and 50-50 shared between the two great powers in Hungary and Yugoslavia.

Churchill scribbled the division on a piece of paper, Stalin gave it a tick.

'Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues so fateful to millions of people in such an offhand manner? Let us burn the paper,' said Churchill.

It is rather cynical. But such is the reality of international relations. Big powers decide and small countries, well, live with it.

And as the world watches the seeming day-by-day growth of China into a new big power, the wonder is how this latest member of the 'big boys' club' will decide the fates of the smaller countries, especially those in the region.

The events of the past few months have not generated a lot of confidence. Beijing has shown it is increasingly assertive and intransigent in its diplomacy, making Asian countries nervous that a strong China would be a regional bully.

Even when dealing with a rival like Japan, which can hardly be described as a small country, China has been hard.

It stepped up the pressure at the weekend despite the release of the Chinese fishing boat captain who was detained in Japan after his trawler was involved in a collision with Japanese coast guard boats near disputed islands.

Beijing demanded an apology and compensation, and released a foreign policy White Paper on Sunday reiterating that the Diaoyu Islands - which the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands - are a part of China's territorial integrity, sovereignty and development.

This comes just two months after China clashed with several Asean countries over the South China Sea, another dicey territorial dispute.

Beijing lays claim to nearly 80 per cent of the disputed waters and has insisted the matter be discussed bilaterally with the claimant states.

But that has not gone down well with the smaller Asean countries, which fear being overwhelmed when going one-on-one with the Chinese.

Vietnam successfully tabled the issue at a regional forum, with the United States lending support by terming the sea a 'national interest'.

China was peeved. Strident commentaries were carried in the country's state media and military drills were launched in the South China Sea with submarines, warships and guided missiles.
A furious Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was reported to have remarked in the Asean regional meeting that 'China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that is just a fact'.

If China wanted to send out a message to the world that it was a big power no longer to be messed around with, it was heard loud and clear.

More troublingly, some are now wondering if China is a big power that does not want to play by the same rules as the others, particularly smaller neighbours.

Not that such double standards are entirely new in global politics. Other big powers are also prone to doing things their way, never mind international norms.

The United States, for example, has been consistently ignoring international law, not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on carbon emissions and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

By exploiting a loophole in the latter, the US has sent its military surveillance vessels into the Exclusive Economic Zones of other countries, especially China's, to listen for Chinese submarines.
In a recent New York Times article, an unnamed senior Obama administration official who often deals with the Chinese leadership was quoted as saying: 'As they (the Chinese) begin to manage their many constituencies, their politics is looking more like ours.'

Some would say China abides by international laws more than the US has thus far. But it would not be a surprise if it increasingly follows the American example of going its own way.

Beijing sees itself as a rightful leader of Asia. With its growing economic and military power, it may become less tolerant of dissent and disagreement from the smaller powers and nations, and impatient with global rules it deems shaped by the West and unfair to China.

It is a big power today. But as Spider-Man would say, with great power comes great responsibility.

It is true the Americans themselves have behaved as global policemen who played by their own rules in the last decades. But they have also shown discipline and restraint, enabling peace and development in Asia.

And that is what the Chinese must seek to achieve as a big power in Asia, assuring its smaller neighbours that while it wants, even demands, influence and sway in the region, it has no intention of invading or overwhelming smaller states by force.

Given the historical baggage and territorial disputes such as those in the South China Sea, this will be no easy task. This requires Beijing to tread even more carefully as the elephant of the region if it wants to win over smaller neighbours.

A big power can brandish the stick often and adopt a hawkish all-or-nothing stance towards its territories. But sometimes, cooperation and a friendlier stance go a long way. For example, an agreement to mutually develop the disputed areas for the time being could yield more than commercial dividends.

That was what the late paramount Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping advised when he visited Tokyo in 1978, saying wisely that the Diaoyu dispute should be shelved and solved by later generations.
Asian countries accept China's growing clout. How much they come to welcome or resent it, however, depends on China's behaviour as it grows in power.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Sep 28, 2010

A long and involved conflict
By Goh Sui Noi, Senior Writer

SO JAPAN blinked first in the contest of wills with China over the arrest of a Chinese skipper whose fishing trawler collided with Japanese Coast Guard vessels in disputed waters.
Prosecutors in Okinawa, where the 41-year-old captain Zhan Qixiong had been held for over two weeks, released him last Friday in part because they did not perceive that he had the premeditated intent of ramming into the Japanese vessels. But they also said that they decided to let him go for diplomatic reasons, noting that continued custody of the man would affect Japan's relations with China.

And indeed, the spat has threatened to damage ties between the two sides, which had been on the mend gradually since the nadir of 2001-2006, when high-level visits were all but cut off.
The latest row began earlier this month when the Chinese fishing trawler collided with two Japanese coast guard boats separately on the same day as it was being chased out of waters near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, also known as the Diaoyu islands to the Chinese, who claim them as Chinese territory. In an unprecedented move, the Japanese seized the trawler and its 14-member crew and arrested the captain for 'obstructing the public duties' of the coast guard under Japanese domestic law. Previously, any Chinese detained by the Japanese was simply deported.

The Chinese responded vehemently, calling the Sept 8 arrest of the captain illegal and summoning the Japanese ambassador no fewer than five times in a week, once in the middle of the night. They also cancelled scheduled talks on joint exploitation of gas fields in the East China Sea where the two sides have overlapping claims. The Japanese later released the ship and its 14 crew members. But their decision on Sept 19 to extend the captain's detention brought fresh retaliation.

The Chinese summoned the Japanese ambassador for a sixth time and called off high-level exchanges. They also called off talks on aviation rights and the use of coal. A Chinese government-sponsored trip for 1,000 young Japanese to visit the Shanghai World Expo was cancelled and some Chinese tours to Japan were also scratched. There were reports of the Chinese halting the export of rare earth minerals to Japan - denied by the Chinese - and the arrest of four Japanese for unauthorised entry into a military zone in Hebei province.

The Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute is an old one extending back decades. But the latest flare-up is one of the worst, and comes at a time of uncertainty as China's rise coincides with Japan's decline, manifested in the former surpassing the latter as the world's second-largest economy last month.

Japan sees China's hard-line stance - Beijing is now demanding an apology and compensation for the captain's arrest - as that of an ascendant power being more assertive. This could explain why it resisted Chinese pressure for so long before backing down. Beijing on its part sees the captain's detention under Japanese law as an attempt by Tokyo to consolidate its claim of sovereignty over the islands. Beijing is especially incensed by Tokyo's insistence that there is no territorial dispute, leaving little room for manoeuvre.

The Senkaku/Diaoyu issue is more than about overlapping claims to energy sources. It is also about national pride. The uninhabited islands have been used by Chinese sailors from as early as the 14th century as a navigational marker. Chinese fished in the waters and herbalists visited the islands to gather a rare medicinal herb. Although the Chinese had not made formal claims to the islands, the Qing Empress Dowager Cixi had in 1893 granted them to a physician who had treated her with the herb, demonstrating China's sovereignty.

However, Japan annexed the islands as terra nullius, or no man's land, in January 1895. This was during the Sino-Japanese war, which the weak Qing court was on the verge of losing to an ascendant and expansionist Japan invigorated by the Meiji Restoration. The Chinese were in no position then to contest the annexation. After losing the war, China also ceded Taiwan and its surrounding islands to Japan under the Treaty of Shimonoseki.

After World War II, in the San Francisco Treaty of 1951 - of which neither China nor Taiwan were signatories - the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands came under the administration of the United States. In 1972, the US returned the islands to Japan.

The islands were pretty much forgotten until 1968, when a survey by the United Nations suggested that there were vast quantities of oil and gas beneath the East China Sea, particularly in the region where the islands lay. So a few months before the islands were returned to Japan, the Chinese Foreign Ministry condemned Japan's claim of sovereignty over the islands and insisted that they 'have been China's territory since ancient times'.

The Chinese have since repeatedly pointed out that the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations had stated that all Chinese territory seized by Japan should be returned to China and that the islands were ceded together with Taiwan in 1895. Japan maintains the islands were annexed before Taiwan was ceded and therefore are not affected by the two declarations.

The strong symbolic value of the islands to both sides can be seen by the activities of nationalists in supporting their countries' claim. The Japanese Youth Federation has planted two lighthouses on the islands that the Japanese government has not disclaimed despite protests from Beijing. Chinese and Taiwanese nationalists - Taiwan also claims the islands as its territory - have attempted to land on the islands, once succeeding in doing so and planting a Chinese flag.

In the face of such fervour, it is unlikely either government would yield, for fear of being accused of betraying the nation. Indeed, on Sept 18, Chinese demonstrators protested not just outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, but also the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Into this potent mix of economic potential and nationalistic pride is added the fuel of what an American international law practitioner calls the 'unhelpful role' of international law, making for a dangerous stalemate that threatens Sino-Japanese ties and the region's stability.

First of all, argued Mr Carlos Ramos- Mrosovsky in a 2008 article in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, the general rules of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) cannot easily accommodate the unique political geography of the East China Sea. The 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone rule leads to overlapping claims in a sea that is just 360 nautical miles across at its widest point. Furthermore, Unclos inflames the dispute over the islands by vesting immense economic value on them in allowing any state with sovereignty over them to claim exclusive rights to resources hundreds of kilometres off their shores.

In addition, international customary law governing the acquisition of territory encourages display of sovereignty and penalises states for appearing to acquiesce in a rival state's claim to disputed territory. It recognises five modes of territorial acquisition, three of which could apply to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands: discovery and occupation, cession, and prescription. (The other two are accretion and conquest.)

Minimal government activity is enough to demonstrate sovereignty over uninhabited areas, such as military patrols, investigation of criminal activity and the holding of judicial proceedings, building infrastructure and maintaining navigational markers. Cession is the transfer of sovereignty through the renunciation of sovereign rights by one side in favour of another. Prescription is when one state fails to contest the sovereignty assertions of another and thus loses its rights. Customary law does not recognise hardship as an excuse for failure to protest against another state's invasion of one's sovereign rights.

In this context, Japan has the upper hand as it has control of the islands. As China does not control the islands, 'it must protest vigorously, lest it should appear to acquiesce in Japan's occupation of the islands', wrote Mr Ramos-Mrosovsky. Thus, in response to Japan's unprecedented move of arresting the Chinese captain under Japanese domestic law, China has gone beyond the usual diplomatic protests and taken retaliatory measures - in part because it has the capacity to do so, given its current strength.

Another problem with customary international law is that its vagueness means neither side is confident of winning the case and therefore is unwilling to resolve the dispute through legal processes, even as both sides invoke international legal norms that fit their interests.

To defuse the powder keg that the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands have become, Mr Ramos-Mrosovsky suggested that the universality of the law on offshore rights be deemphasised in favour of regional and bilateral accords that could be better tailored to the geography of the area.
Separately, Yonsei University assistant professor Koo Min Gyo in a paper last year suggested the adoption of a code of conduct similar to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), signed by China and the 10 Asean member states. This would be a good start to promote mutual understanding, he argued.

In this most recent spat in the East China Sea, Japan backed down first. But the outcome does not signify an out-and-out victory for China. Its hard-line attitude surely must have hurt its image not only in Japan but also in South-east Asia. It should consider seriously not just an accord with countries in North-east Asia, but also expanding the DOC with Asean countries into a full code of conduct.

Such accords would foster better understanding and minimise the occurrence of incidents such as this one. And when flare-ups do occur, which is inevitable, such accords can provide a platform for damage control so the flare-ups do not escalate to a level that damages ties or threatens the stability of the region.

Solar cells thinner than wavelengths of light hold huge power potential

September 27th, 2010 in Nanotechnology / Nanomaterials

This schematic diagram of a thin film organic solar cell shows the top layer, a patterned, roughened scattering layer, in green. The organic thin film layer, shown in red, is where light is trapped and electrical current is generated. The film is sandwiched between two layers that help keep light contained within the thin film.

( -- Ultra-thin solar cells can absorb sunlight more efficiently than the thicker, more expensive-to-make silicon cells used today, because light behaves differently at scales around a nanometer, say Stanford engineers. They calculate that by properly configuring the thicknesses of several thin layers of films, an organic polymer thin film could absorb as much as 10 times more energy from sunlight than was thought possible.

In the smooth, white, bunny-suited clean-room world of and , it turns out that a little roughness may go a long way, perhaps all the way to making solar power an affordable energy source, say Stanford engineers.
Their research shows that light ricocheting around inside the of a solar cell behaves differently when the film is ultra thin. A film that's nanoscale-thin and has been roughed up a bit can absorb more than 10 times the energy predicted by conventional theory.
The key to overcoming the theoretical limit lies in keeping sunlight in the grip of the solar cell long enough to squeeze the maximum amount of energy from it, using a technique called "light trapping." It's the same as if you were using hamsters running on little wheels to generate your electricity - you'd want each hamster to log as many miles as possible before it jumped off and ran away.
"The longer a photon of light is in the solar cell, the better chance the photon can get absorbed," said Shanhui Fan, associate professor of electrical engineering. The efficiency with which a given material absorbs sunlight is critically important in determining the overall efficiency of solar energy conversion. Fan is senior author of a paper describing the work published online this week by .
Light trapping has been used for several decades with and is done by roughening the surface of the silicon to cause incoming light to bounce around inside the cell for a while after it penetrates, rather than reflecting right back out as it does off a mirror. But over the years, no matter how much researchers tinkered with the technique, they couldn't boost the efficiency of typical "macroscale" silicon cells beyond a certain amount.
Eventually the scientists realized that there was a physical limit related to the speed at which light travels within a given material.
But light has a dual nature, sometimes behaving as a solid particle (a photon) and other times as a wave of energy, and Fan and postdoctoral researcher Zongfu Yu decided to explore whether the conventional limit on light trapping held true in a nanoscale setting. Yu is the lead author of the PNAS paper.
"We all used to think of light as going in a straight line," Fan said. "For example, a ray of light hits a mirror, it bounces and you see another light ray. That is the typical way we think about light in the macroscopic world.
"But if you go down to the nanoscales that we are interested in, hundreds of millionths of a millimeter in scale, it turns out the wave characteristic really becomes important."
Visible light has wavelengths around 400 to 700 nanometers (billionths of a meter), but even at that small scale, Fan said, many of the structures that Yu analyzed had a theoretical limit comparable to the conventional limit proven by experiment.
"One of the surprises with this work was discovering just how robust the conventional limit is," Fan said.
It was only when Yu began investigating the behavior of light inside a material of deep subwavelength-scale - substantially smaller than the wavelength of the light - that it became evident to him that light could be confined for a longer time, increasing energy absorption beyond the conventional limit at the macroscale.
"The amount of benefit of nanoscale confinement we have shown here really is surprising," said Yu. "Overcoming the conventional limit opens a new door to designing highly efficient solar cells."
Yu determined through numerical simulations that the most effective structure for capitalizing on the benefits of nanoscale confinement was a combination of several different types of layers around an organic thin film.
He sandwiched the organic thin film between two layers of material - called "cladding" layers - that acted as confining layers once the light passed through the upper one into the thin film. Atop the upper cladding layer, he placed a patterned rough-surfaced layer designed to send the incoming light off in different directions as it entered the thin film.
By varying the parameters of the different layers, he was able to achieve a 12-fold increase in the absorption of light within the thin film, compared to the macroscale limit.
Nanoscale solar cells offer savings in material costs, as the and other materials used are less expensive than silicon and, being , the quantities required for the cells are much smaller.
The organic materials also have the advantage of being manufactured in chemical reactions in solution, rather than needing high-temperature or vacuum processing, as is required for silicon manufacture.
"Most of the research these days is looking into many different kinds of materials for solar cells," Fan said. "Where this will have a larger impact is in some of the emerging technologies; for example, in organic cells."
"If you do it right, there is enormous potential associated with it," Fan said.
Aaswath Raman, a graduate student in applied physics, also worked on the research and is a coauthor of the paper.
More information:
Provided by Stanford University

North Korea promotes Kim son to general

By KWANG-TAE KIM, Associated Press Writer Kwang-tae Kim, Associated Press Writer

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Il promoted his youngest son to the rank of general in the Korean People's Army, the state news agency reported early Tuesday, the clearest signal yet that the 20-something is on track to succeed his father in ruling the impoverished country.

Kim issued an order handing six people — including son Kim Jong Un — the rank of general, the Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch. Also promoted was Kim Kyong Hui, the elder Kim's sister. It marks the first time that Kim Jong Un's name has appeared in official media.
The report came hours ahead of the start of the ruling Workers' Party meeting, the country's biggest political meeting in three decades, and amid intense speculation that the duo could be given key posts at the gathering.

The ailing 68-year-old Kim Jong Il took control of North Korea when his father, the North's founder Kim Il Sung, died of heart failure in 1994. He has reportedly groomed third son as his heir, and some experts have also said that Kim Kyong Hui might be tapped to oversee a transfer of power if the leader dies before the son is ready to take over.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell said in a conference call that Washington was "watching developments carefully" and was working to interpret the announcement's significance.

The question of who will take over from Kim Jong Il, who rules with absolute authority but is believed to suffer from a host of ailments, is important to regional security because of North Korea's active nuclear and missile programs, and regular threats it makes against rival South Korea — an important U.S. ally.

"Kim Jong Un's promotion is the starting point for his formal succession to power," said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University.

He said the North's "songun," or "military first" policy — in which priority is given to the armed forces — will play an important role in establishing the succession.

Kim Kyong Hui and her husband Jang Song Thaek — vice chairman of the all-powerful National Defense Commission — are likely to act as guardians for the young Kim during his rise to power.
Many delegates to the party meeting arrived in Pyongyang on Sunday by train and the city was festooned with flags and placards announcing the event, footage shot by broadcaster APTN showed. "Warm congratulations to the representatives meeting of the Workers' Party of Korea!" read one poster.

A South Korean newspaper reported Monday that the younger Kim was chosen as a military delegate to the conference. The party's central committee then put out internal propaganda proclaiming him to be Kim Jong Il's sole successor, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper said, citing a source in North Korea that it did not identify.

Still, some experts said Kim's son — who is thought to be in his mid- to late-20s — may not be ready to officially debut as a successor. So Kim Jong Il's 64-year-old sister might be designated to serve as a caretaker after Kim's death, Yuriko Koike, former Japanese defense minister and national security adviser, wrote in a syndicated column earlier this month.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute think tank near Seoul, shared the view.

"There is a possibility that she could play the role of a coordinator to make sure the power succession goes smoothly," Cheong said.

Koike wrote that Kim Jong Il himself noted his sister's authority in the communist country in comments before the ruling party's Central Committee, saying "Kim Kyong Hui is myself, the words of Kim Kyong Hui are my words, and instructions issued by Kim Kyong Hui are my instructions."

Koike, now a top official in Japan's Liberal Democratic Party, did not clarify in her column how she knew of these comments.

Kim Kyong Hui, who heads the North Korean ruling party's light industry department, is four years younger than her only biological sibling. Biographical information about her is extremely scarce. But Kim Jong Il's former sushi chef wrote in a 2003 memoir that Kim Kyong Hui is full of charm when it comes to her brother.

"At banquets, she would sit next to Kim Jong Il and kept on saying, 'brother, brother!'" Kenji Fujimoto said. "She very much took after her brother."

A small photo in a book published by South Korea's Unification Ministry shows Kim Kyong Hui with a chubby, bespectacled face and wavy, shoulder-length hair. Footage aired last year by Pyongyang's state television showed her dressed in a light gray parka similar to her brother's while she stood at his side during an inspection trip to a farm.

Koike wrote that Kim Kyong Hui was believed to have a fierce personality, adding that Kim Jong Il is quoted as saying, "When my sister turns violent, no one can stop her. Even I can do nothing."

Jang Sung-min, a former South Korean lawmaker who was involved in foreign affairs, also said Kim Kyong Hui had a special relationship with her brother, citing an unidentified source in Beijing who he says is privy to North Korea affairs.

"Kim Kyong Hui is the only person in the North who can speak frankly to Kim Jong Il and can even be emotional in front of him," said Jang, who authored a book on Kim Jong Il.

Her husband, Jang Song Thaek, was demoted in early 2004 in what analysts believed was a warning from Kim Jong Il against gaining too much influence. But he has since made a political comeback in a rehabilitation engineered by his wife, the former lawmaker said.

There was a big increase in the couple's appearances in KCNA in recent years.

"Kim Kyong Hui's frequent appearances in her brother's field trips showed that she is a key person who can play a role in the power succession," said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University.
Associated Press writers Peter J. Spielmann in New York and Kelly Olsen and Sangwon Yoon in Seoul contributed to this report.

[Rise of Kim Jong Un? Or the impending debut of Kim Kyong Hui? Names to note for the future.]

Monday, September 27, 2010

Beyond City Limits

The 21st century will not be dominated by America or China, Brazil or India, but by the city. In an age that appears increasingly unmanageable, cities rather than states are becoming the islands of governance on which the future world order will be built. This new world is not -- and will not be -- one global village, so much as a network of different ones.

Time, technology, and population growth have massively accelerated the advent of this new urbanized era. Already, more than half the world lives in cities, and the percentage is growing rapidly. But just 100 cities account for 30 percent of the world's economy, and almost all its innovation. Many are world capitals that have evolved and adapted through centuries of dominance: London, New York, Paris. New York City's economy alone is larger than 46 of sub-Saharan Africa's economies combined. Hong Kong receives more tourists annually than all of India. These cities are the engines of globalization, and their enduring vibrancy lies in money, knowledge, and stability. They are today's true Global Cities.

At the same time, a new category of megacities is emerging around the world, dwarfing anything that has come before. A massive influx of people has not only spurred the growth of existing cities, but created new ones virtually from scratch on a scale not previously imagined, from the factory towns in China's Guangdong province to the artificial "knowledge cities" rising in the Arabian desert. The defining feature of this new urban age will be megalopolises whose populations are measured in the tens of millions, with jagged skylines that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Many will pose challenges to the countries that give birth to them. For though no nation can succeed without at least one thriving urban anchor -- and even then, a functioning Kabul or Sarajevo is still no guarantee of national survival -- it's also true that globalization allows major cities to pull away from their home states, a reality captured by the massive and potentially dangerous wealth gap between city and countryside in second-world countries such as Brazil, China, India, and Turkey.

Neither 19th-century balance-of-power politics nor 20th-century power blocs are useful in understanding this new world. Instead, we have to look back nearly a thousand years, to the medieval age in which cities such as Cairo and Hangzhou were the centers of global gravity, expanding their influence confidently outward in a borderless world. When Marco Polo set forth from Venice along the emergent Silk Road, he extolled the virtues not of empires, but of the cities that made them great. He admired the vineyards of Kashgar and the material abundance of Xi'an, and even foretold -- correctly -- that no one would believe his account of Chengdu's merchant wealth. It's worth remembering that only in Europe were the Middle Ages dark -- they were the apogee of Arab, Muslim, and Chinese glory.

Now as then, cities are the real magnets of economies, the innovators of politics, and, increasingly, the drivers of diplomacy. Those that aren't capitals act like they are. Foreign policy seems to take place even among cities within the same country, whether it's New York and Washington feuding over financial regulation or Dubai and Abu Dhabi vying for leadership of the United Arab Emirates. This new world of cities won't obey the same rules as the old compact of nations; they will write their own opportunistic codes of conduct, animated by the need for efficiency, connectivity, and security above all else.

Western cities have dominated the ranks of leading urban centers since the Industrial Revolution, a testament to their educated workforces, strong legal systems, risk-taking entrepreneurs, and leading financial markets. New York and London together still represent 40 percent of global market capitalization. But look at the economic map today, and a major shift becomes apparent. Asia-Pacific financial hubs such as Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, Sydney, and Tokyo are leveraging globalization to spur an accelerating Asianization. Money floods into these capitals from around the world but tends to stay within Asia. An Asian monetary fund now provides stability for the region's currencies, and trade within the Asian sphere has grown much larger than trade across the Pacific. Instead of long-haul flights, the story here is of low-cost carriers connecting planeloads of travelers from Ulan Bator to Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne.
Accelerating this shift toward new regional centers of gravity are port cities and entrepôts such as Dubai, the Venices of the 21st century: "free zones" where products are efficiently re-exported without the hassles of government red tape. Dubai's recent real-estate overreach notwithstanding, emerging city-states along the Persian Gulf are investing at breakneck speed in efficient downtown business districts, offering fast service and tax incentives to relocate. Look for them to use sovereign wealth funds to acquire the latest technology from the West, buy up tracts of agricultural land in Africa to grow their food, and protect their investments through private armies and intelligence services.

Alliances of these agile cities are already forming, reminiscent of that trading and military powerhouse of the late Middle Ages, the Hanseatic League along the Baltic Sea. Already, Hamburg and Dubai have forged a partnership to boost shipping links and life-sciences research, while Abu Dhabi and Singapore have developed into a new commercial axis. No one is waiting for permission from Washington to make deals. New pairings among global cities follow the markets: Witness the new Doha to Sao Paulo direct flight on Qatar Airways or the Buenos Aires to Johannesburg route on South African Airways. When traffic between New York and Dubai dried up due to the financial crisis, Emirates airlines rerouted its sleek Airbus A380 planes to Toronto, whose banking system survived the economic shake-up in better shape.

For these emerging global hubs, modernization does not equal Westernization. Asia's rising powers sell the West toys and oil and purchase world-class architecture and engineering in return. Western values like freedom of speech and religion are not part of the bargain.
This is very much the case in the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, where urban ambition is manifest in iconic new districts ordered up in the desert sands. Abu Dhabi is creating the solar-powered, car-free Masdar City -- meant to be the world's first carbon-neutral, no-waste city -- and colonizing its Saadiyat Island with architectural marvels to house new Guggenheim and Louvre collections in stunning new buildings by Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel. The emirate has embraced a two-decade master plan to invest not only in new cities, but in smart ones that will take into account land use, sanitation, efficient transport, and community building, in hopes of making itself into a place where Westerners will flock for a better quality of life (certainly not because of the climate or its starring role in Sex and the City 2). Already the result in the Persian Gulf is something truly new, as a once-barren cultural zone features increasingly global melting pots like the Qatari capital of Doha, where residents hail from more than 150 countries and far outnumber the locals. If these new five-star hubs play it right, they could convince Westerners to give up their citizenship for permanent homes in a friendlier, tax-free environment.

Then there are the megacities, superpopulous urban zones that are worlds unto themselves but that -- for now -- still punch below their weight class economically: Think Lagos, Manila, or Mexico City. When Tokyo in 1980 became the first metropolitan area to reach a population of 20 million, the figure seemed almost unimaginable. Now we need to get used to the idea of nearly 100 million people clustered around Mumbai or Shanghai. Across India, more than 275 million people are projected to move into the country's teeming cities over the next two decades, a population nearly equivalent to that of the United States. During a recent trip to Jakarta, a minibus-clogged megalopolis of 24 million, it struck me that many if not most of the residents will never leave their city's expanding perimeter or know much of the outside world beyond the airplanes flying overhead. In just a few decades, Cairo's urban development has stretched so far from the city's core that it now encroaches directly on the pyramids 14 miles away, making them and the Sphinx commensurately less exotic than when my father was photographed there in the 1970s, with just the pyramids and a camel in view.

The millions of urban squatters pouring into megacities each year are not simply a new global migrant underclass, consigned to live in chaos and work in the shadow economy. Instead, they often form functional, self-organizing ecosystems that are "off the grid." But one result is an echo of the physical stratification of medieval cities; where knights and walls once protected the aristocracy from unwanted outsiders, now electrified gates and private security agencies do the same. Gurgaon, not long ago a sleepy farming village outside New Delhi, has become a high-rise, high-tech satellite of more than half a million people and was recently ranked India's best city to work in. It offers gated complexes, such as Windsor Court, with their own grocery stores, kindergartens, and social clubs all in one compound so that only working husbands ever have to face the real world of India's choking traffic and noxious pollution.

Indeed, economic inequality flourishes in these massive new urban clusters. Consider the skylines of Istanbul, Mumbai, and Sao Paulo, where stunning high-rises are surrounded by ungodly scenes of destitution and squalor. Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani, the world's fourth-richest person, is reportedly spending close to $2 billion on the construction of his 27-story home -- complete with hanging gardens, a health center, and helipads -- all with a bird's-eye view of Mumbai's largest slum, Dharavi. Once, while jogging on a treadmill on the top floor of a Sao Paulo hotel, I tried to count the many helicopters buzzing by. The city has the highest rate of private helicopter use in the world -- a literal sign of what heights people will go to in order to avoid the realities of the world below.

Look at a satellite image of the Earth at night: It will reveal the shimmering lights of cities flickering below, but also an ominous pattern. Cities are spreading like a cancer on the planet's body. Zoom in and you can see good cells and bad cells at war for control. In Caracas, gang murders and kidnappings are a fact of life, and al Qaeda terrorists hide in plain sight in Karachi. Film director Shekhar Kapur is working on an epic titled Water Wars: It is set not in parched Africa or the fractious Middle East, but Mumbai. Anyone who traveled to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup might have noticed how private security forces outnumbered official police two to one, and gated communities protected elites from the vast townships where crime is rampant. Cities -- not so-called failed states like Afghanistan and Somalia -- are the true daily test of whether we can build a better future or are heading toward a dystopian nightmare.

Taken together, the advent of global hubs and megacities forces us to rethink whether state sovereignty or economic might is the new prerequisite for participating in global diplomacy. The answer is of course both, but while sovereignty is eroding and shifting, cities are now competing for global influence alongside states.

Columbia University scholar Saskia Sassen has done the most to contribute to our thinking about how urban advantage translates into grand strategy. As she writes in The Global City, such places are uniquely suited to translate their productive power into "the practice of global control." Her academic work has traced how Europe's largely autonomous Renaissance cities such as Bruges and Antwerp innovated the legal frameworks that enabled the first transnational stock exchanges, setting the stage for international credit and the forerunners of today's trading networks. Then as now, nations and empires did not restrain cities; they were merely filters for cities' global ambitions. The supply chains and capital flows linking global cities today have similarly denationalized international relations. As Sassen argues, in cities we can't make trite divisions between the government and private sector; either they work together or the city doesn't work at all. Even massive national investments in telecommunications or other infrastructure don't equalize the balance of power between cities and the rest; they ultimately reinforce the power of cities to conduct their own "sovereign" diplomacy.

Consider how aggressively Chinese cities have now begun to bypass Beijing as they send delegates en masse to conferences and fairs where they can attract foreign investment. By 2025, China is expected to have 15 supercities with an average population of 25 million (Europe will have none). Many will try to emulate Hong Kong, which though once again a Chinese city rather than a British protectorate, still largely defines itself through its differences with the mainland. What if all China's supercities start acting that way? Or what if other areas of the country begin to demand the same privileges as Dalian, the northeastern tech center that has become among China's most liberal enclaves? Will Beijing really run China then? Or will we return to a fuzzier modern version of the "Warring States" period of Chinese history, in which many poles of power competed in ever-shifting alliances?

Think about it: Even today's most centralized empire-state could be undone by its cities. Gone are the days of Mao when peasant uprisings could collectively capture the nation. Today, controlling the cities, not the countryside, is the key to the Middle Kingdom. The same is very much the case in Africa's fragile post-colonial nations. Africa's urbanization rate is approaching China's, and the continent already has nearly as many cities with a population of 1 million or more as Europe does. But decades of despotism and civil wars haven't yielded governments that can hold together entire countries -- let alone Africa's two geographically largest nations, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Instead, these countries seem to be headed toward division, with the new borders following and surrounding the main cities that are their gravity points, like Juba in South Sudan and Kinshasa in Congo. Or perhaps borders don't need to change at all, but rather melt away, so long as locals have access to the nearest big city no matter what "country" it is in. This is, after all, how things really work on the ground, even if our maps don't always reflect this reality.

As our world order comes to be built on cities and their economies rather than nations and their armies, the United Nations becomes even more inadequate as a symbol of universal membership in our global polity. Another model could be built on the much less rigid World Economic Forum of Davos fame, which brings together anyone who's someone: prime ministers, governors, mayors, CEOs, heads of NGOs, labor union chiefs, prominent academics, and influential celebrities. Each of these players knows better than to rely on some ethereal "system" to provide global stability -- they move around obstacles and do what works.

The scope of urban ambition today ranges from new business districts to special economic zones to entirely new cities never before on the map. Sitting down recently at a construction site on the banks of the Elbe River, I spoke with Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg, CEO of Hamburg's bold new HafenCity project. A veteran of Berlin's futuristically redesigned Potsdamer Platz, he has resuscitated Hamburg's neglected industrial waterfront and turned it into an efficient, job- and family-friendly island, seamlessly integrated into this revitalized German city. "We've moved from arbitrary to curated urban design," he told me confidently. Just as Hamburg was once a powerful trading linchpin of the medieval Hanseatic League because of its proximity to the Baltic Sea, HafenCity's ample new port terminals look to capitalize on changing trade patterns to capture a larger slice of the massive global shipping market. But HafenCity is also designed to house 21st-century industries. Global companies such as Procter & Gamble have moved their regional headquarters into buildings that are so ecoefficient that their toilets don't use water. "For both businesses and residents," Bruns-Berentelg pointed out, "moving to HafenCity is more than a rental decision -- it's a lifestyle choice." Officials from Rotterdam, Toronto, and other forward-thinking cities are coming to learn from HafenCity, whose residents are in a way the pioneers of urban renewal for the Western world, which doesn't have the luxury of building cities from scratch.

Africa, however, does -- and that's precisely what Stanford University economist Paul Romer is pushing. His "Charter Cities" initiative aims to help poor countries leapfrog into the urban age by embracing an idea much like charter schools: Set aside a plot of land, give it special administrative status and flexibility (as China did in leasing Hong Kong to Britain), and then step out of the way and let experts run it. Romer is in discussions with countries in Africa to find a candidate willing to provide the land for a pilot project; his plan has the potential to transform an entire country's fortunes. Whether or not his utopian and, to some, neocolonial dream goes anywhere, some places have already successfully experimented on their own: China's Guangdong province has had special economic zones for decades, meant to cut out hidebound bureaucracies in favor of business-friendly parastatal governance. Enclaves from King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia to Binh Duong in Vietnam are now copying the model.
Charter cities are a poor man's version of South Korea's $40 billion Songdo project, which promises to stand in a class of its own upon completion in 2015. Touted as the most expensive private development in history, Songdo is more than a new business district or economic zone; it will be the world's first sentient city, using advanced communications technologies to make life seamlessly interactive, from homes to schools to hospitals. Each wave of new residential and commercial blocks that comes on the market sells out almost instantly in connectivity-crazed South Korea. It also represents Asia's chance to turn its demographic concentration and burgeoning consumption from a threat to the planet into a model that can be re-exported to the developing world. The estimated 300 new cities that China alone has planned are a huge market opportunity for green developers like Gale International, which leads the Songdo project, to deploy ecofriendly city plans.

Indeed, Songdo might well be the most prominent signal that we can -- and perhaps must -- alter the design of life. Cities are where we are most actively experimenting with efforts to save the planet from ourselves. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton has brought together mayors from 40 large cities to build a network of best practices for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Vertical farming, long in vogue in Tokyo, is spreading to New York; the electric mass-transit system of Curitiba in Brazil is being copied in North America; Cisco is embedding sensors in Madrid's traffic signals to make the city traffic-free. The consulting firm McKinsey recently estimated that if India pursues urbanization in an ecoefficient manner, it will not only make the country a healthier place, but add an estimated 1 to 1.5 percentage points to its GDP growth rate.

In this way, a world of cities can spark a cycle of virtuous competition. As geographer Jared Diamond has explained, Europe's centuries of fragmentation meant that its many cities competed to gain an edge in innovation -- and today they share those advances, making Europe the most technologically developed transnational zone on the planet.

What happens in our cities, simply put, matters more than what happens anywhere else. Cities are the world's experimental laboratories and thus a metaphor for an uncertain age. They are both the cancer and the foundation of our networked world, both virus and antibody. From climate change to poverty and inequality, cities are the problem -- and the solution. Getting cities right might mean the difference between a bright future filled with HafenCitys and Songdos -- and a world that looks more like the darkest corners of Karachi and Mumbai.

Weak Tokyo makes strong Beijing bolder

Sep 27, 2010

Outcome of detained captain incident marks Asia power balance shift

By Kwan Weng Kin

MANY Japanese could not believe their ears. Neither could many countries in Asia.
After days of attempting to flex its political muscle, Japan suddenly caved in on Friday last week and returned a detained trawler captain to China in the face of escalating Chinese economic and other threats.

Whether the victory for Beijing was the result of a vastly emboldened China or, as is now apparent, diplomatic mistakes by Japan's greenhorn Democrat-led government is quite beside the point.

That Japan was seen to be bullied into giving in to China demonstrated to the world in the starkest of terms the shifting power equation in the region.

It was, of course, no overnight change.

The signs were long in coming. As the Chinese economy grew in recent years, so too did Beijing's voice in the region.

At the same time, the Chinese naval presence looms larger than ever before, and Beijing has been increasingly assertive in staking its claims to the Spratly Islands and several other island clusters in the region.

Beijing's shrill objection to Japan's detention of its trawler captain on Sept 7 following a collision with a Japanese vessel was that it had taken place near the Senkaku Islands, which China calls the Diaoyu Islands and claims as its own territory.

Earlier this year, China finally overtook Japan to become the world's second-largest economy.
That alone, however, cannot account for the new intransigent face of China that we have seen in the past three weeks as it demanded that Japan return the captain.

Had Japan's security alliance with the United States been as strong as it was under previous Liberal Democrat governments, China would probably have thought twice before turning the screws on Japan.

But Japan's security ties with the US have been considerably weakened through the fault of Japan's last premier Yukio Hatoyama, who upset Washington through his bungled attempt to find an alternative site for a US airbase in Okinawa.

Mr Hatoyama had also sown suspicion in the minds of US administration officials with his avowed desire to see Japan have an 'equal relationship' with the US.

China was no doubt encouraged enough by the weakening of the Japan-US security relationship to take an unprecedentedly tough line against Japan over the captain's detention.

But Japan's climbdown does not necessarily mean it will always have to play second fiddle to China in future.

'Japan is still a major power in terms of its economy and military strength. The Japanese should remind themselves of this fact and regain their composure,' said Professor Kan Kimura, an East Asia expert at Kobe University.

But he acknowledges that the weakening of Japan's leadership has taken its toll on the country.
According to Jiji Press, Asia expert Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation sees Japan's surrender to China as a setback for not only Japan, but also the US.

The signal that Japan has sent to China, he says, endangers the future peace and stability of Asia.

It will only embolden China further into taking provocative actions in the region, making it all the harder for the US to tackle regional issues by strengthening its alliances with Japan and South Korea.

To Prime Minister Naoto Kan's dismay, the return of the trawler captain has not put an end to the crisis.

Not only has China not expressed any appreciation for the captain's release, but it has instead demanded an apology and compensation from Japan, which the Japanese leader has dismissed as outrageous.

Using the captain's detention as an excuse, China has also suspended negotiations with Japan on the joint exploration of disputed marine gas fields, and has reportedly begun undersea drilling.
The crisis has indeed cast a long shadow over Japan-China ties, which are unlikely to recover any time soon.

Premier Wen Jiabao, previously one of the strongest proponents among China's top leaders of better ties with Japan, is now seemingly one of its strongest critics.

As China enters a stage of leadership renewal and transfer of power, and with Chinese military leaders now apparently in the ascendancy in Beijing, leaders like Mr Wen are obliged to take on a less pro-Japan hue.

The impact on bilateral economic ties is likely to be enormous.

Japanese businesses, freshly alarmed by the Chinese government's latest show of belligerence in protecting its core interests, and by China's increasingly demanding workforce, are likely to take their factories to other low-cost production centres such as Vietnam and Indonesia.

As for the Kan administration, it may have been legally justified in arresting the Chinese captain, but whether or not it was the right diplomatic decision is another thing.

One also questions the Japanese government's continued assertion that there is no territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, despite the fact that both China and Taiwan lay claim to them.
With no informal channels to the top Chinese leadership, as past Liberal Democrat governments had, and with ministers who lack experience in diplomatic negotiations, the Kan administration is clearly no match for its bigger and vastly more experienced neighbour.

Even while the present crisis remains unresolved, Mr Kan faces the very real question of what to do if Chinese trawlers were again to trespass into Japanese territorial waters.

The current crisis is as much the result of a resurgent China as it is of an ineffective leadership in Japan.

In the end, something has to give, and it could well be the current Japanese administration.

[The rise of an aggressive China in this region without a balancing power is a matter of concern. Now that they have managed to flex their power, and get away with it, and trying to get even more out of it, they will be emboldened. If they decide that they have the military might to steam-roll over all objections and over issues such as the disputed islands, they will become the malignant superpower that we all fear.]


Sep 28, 2010

Editorial: Region watches Beijing closely

CHINA has demanded an apology and compensation from Japan for its detention of a Chinese trawler captain, though the Japanese released the captain last Friday. Is this Beijing reaching for a foot after gaining an inch - decun jinchi? Or is it merely posturing to drive home the point that it does not recognise Japan's claims of sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, which China also claims? These must be questions that the regional and international communities must also be asking.

Even if Beijing's demand for an apology is tactical, how it has dealt thus far with the latest incident in the disputed waters of the East China Sea would already have caused countries in the region to worry how far it will wield its increasing strength in resolving disputes with its smaller neighbours. As it is, an editorial in a South Korean newspaper has urged Seoul to make contingency plans to protect the country's national interests against an assertive China over the two sides' overlapping exclusive economic zones. The newspaper cited Beijing's 'hardline' response to Japan's detention of the captain, including summoning the Japanese ambassador to China in the middle of the night, the alleged blocking of the export of rare earth minerals to Japan and discouraging Chinese citizens from visiting Japan.

What China does next in the unfolding saga of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands incident will be closely watched in the South-east Asian region too, where several countries have competing claims with China in the South China Sea. Will Beijing pull its punches now that the Japanese have backed down or will it push as far as it can go? What happens next will have repercussions in this region.

At the US-Asean Summit last Friday in New York, Asean leaders desisted from mentioning the South China Sea in their joint communique with the US, presumably in deference to the region's wide-ranging relations with Beijing. Nevertheless, the White House in a press statement on the summit mentioned the South China Sea explicitly: US President Barack Obama and Asean leaders, the US read-out said, 'agreed on the importance of peaceful resolution of disputes...including in the South China Sea'.

This is the second summit a US President has held with Asean leaders within two years. Washington is now serious about closer engagement with Asean in large part because of a stronger and more assertive China. If Beijing, through its actions, were to cast doubt about its professed peaceful rise, it would cause countries in the region to consider how they might better protect their interests in the face of a resurgent and insistent China.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thinker Mover Shaker

Sep 25, 2010

Dr Goh Keng Swee's life spanned 92 years, four ministries and countless policies that undergird the Singapore of today. The late deputy prime minister, who died on May 14 this year, was the quintessential thinker among the country's founding leaders. From his entry in a limerick competition at age 13, to his thoughts on the emergence of China at age 76, his writings are gathered and analysed in a book by Dr Ooi Kee Beng, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. In Lieu Of Ideology: An Intellectual Biography Of Goh Keng Swee will be launched on Oct 4. Here are edited excerpts from the book.

'My Ambitions'

GOH demonstrated early in life a talent, if not a need, for writing.

At the age of 13, he won a consolation prize of five Straits dollars in a newspaper competition. The paper had published a limerick without its punch line, requesting that competitors provide it.

It read:

'A planter cried out in affliction,

If only they'd give me restriction,

It might end all my woes.

But as everyone knows,


Restriction here referred to curbs on the planting of new rubber trees. Goh's concluding submission was: 'It's only a planter's conviction.'

Goh later published a couple of noteworthy short pieces in the school magazine, the first of which was written before he had turned 13 years of age.

'My Ambitions (1931)

Anybody who wants to prosper in this world must have an ambition. Ambition comes from a thought or when we get enthusiastic, we determine to carry out our thought. He who has an ambition will do his best to satisfy himself. He will stick to his work and see that he is the best man that ever has done that work. Our ambition must be to make ourselves useful to our country, our people and ourselves.'

This early document is fascinating for a variety of reasons.

First, we see a boy who is certainly more philosophical than his age would coax us to expect. Not only does he show conviction that ambition is critical to success, but he wishes to persuade others of that as well.

Second, this ambition goes beyond itself and has ethical goals, namely serve 'our country, our people and ourselves'.

Singapore's disadvantages

TWO months before the 1959 elections, Goh spoke at a rally at Dhoby Ghaut. That speech contained his basic ideas about Singapore's economic situation.

It was in his symmetric listing that day of the island's disadvantages that we detect his brilliance and his practical mindset.

Despite Singapore's fortunate location, he said, the free entry of foreign goods made it extremely risky for local capital to go into manufacturing. Second, as long as import duties had to be paid on goods going into the Federation, investors would prefer to establish factories in Johor than in Singapore. He also realised that not only was the general technological skill level among Singaporeans not up to standard, but training facilities too were 'grossly inadequate'. All these had to change.

To achieve that, Goh contended, a common market comprising the Federation of Malaya and Singapore was necessary. Goh would remain strongly convinced of the correctness of this analysis, and the subsequent failure to reach agreement on a common market with his counterpart in Kuala Lumpur, his second cousin Tan Siew Sin, was a pivotal reason for the separation of Singapore from Malaysia in August 1965.

Fear of PAP leaders being 'butchered'

WHEN relations between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore began sliding from dreadful to dangerous, Goh took it upon himself to work for a separation, and kept it secret from the British as well as certain members of the Singapore Cabinet who were deeply involved in PAP ventures on the peninsular mainland. 'Rajaratnam's histrionics' was also upsetting Goh.

Apparently playing his role as Minister of Finance to the hilt, Goh mentioned to Australia's representative in Singapore William Beale Pritchard just five days before the separation that 'Singapore might just as well be out of Malaysia if KL was not going to cooperate economically'.

He feared that the PAP leaders would all be 'butchered', and after Lee Kuan Yew's 'moment of anguish' in signing the document for separation on Monday, Aug 9, 1965, Goh confided in Pritchard about 'the long haul ahead and the need for hard work' with 'none of the nonsense of the last six months'.

As a further sign of how frenzied and insecure the political situation had become by July of that year, Goh, being perhaps the Singaporean leader least emotional about Malaysia, remarked further to Pritchard that 'Lee would be kept under control'.

On the day of separation, the Finance portfolio was handed over to Lim Kim San while he took over the Ministry of Interior and Defence, apparently feeling that priority had to be given to Singapore's physical safety.

The PAP leadership managed nevertheless to stay sufficiently united during these critical times. Over the next two years, Goh rushed through the establishment of the Singapore Armed Forces, national service and the Singapore Air Force. By August 1967, he was back at his Finance post.

The policy that doesn't work

ON JAN 13, 1971, Goh was asked to officiate at the opening of the Seminar on Modernisation in South-east Asia organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

In the post-colonial world, import substitution became the common path towards development. It appeased national demands for genuine independence and made economic sense to the national economists. And yet, in almost all cases, it failed to work.

Goh advocated that the logic was flawed in the first place. While the rationale aspired to cut foreign interests down to size, it actually could not.

First, import substitution required heavy investments in machinery and equipment that had to be imported from overseas. Second, local demand for import-substituting goods was usually low. In order to right this weakness, governments began either protecting certain firms through high tariffs and encouraging monopolies or providing subsidies. Success in business in such a milieu would depend on 'obtaining official permits and licences more than on efficient production and management', paving the way for corruption.

What was more harmful, Goh claimed, were the non-economic effects. The original goal was after all to spread new technologies and 'new social attitudes appropriate to modern societies' - 'respect for hard work, innovation, a meritocratic system of personnel selection and advancement, continuous striving for greater efficiency, in short, achievement-orientation'.

Need for elite to serve NS

GOH moved for the second reading in Parliament of the National Service (Amendments) Bill on March 13, 1967.

He presented the reasons for the special kind of defence that Singapore needed, the foremost of which was that the absence of a viable defence would mean that the island 'must revert to a colony or satellite of whoever wishes to afford it protection'. Furthermore, small states that failed to look after themselves invited civil war and disorder, tempting larger states to intervene.

Another important reason was the contribution it would make to the nation-building process.

One of Goh's strongest arguments was that 'many of our monied and intellectual elite' had failed to realise that 'their status and position (could) be justified and maintained only if they (undertook) a responsibility in the defence of the nation consistent with their position'.

Another line of thought entertained by Goh where defence was concerned involved Singapore being a 'rootless, migrant parvenu society'.

'(In a society without deep roots), minor success brings about overconfidence and the belief the good times last forever; minor setbacks send people into a state of nervousness. In this situation, the Singaporean lends his ears to rumours of all kinds. Nothing is too absurd for him to listen to and pass on to others.'

The rumours he referred to were about him leading a Cabinet faction against Lee Kuan Yew in order to seek the latter's resignation and a re-merger with Malaysia. The 'gullibility' of Singaporeans on this point which he considered 'bizarre' and a 'patent absurdity' was what worried him.

Singapore's 'brainless young'

THROUGHOUT his life, he held strong views that he voiced publicly about what can only be called 'The Human Element', and how this impinged on the best-laid plans of mice and men, including Goh.

Where defence was concerned, human weaknesses such as self-deception, complacency, laziness and cowardice, or the propensity of commanders to put show before substance, could easily lead to disaster. Partly for this reason, he sought to raise the technological know-how of the army and the country, just as his handling of Singapore's economy had led to enormous and effective institutions being generated to lead growth and avoid disaster.

Economic development for non-advanced countries required a social revolution of a certain type. First, an educated citizenry was needed. With literacy came an awareness of the 'benefits of economic development' as well as a social discipline that would guide citizens away from 'frivolous pursuits' towards 'a fuller and more cultured life'.

The second important factor for growth was 'the opportunity which a society afforded to those with talent, ability and skills to rise to the position for which they were best fitted'. For this to happen, an able leadership free from corruption was needed.

Later in 1967, he gave a reply in Parliament on the possible opening of a casino in Singapore to boost tourism. He was opposed to it unless two conditions were fulfilled: it would bring 'substantial benefits to Singapore' and 'firm safeguards against Singaporeans using it' were put in place. The human element, especially in fellow Singaporeans, was evidently a source of worry to him.

On Dec 10, 1972, Goh famously warned that the practice among young Singaporeans of copying Western fashions would turn the country into a nation of 'Wogs'.

'Wogs' - short for Westernised Oriental Gentlemen - was a term of contempt originally used by British civil servants for English-educated Indians. 'The brainless young, who follow Western fashions and wear long hair are part of the Wog culture of Singapore. Wog women wear mini-skirts and nylon stockings and think they look smashing.'

However, what he seemed to think was the problem was what he saw to be evidence of a lack of 'a set of sound basic values'. 'An understanding of one's own cultural heritage and a knowledge of the history of one's own people would help to give a man some cultural ballast.'

Goh's concern grew about the negative moral and psychological problems that Singapore's speed of advancement and its need to adapt to global dynamics had generated. Causing worry were two things: 'the wholesale adoption of a foreign language and the chase after money'.

PAP Govt welcomes controversy

IN AUGUST 1978, Goh was tasked by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to 'look into the problems of the Ministry of Education with a team of your own choice'.

But in 1967, he had already publicly presented views on the subject.

To start with, there had been 'far too much emphasis on academic performance'. Good performance in exams... did not say much else about the person's integrity and character, which were 'just as important as intelligence and more important than the mastering of examination technique'.

Apart from participation in physical activities, Goh identified three other aspects of education which had been neglected in Singapore: creative imagination, character and moral values.

Later that year, he attacked 'a curious view' held by some and that had been communicated to foreign diplomats and journalists that the Singapore Government disapproved of dissenting opinions, 'even to the extent of dispatching Special Branch agents to search for the heretics and persecute them in one way or another'.

The PAP Government, he said, actually welcomed controversy. The absence of open debate - apart from 'Barisan mid-summer madness' - in Singapore, except on trivial matters, was serious and had to stop. The unfounded fear of the Government, he ventured, was one reason. If that were the only reason, then the intelligentsia in Singapore would count as 'the most cowardly and spineless intelligentsia in the world'. If they really believed that they were ruled by tyranny, then it should be their duty to rebel, 'even to the point of taking up arms against the Government'.

He did, however think that there was a second and more acceptable reason for this 'deplorable absence of articulation', which was that the 'English-educated intelligentsia were uncertain of their position in society and in fact did not understand in all its complexities, the society in which they lived'.

Not pulling any punches, Goh assumed snobbishness to be a reason why the intelligentsia distanced themselves not only from the common man but also from the reality of society itself and from the ability to understand its workings.

His apparent aversion to the intelligentsia may seem odd, given that he was one of the most, if not the most, educated minister in the PAP. But the basis for this sentiment seemed to be the intelligentsia's tendency to find refuge behind a wall of privileges and abstractions. This timidity was what irritated him.

'There is a regrettable habit here to equate political views and action and even nation-building activities with passionate declamation of lofty ideals... or the striking of heroic postures and attitudes. Frankly, I find all this repellent. I am more interested in what people do, not what they say. The important thing is to tackle concrete problems as they exist, not to lay down woolly abstract principles. There are no crusades to mount, only a lot of work and a myriad of problems at all levels of society.'

When Education Ministry is more authoritarian than the army

IN PARLIAMENT on March 27, 1979, Goh claimed that his committee had identified 'real causes of trouble' in Singapore's education system. These were:

# The languages of instruction in our bilingual system are not spoken at home for the great majority of schoolchildren.

# The rapid switch from the Chinese stream to the English stream made necessary the mass production of teachers for the English stream schools, to the detriment of the quality of teaching.

# One system of education, lasting 12 years, has been tailored to suit the brightest 12 per cent.

Basically, the motion was meant to revise the educational structure to 'allow each pupil to study at a pace suited to learning capacity', and which would make him as bilingual as possible. The ultimate goal concerned Singapore's economic future, as well as the relative importance of English vis-a-vis Chinese and other languages used in the country.

But after that came the stage of implementation.

On taking over the ministry, Goh found that although the staff had integrity and were devoted, 'the management was dreadful'. He boiled down the problem to two factors: the cult of obedience and the cult of secrecy. Strangely, the army was less authoritarian than the Education Ministry was. The army had an evidently healthier work culture than in schools where he found 'the bowing and scraping' and the 'desire to impress' too much to bear. He had actually stopped visiting them.

'(In a society without deep roots), minor success brings about overconfidence and the belief the good times last forever; minor setbacks send people into a state of nervousness. In this situation, the Singaporean lends his ears to rumours of all kinds. Nothing is too absurd for him to listen to and pass on to others.'

Dr Goh Keng Swee

'There is a regrettable habit here to equate political views and action and even nation-building activities with passionate declamation of lofty ideals... or the striking of heroic postures and attitudes.

Frankly, I find all this repellent... The important thing is to tackle concrete problems as they exist, not to lay down woolly abstract principles. There are no crusades to mount, only a lot of work and a myriad of problems at all levels of society.'

Dr Goh Keng Swee

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Guard against romanticising leftist past

Sep 23, 2010

By Ong Weichong

IN HER Aug 14 article 'In search of the other Singapore story', Straits Times journalist Clarissa Oon highlighted the growing interest in Singapore's alternative histories and posed the big question: 'Does it really matter?'

In answer, several academic historians posited that there is a necessity to come to terms with the complexities of Singapore's history, including alternative narratives to the state-centric version of events.

While recognising the complexity of Singapore's multi-layered and multi-faceted leftist past, Singaporeans should also remember that the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) was responsible for acts of violence and subversion that undermined the security and independence of post-colonial Singapore and Malaysia.

Singapore's left-wing movement consisted of a complex milieu of actors ranging from labour unionists to intellectuals and student activists. This does not, however, hide the fact that the CPM did attempt to overthrow elected governments.

The crafting of alternative narratives is necessary to inject greater breadth and depth into Singapore's historical landscape. But we should be careful in romanticising the actions of those who employed violence in their attempt to overthrow the elected governments of Singapore and Malaysia - and in so doing took and threatened the lives of innocent civilians on both sides of the Causeway.

In a hallmark CPM 'flag display'marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the Malayan Emergency, a number of communist flags and banners were found throughout Singapore in the week of June 17, 1974. On June 20, a banner-attached booby trap exploded without causing any casualties. The danger posed to the civilian population by CPM booby traps was, however, very real.

In the mid-1970s, the infiltration of factories with the hope of recruiting supporters for the purposes of sabotage as well as the assassination of selected individuals at 'appropriate times' were CPM objectives in urban Singapore.

In Malaysia, the violence perpetrated by communist insurgents and the communist underground was far more devastating. On June 4, 1974, Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Hashim, the Malaysian Inspector-General of Police, was assassinated in Kuala Lumpur by a breakaway faction of the CPM, the Communist Party of Malaya Marxist Leninist Faction (CPMML). Between 1974 and 1978, at least 23 police personnel were assassinated by so-called 'mobile squads' of the main CPM and two other breakaway factions. Targeted assassinations and grenade attacks also claimed the lives of retired security personnel and civilians.

Recently declassified British and Australian archival material suggests that despite certain reservations, the British and Australian governments recognised the necessity of the counter-insurgency, counter-subversion and nation-building efforts adopted by the Singaporean and Malaysian governments to contain the CPM threat. Many of these documents have yet to be thoroughly analysed but when they are, chances are that they would be read against the grain by academic historians seeking to challenge the narrative of the state.

In academic history, alternative narratives have become the norm rather than an exception. For example, research councils in Britain and the United States are more likely to fund projects that look at marginal or alternative narratives instead of those with state-centric agendas. In the field of historical scholarship, challenging the state has become the intellectual 'in-thing'.

This intellectual fad for challenging state-centricity, however, does not always challenge what we already know. Moreover, even renowned academic historians are not immune from character-assassinating political figures and romanticising the deeds of their opponents. In short, just like the official state version of events that it seeks to challenge, mainstream academic history does possess its own set of credibility problems.

Alternative histories written by academic historians do not come with a 'bias-free' guarantee. Like official histories, academic works do carry the biases and the agendas of their authors. More often than not, young Singaporean historians are prone to the intellectual trend of challenging the state-centric narrative, albeit in a critical way. This trajectory, however, presents an important question: Should scholars in Singapore be given a free rein in the crafting of alternative histories?

Critical alternative narratives do enrich the understanding of Singapore's past and go a long way in explaining what it means to be Singaporean. In this endeavour, academic historians play an important role in plugging the gaps left by the state.

The state, however, has to be the gatekeeper on contemporary historical issues that still present a threat to national security or social cohesion. The conviction of David Irving in 2006 under Austria's Volksverhetzung (incitement of the people) law for his trivialising of the Holocaust is an example of how shoddy historical scholarship can have dire effects.

Critical academic freedom is a privilege to be respected, but it cannot be at the expense of national security and social cohesion. Singapore's historical narrative would be poorer without a more nuanced view of the leftist heritage in its nation-building past. But any attempt to romanticise the actions of violent revolutionaries who caused the deaths of many would demean the sacrifices of those who gave their all to protect the independence and security of their respective countries.

The writer is an associate research fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. See rejoinder to this article by historian Hong Lysa (below).

[I leave the criticism to one more qualified than me. See below.]


By Hong Lysa

I WOULD like to respond to the commentary on alternative historical narratives by Ong Weichong. This is to clarify what it is that academic historians do. There are certain misconceptions about this on the part of the public. This arises from the blurring of lines between the writing of history as an academic practice, and the general usage of the word to mean writing about the past, which anyone who has something he or she wants to say can do, and to good effect.

It is not that the one is superior to the other. It is just that the article confuses the nature of the two, and hence clouds the issues about the “alternative histories” that are being produced in Singapore. While I would like to clarify what professional historians do, I am above all concerned about the implications of the author’s argument, which I hope is the result only of obfuscation.

Two Kinds of History Books

Firstly, for an academic historian – that is, one who has gone through the rigours of writing a doctoral thesis – there are only two kinds of history books: those that are well researched and written, and those that are poorly researched and written (if they happen to get through the refereeing process, which is less likely to happen if the publisher is a reputed academic press), and the range in between.

Who delivers the judgment as to whether a historian’s work is good or poor? Academic books go through a peer review process before they are accepted for publication. When it is published, it is subjected to book reviews, and subsequent scholars cite the work either positively, and build on the insights provided by the book, or critically, to take issue with its arguments. In both instances, this is done in the spirit of furthering enquiry, to enhance one’s understanding of a subject.

David Irving has been roundly condemned in academic studies way before the matter went to court (at his instigation) for his denial of the Holocaust because the source materials on which he based his arguments did not stand up to scholarly scrutiny at all. His thesis could not stand interrogation by historians who were experts on the field.

Serious academic grants institutions like the research councils in Britain and the United States, not to mention in Singaporean universities, similarly have very rigorous selection processes when awarding grants. If they may currently seem to favour topics say on religion, this is not to say that those on the administrative history of colonial Singapore, for instance, which indeed have more difficulty in receiving a grant, is bad history. It is because what our society is now concerned about is religion and its place in the lives of individuals, the nation, and transnational linkages, all of which have hitherto not been well studied by historians.

Writings on Singapore's Past

There has been a genre of writings on Singapore’s past that has emerged
recently. These make no attempts to pass off as academic work, nor do their writers claim to be historians. These are written in the main by former political detainees, and they clearly write to tell readers about who they are and how they understand what their political detention was all about. They are autobiographical; the more prominent pieces have consulted archival documents to support their contentions. They do not even pretend to present more than one point of view.

They are plainly polemical, in the same way that memoirs and biographies of Singapore’s first generation leaders are.

What is in contention, particularly in The Fajar Generation: The University Socialist Club And The Politics Of Postwar Malaya And Singapore (whose editors Poh Soo Kai, Tan Jing Quee and Koh Kay Yew are former presidents of the Club and ex-political detainees) is whether they were members of the Communist Party of Malaya. There has not been proof that they were. They were never put on trial.

This is the ongoing debate in which academic historians, who have no privileged insights or personal agenda, watch with interest and comment on the discourses of Singapore history that is currently unfolding. This debate is about whether there was continuity or break between newly independent Singapore and the colonial regime, and the nature of the state in Singapore. All this is to further the enquiry into the nature of Singapore history and its ramifications.

'Trendy' essay?

The suggestion that “even renowned academic historians are not immune to character assassination of political figures and romanticising the deeds of their opponents” is a very serious charge that opens the offending “renowned academic historian” to lose the respect of their peers and opens them to charges of libel. In the case of Singapore, one has to be even more careful and certain of one’s charge before making such a statement.

I would like the author to name one work by an academic historian which aims to “romanticise the actions of violent revolutionaries that claimed the lives of Singapore and Malaysian security personnel and civilians alike”. If such a work exists, or if a David Irving exists amongst us, I can assure the author that I will be the first to denounce and condemn such a historian, and gather fellow Singapore historians and indeed those worldwide to do the same, for that would be demeaning the good name of the profession.

If the author is simply relying on suggestion and innuendo so as to write a “counter-trendy” essay – which I might add, is also a trendy thing to do – I would like to point out respectfully that the implications of such unfounded innuendo are dangerous and irresponsible. I understand that the author is a young scholar. I hope his mentors at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies will give him good counsel on what is sound and fair academic commentary.

The writer is a founding member of the group which puts out s/pores: new directions in Singapore Studies, She is also a former associate professor of history at the National University of Singapore.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Peace remains elusive in Mid-East

Sep 21, 2010

By Cheong Suk-Wai

STUDYING political modernisation at Yale University in the 1960s, the young Michael Hudson was required to spend time in a country that was deeply divided ethnically. His options were Lebanon, Malaysia or Nigeria.

He plumped for Lebanon, and struck academic gold because it proved to be 'a place where all the political forces of the Middle East competed with one another, and so I got sucked into the Arab-Israeli conflict and inter-Arab politics'.

Today, Professor Hudson, 72, is a world authority on Lebanese politics as well as on other hot-button issues in the region. In 1975, he co-founded Georgetown University's Centre for Contemporary Arab Studies in Washington, and steered it for 35 years.

He left all that to become director of the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.

A widower with two daughters, he met me earlier this month to tell me why the latest round of peace talks between Israel and Palestine will go nowhere, and more:

How do you plan to contribute to Singaporeans' understanding of the Middle East?
My Singaporean colleagues made it very clear to me that they felt the Middle East has not figured very prominently in the educational systems here, and even specialised knowledge of that region was rather limited. So one of the points I made in discussions with them was that if you're looking to develop a research institute that offers advice, that advice is best informed by academic scholarship.

Can academics in ivory towers offer better advice than observers on the ground?
To put it bluntly, many in the academic community who have studied the Middle East have long taken a very dismissive view of policy research in the region. They find such research often superficial, poorly informed and unreliable because it depends on the anecdotal 'I was there' experience, which can be valuable but might be misleading. Whereas policy researchers say: 'These academics spend all their time engaging in complicated studies of unimportant things which mean nothing to us.' I'm exaggerating the gap, but you really need the academics if you want to convey the complexities.

What can they see that others can't?
Well, take Islam and terrorism: many American policy researchers tend not to understand the nature and depth of religious commitment and identity, and see Middle Eastern societies as monolithically religious and so vulnerable to manipulation by extremists... If you don't understand how Islam plays out in their lives, it's hard for you to gauge how extremists use Islamist discourse for particular ends.

Is that lack of understanding the result of ignorance or complacency?
If you are in the United States, where Middle East initiatives are highly politicised... there will be those driven by dark and simplistic partisan views to demonise Islam and paint all Muslims with the same brush. But you don't want to leave that understanding to the terrorism experts or even theologians. You need sociologists, anthropologists, cultural historians and political scientists to look at how Islam actually functions in society.

I don't think it's the role of the researcher to be an apologist for Islam, but it's pretty evident what the policy implications are of an imperfect understanding of Islam. For example, there's a resurgence of Islamophobia in the US that's opened a Pandora's Box of prejudice... When this happens, you're attacking someone's very identity and culture, and that's a big problem.

Some argue that Arab/Muslim communities in general tend to be insular, lack initiative and are slow to grow.
I don't agree with that. The Muslim world in general is a very complicated place and there's a lot of variety in it... There has been a very big debate among Middle East scholars over the last 25 years about how to study and characterise The Other, as opposed to non-Muslim Westerners. The late Edward Said's book, Orientalism, changed the way the informed public think about Islam, saying that Westerners were really exporting their own prejudices and identifying The Other in a very superficial, incomplete and pejorative way. So most academic scholarship on Islam is now free of such prejudice. But public perceptions of early stereotypes still exist.

But do they exist for good reasons?
You're raising a very important point. It's true that Muslim communities are not doing so well in many ways, but in many other ways, they're doing quite well indeed - such as in Lebanon and the Gulf states. There's also a great deal of self-criticism going on now in the Muslim world. But it's true that it could grow more, as shown in the United Nations' Arab Human Development Reports, which were put together by Arab researchers.

Public opinion data also shows that Muslims in Arab countries value democracy, but their political systems have not been particularly good at delivering that. But to say that's just because they are Muslims misses the larger point that in mainstream Islam one is enjoined to work hard, cooperate and treasure family, which is consistent with humanistic norms.

What's the cost of its weak leadership?
There's a disjunction between the region's self-perpetuating political systems and the people who are underneath them, who don't really like it but can't do much about it because these governments have got the police and all that. So that's a real concern. Still, there are currents in Middle Eastern civil society challenging this and the rise of new media has opened up the public space a lot. So things are not entirely static.

But it's all static on its No. 1 problem, Israel and Palestine.
It's certainly the most durable of the many conflicts in the region. It's also the most important one because it fuels all sorts of extremism elsewhere in the region. So why don't things move? Because Israel, with the almost unlimited backing of the US, does not feel inclined to make concessions. I'd be surprised if the latest effort to broker peace really brings about a breakthrough.

Has US President Barack Obama lost the plot on that?
Yes. At the beginning of his term, he was on the right track. He said this issue was important and tried to reach out to the Muslim world in his speech in Cairo over a year ago. He said the Israeli-Palestinian problem was part of the problem, and Israel had to stop building and reinforcing its settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu simply stood up to him and said: 'No, we won't.' And Mr Obama blinked and backed off on what had been a proper, balanced approach.

Should the Middle East enlist emerging powers to broker a breakthrough on this?
This is a good question that can be addressed by the realist theory of international politics, which holds that power is the name of the game. And the US can apply more military power than any other country in this situation. Can China or India project such power? The answer is no and they've no compelling interest to do so anyway.

So can the Israeli-Palestinian problem ever be solved?
At the moment, I don't see diplomacy bringing a clear end to this... There's been a debate that the proper solution is a two-state one, but a good many Palestinians now want a one-state solution because how can you have a proper state when it's divided into little enclaves and surrounded by Israeli settlers and troops?

Sep 21, 2010
The biggest beef and the biggest paradox
FIRM and focused, Middle East scholar Michael Hudson is hopeful that the region is progressing slowly but surely. Here he is on:

'Moderate' Middle Eastern governments
'Those who mainly do what we tell them to do.'

What people should be most aware of about Muslims
'That when you make nasty, brutal characterisations of Islam, that does a lot to radicalise the Muslim centre, or the vast majority of Muslims for whom religion is important but would not by any stretch of the imagination go on an extremist jihad.'

Why the Israeli-Palestinian crisis still matters
'Because it engages Arab and Muslim opinion and is a religious, and not just national, issue because of the holy places in Israel.'

The Arabs' biggest beef about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis
'That they didn't have either the diplomatic or military strength to bring about even a partial solution. And they're very angry that even the US doesn't understand their case.'

The biggest paradox about this crisis
'That the US has such military power and political leverage over most countries in the Middle East, but has very little leverage over Israel despite protecting it against all comers and supplying it with well over US$3 billion (S$4 billion) a year.'

US President Barack Obama's Middle East peace efforts
'Since he seems to be a prisoner of the structure of American politics, it doesn't seem likely that he's prepared to play a balanced role here.'

Why he wants to work here
'I thought it's time for an adventure.'