Sunday, December 4, 2016

Out of India’s cash chaos may come the beginnings of change

Indians are increasingly realising that if their nation is to develop and prosper, they have to change the way they deal with money and do business

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi needed a radical idea to rejuvenate his stalled economic reform programme. Bureaucratic red tape, fraud and a lack of finances are among the obstructions, so replacing high-denomination banknotes made sense; 90 per cent of transactions are done in cash, making corruption and tax avoidance easy. But the announcement was made at short notice without proper preparation or regard for the consequences, leading to a currency shortage. The difficulties will be short-lived, though, and from the experience could come greater public revenue and a shift towards digital money. Only about 3 per cent of India’s 1.3 billion people pay tax. Many do not have bank accounts, nor are they familiar with electronic payment systems or credit cards. The reliance on cash has created tax avoidance schemes and an informal job sector where workers are poorly paid. Business people and criminals buy off politicians with bundles of money and the economy is awash with counterfeit currency.

Modi’s scheme hits at those problems by flushing out of the system the highest-denomination banknotes, 500 and 1,000 rupees, and replacing them with new 500 and 2,000-rupee ones. The old notes have to be put in bank accounts by the end of the year, with amounts greater than 250,000 rupees being scrutinised. About 86 per cent of the vast nation’s cash is affected, making it the most sweeping currency policy anywhere in the world in decades. The prime minister was well aware of that, yet inadequate supplies of notes were produced, banks and post offices were ill-prepared and people have been left with insufficient money to buy everyday essentials, in the process putting small businesses and shops at risk.

The anger of those caught with cash they are unable to use is understandable. Anti-government protests are growing and authorities can only advise patience. Economists believe growth will be hit by up to 2 per cent.

But amid the chaos, Indians are increasingly realising that if their nation is to develop and prosper, they have to change the way they deal with money and do business. More bank accounts are being opened, more applications made for credit cards and greater numbers of ATMs planned. But it is financial tech firms, especially in China, which see the greatest potential. With just 20 per cent of Indians having smartphones and cash still king, it will take time to change habits. But the crisis has brought a realisation that the future lies in electronic payments, e-commerce and e-wallets and the time has come to embrace a shift.

South China Morning Post

Why Singapore can’t afford to be pushed around by China

The sudden seizure of Singapore’s nine Terrex infantry carrier vehicles (ICVs) has sparked mixed reactions in the city state. Some have asked for Singapore to apologise to China and accede to the superpower’s demands. Others have insisted that it escalate the row to recover the hardware. Still others, including Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Professor Wang Gungwu of the National University of Singapore, think the incident is merely a ripple on the tide of Sino-Singapore relations, and will subside soon enough.

Yet the signs of strain are showing between the two nations. Some Chinese bristle at the reminder that Singapore keeps up official relations with Taiwan, which it views as a renegade province. Some Singaporeans chafe at the perceived petty bullying by a more powerful country.

Now, more than a week after the seizure, are there signs of an early resolution?

Hong Kong: a deliberate choice

That the seizure took place in Hong Kong hints at China’s intentions. Singapore has been using APL to transport its military hardware for years and APL’s Kaohsiung-Singapore route passes through Xiamen
廈門) and Hong Kong before going to Chiwan, Malaysia and then Singapore.

The vehicles had already been earmarked at Xiamen for seizure in Hong Kong, according to news agency FactWire, and it was sources in Chinese customs that tipped the press off about the seizure. The situation is too coincidental to ignore and appears to be a calibrated bilateral blow-up in Hong Kong, where it would be easier to contain any escalation.

WATCH: What’s going on with the Singaporean military vehicles in Hong Kong?

Pouncing on what appears to be a case of botched paperwork, China thought it opportune to use Hong Kong as a stage to send a message to both Singapore and Taiwan.

The three “Asian Tiger” economies have much in common but have three very different relationships with China. Hong Kong is indisputably Chinese territory. Taiwan has set its face against the influence of mainland China and the current government has refused to acknowledge the one-China policy. Independent Singapore maintains friendly relations with both mainland China and Taiwan but abides by the one-China principle. Singapore is a key influencer for diplomacy in Asean and beyond, and therefore integral to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) “One Belt, One Road” strategy.

A three-way dance

Taiwan’s relationship with China soured when President Tsai Ing-wen failed to disavow calls for Taiwanese independence and acknowledge China’s view of the one-China policy. Beijing cut off communications with Taipei in June after years of warming relations under the Kuomintang’s Ma Ying-jeou. This tactic of isolation is now being extended to Taiwan’s friends.

Inside the Terrex military vehicle at the centre of Singapore-China storm

This is not to say China doesn’t want to use the Terrex incident to impose itself on Singapore as well. Beijing still bristles from Singapore’s stand of supporting an international ruling that rejects China’s claim over parts of the South China Sea, and will want to pressure the city state to reconsider its position. But will Singapore buckle? It seems unlikely. This incident will most likely spur Singapore to cling resolutely to the rule of international law to recover its lost armoured carriers and resist bullying. After an initial shock, Singaporeans will galvanise against what is seen as petty meddling.

Severe consequences await Singapore if it gives in to China on either Taiwan or the South China Sea.

Singapore’s military relationship with Taiwan goes back to its early post-independence years – Operation Starlight began in 1975 and is an open secret. In the early days, at least two Taiwanese officers held the top posts in Singapore’s air force and navy.

Asean is Singapore’s backyard, and a bloc that the country benefits from being a part of. If Asean interests are jeopardised, then Singapore stands to lose out as well.

Delicate manoeuvring

Singapore is stuck between a rock and a hard place, and will have to move very delicately to preserve its well-being. Singapore will stay calm and simply wait for China to release the ICVs once it feels that the diplomatic capital from the seizure has been milked dry.

It may not be a quick resolution.

Singapore’s relationship with Taiwan will have to be pursued with more caution. Its physical constraints of having only 719 sq km of land have meant that it conducts overseas training exercises in several other countries, including Australia, Thailand and the United States.

between Thailand, Singapore and the United States . For nearly 30 years, Singapore has trained its troops in Taiwan under the code name Operation Starlight. Photo: Reuters

This year, for example, it made a pact to expand training in Australia, more than doubling the 6,000 troops a year to 14,000.

Troop deployments in Taiwan under Operation Starlight have already come down to 3,000 a year from a peak of 15,000. It is unlikely that they will drop any further as this would hamper Singapore’s ability to conduct the large-scale training exercises it needs on Taiwan’s shores. Shipments for Starlight will have to steer clear of China’s shores. As Singapore is among the largest foreign investors in China, the fates of both economies are intertwined.

For Beijing, seizure of Singapore armoured vehicles is a low-risk shot across the bows

It is possible that, quietly, so as not to upset Taiwan and Asean neighbours, Singapore will increase its military exercises with the People’s Liberation Army, a trend it has followed over the last decade, and one that is especially prudent now with doubt hanging over America’s international role under President-elect Donald Trump. But Singapore cannot afford to fully ally itself to one world power or another. Not only would that ultimately result in vassaldom, it would also close it off to options to pursue international political, economic and social opportunities that serve its own national interest.

Daniel Yap is the publisher of The Middle Ground, an independent news portal based in Singapore

That legal eagles saw death as an option demonstrates the severity of the situation. The new king faces the daunting task of bridging gaping political rifts and ushering in a new era for a country reeling from the loss of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, long a pillar of Thai politics and society.


Death penalty dust-up spotlights Thai corruption woes - Years of dirty politics leaving a legacy of frustration

BANGKOK -- Thailand was suddenly engulfed in debate over capital punishment last month not because of some bloodcurdling crime, but because the legal elite proposed making crooked politicians pay the ultimate price. The idea came from Meechai Ruchupan, chairman of the military-appointed committee that drafted the new constitution. Meechai justified it as a way of keeping corrupt individuals out of politics.

Politicians involved in buying or selling key government jobs would have faced a maximum sentence of death. The measure was seen as an attempt to curb corrupt acts by future ruling party officials, who would have the authority to make political appointments.ADVERTISING

Peerasak Porjit, deputy leader of the National Legislative Assembly. © AP

Opponents included Peerasak Porjit, deputy leader of the National Legislative Assembly. The proposal went against the legal principle of having the penalty fit the offense, the former prosecutor argued. He also pointed to countries that have abolished capital punishment.

Meechai did not take such criticism lying down. "If the NLA thinks the death penalty is too severe, what about a fine of 5 baht [14 cents] or 10 baht?" he told the Bangkok Post. "It depends on how they view the matter."

Thailand's nearly allergic reaction to corruption reflects the seriousness of the problem. Transparency International gave the country a score of 38 out of 100 in its 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index. The global average was about 43. Thailand moved up in the rankings for a second straight year, to 76th place among 168 countries and territories. But its actual score has hardly budged since 2012.

The Southeast Asian nation scored and ranked far below neighbors Singapore and Malaysia and beat out Indonesia and Vietnam by narrow margins. Thai politicians do not resign even when found to be corrupt and cling to power as long as possible, a political scientist said. Such behavior has only made the public wary.

The new constitution, to be signed soon by recently anointed King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, shows the depth of distrust. The military will have effective control of the upper house for five years and could install an unelected prime minister. New election guidelines for the lower house will make it difficult for any one party to claim a majority, reducing the ruling party's influence.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the Democrat Party.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva also spoke out against the death penalty. The introduction of such measures should be considered carefully, he said.

Meechai walked back his proposal Nov. 22, calling instead for a maximum life sentence for those who buy or sell political posts. But he still said capital punishment was a better idea, suggesting that he was unwillingly bowing to criticis."There are no shortcuts to a working democracy," wrote Danthong Breen, who chairs the Union for Civil Liberty, in a letter to the Bangkok Post. "Corruption must be ended by education and participation of people in the function of a government."

"There are no shortcuts to a working democracy," wrote Danthong Breen, who chairs the Union for Civil Liberty, in a letter to the Bangkok Post. "Corruption must be ended by education and participation of people in the function of a government."


That legal eagles saw death as an option demonstrates the severity of the situation. The new king faces the daunting task of bridging gaping political rifts and ushering in a new era for a country reeling from the loss of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, long a pillar of Thai politics and society.

HIROSHI KOTANI, Nikkei staff writer

RCEP Is Not the Anti-TPP - RCEP is a necessary step for Asian regional integration, regardless of what happens with TPP

There have been many statements in the media lately about the impact of the United States election on Asia, and specifically regarding President-elect Donald Trump’s comments about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The authors have run the gamut from despair that TPP is lost forever to glee that the situation presents an unprecedented opportunity for proponents of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to get ahead. However, it is deceptive to understand either of these initiatives through such an oppositional framework. Indeed, in considering the goal of Asian Regional Integration, evaluating RCEP independently allows a nuanced discussion of why acceleration of the agreement is important right now, regardless of the status of TPP.

Asian countries should be reminded of the risk of economic marginalization associated with deep trade liberalization. With ongoing global facilitation efforts, the international movement of goods, services, and production factors continues to increase. As a result, there is a risk that economic activities may concentrate in a few “core” markets that are large enough to initiate substantial growth and subsequently take the lead in increased development, which in turn leads to more growth. These core markets thus gain a bigger share of global economic activity through trade diversion, investment agglomeration, and consequent industrial relocation. Moreover, these countries’ market potential also gives them an advantage in trade negotiations, particularly bilateral ones.

From a political economy perspective, it matters whether Asian countries sit at the negotiating table individually or as part of a group. With de facto regional economic integration, ASEAN and greater East Asia constitute one of the three main pillars of the world economy. For both developed and developing countries, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is still the best framework for leveling the playing field of international trade and investment. However, due to the fact that the progress of multilateral trade talks cannot catch up with the pace of changing world economy, it seems a multipolar international system of consolidated regional arrangements may provide countries more opportunity for development, not only for small economies, but also for the big actors such as Japan and China.

In this regard, RCEP is especially important for Asia. It is misleading to consider RCEP as a counterpart to the TPP. Indeed, the two initiatives need not be competitors or even complement each other. In basic terms, RCEP is part of the efforts of Asian countries to explore avenues of collaborative regional governance. RCEP should be seen as the extension of an integrated ASEAN community, and it provides a platform for the region to act as a group and collaboratively to play a pivotal role in the global economy. ASEAN stays at the core of this process and takes the role of a functional hub.

While filling RCEP with high-quality standards, like those outlined in the TPP agreement, may be very welcome in some circles, it is not necessary at this stage. What is important is that the negotiations are inclusive and represent the needs and circumstances of all countries in the region, from least to most developed. Doing so will not only help to conclude the agreement itself, but will also facilitate internal domestic reforms.

Indeed, it seems more realistic to prioritize three aspects of the RCEP. First, set a high target of tariff removal ratios at around 90-95 percent. These have in fact already been achieved by most of the ASEAN+1 Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). Those countries that may find this difficult to achieve could negotiate for longer adjustment periods rather than lowering tariff removal ratios. Second, prioritize actionable terms to ensure implementation that will make RCEP meaningful to a broad group of stakeholders. Third, promote RCEP as an arrangement not only for regional integration, but also for regional cooperation. Infrastructure building, especially in the transportation sector and the information and communications technology sector, should be included in the list of priorities.

It does not really matter whether RCEP is a “20th-century type” of regional trade agreement, as long as it is effective in deepening regional integration and enhancing cooperation. Rather than embarking on an ambitious mission that may take a long time to complete, why not take a pragmatic step-by-step approach to achieving progress? How about aiming to conclude an “RCEP 1.0” first and upgrade it later?

It will be a significant achievement in itself to conclude a regional arrangement among 16 countries that covers almost half of the world population, one quarter of global gross domestic product, and around 40 percent of world trade.

Lurong Chen is an Economist with the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA). 

South Korea Is a Good Place to Start Taking on the "Blob"

F-16 Fighting Falcons during an exercise at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. Wikimedia Commons/

Candidate Donald Trump did the seeming impossible: get elected president while speaking truths that shock establishment policymakers. Such as criticizing the defense dole for South Korea, one of Washington’s most sacred cows. However, as his swearing-in nears, he is being strongly pressed to abandon his contrarian views.

During the campaign, Trump accurately diagnosed the problem of nominal allies becoming costly dependents. He declared, “We are better off frankly if South Korea is going to start protecting itself.” Of that there should be no doubt.

He further explained: “We have 28 thousand soldiers on the line in South Korea between the madman and them.” Also true. Moreover, “We get practically nothing compared to the cost of this.” He’s right: it doesn’t benefit America to pay for the defense of nations able to defend themselves.

Alas, Trump fell short when discussing the solution. He argued: “They have to protect themselves or they have to pay us.” The United States shouldn’t hire out its military like a mercenary force. Rather, Washington should turn over defense responsibilities to one of the world’s wealthier nations. Serious, mature countries should protect their own people, rather than beg others to do so.

However, after being elected, Trump appeared to be going on his own apology tour, calling South Korean President Park Geun-hye to promise that America would be “steadfast and strong” with the Republic of Korea. Policy advisers Alexander Gray and Peter Navarro wrote that “Trump will simply pragmatically, and respectfully discuss with Tokyo and Seoul additional ways for those governments to support a presence all involved agree is vital.” If true, then the president-elect will be effectively declaring preemptive surrender.

South Koreans interpreted the forgoing to mean that the good times will continue: no need to worry their own people by matching North Korea’s military efforts. Indeed, Seoul plans to do whatever is necessary to save its defense subsidies. Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se assured South Koreans that “the government will make various efforts so the South Korea-U.S. alliance that has successfully developed over the past 60 years will continue to move forward without faltering despite the change in the U.S. leadership.”

If the ROK succeeds in its efforts, it will be apparent that The Donald is not nearly as tough as he likes to portray. “Draining the swamp” will take work, and nowhere is the swamp more impermeable than Washington’s foreign policy community. There is a convenient consensus from liberal interventionist to neoconservative that the United States must micromanage the world, using force whenever necessary to impose America’s will even when the stakes are minimal. As a result, American lives and wealth have been squandered around the globe. President Trump must take on this conventional wisdom, and the various factions that hold it—what President Barack Obama termed “the Blob” in Washington.

South Korea would be a good place to start.

The United States is in the South because it has always been in the South, or almost. American forces arrived in the Korean peninsula after Japan’s surrender in August 1945, when the United States and Soviet Union occupied the then Japanese colony south and north, respectively. In 1948 the ROK and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were established, backed by their respective patrons. The North invaded in June 1950. The United States entered the war to defend the ROK. As allied forces neared the DPRK’s border with China, the latter intervened to prevent Pyongyang’s defeat. The conflict went on until July 1953, when an armistice was signed.

But peace was never formally made. And the United States still has nearly 29 thousand troops stationed in the South, which act as a tripwire to ensure American involvement in any new war. And the ROK always wants an increased commitment. It recently requested that the U.S. station “strategic weapons,” such as the B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers in South Korea.

In its early years the South remained an economic and political wreck, vulnerable to renewed attack by Pyongyang, still led by Kim Il-sung, who launched the earlier conflict. Moreover, the U.S.S.R. and People’s Republic of China continued to back the DPRK.

However, the world has changed dramatically. In the 1960s South Korea took off economically, soon passing the collectivist North. Democracy arrived in the ROK in 1989, when the South’s last military junta passed into history. With the end of the Cold War, Pyongyang lost its most important allies: both Moscow and Beijing recognized Seoul, and neither would back the DPRK in another aggressive war today.

The South possesses roughly twice the population and forty times the GDP of North Korea. South Korea is an industrial power. Seoul enjoys the international connections of a first rate state. Although the ROK’s military is smaller than that of the North, the South’s equipment and training are far superior. Only in quantity is Seoul’s armed forces inferior and there is no artifact of geography which prevents the ROK from doing more. Rather, South Korea has no reason to invest more on territorial defense when the world’s greatest military power is prepared to intervene on its behalf.

Washington turned defense into welfare. Nations such as the South act like Ronald Reagan’s famous “welfare queens,” profiting from Americans’ generosity. Trump’s campaign remarks caused much wailing in Seoul, worried that it might have to contribute more than the roughly $900 million provided as “host nation support” — about 40 percent of the total. However, the greater cost to the United States is that for raising, equipping and maintaining military units made necessary by additional force commitments. Americans fully bear this burden. Even worse is the risk of being dragged into an unnecessary war.

There’s no persuasive reason for the United States to continue protecting populous and prosperous allies. With the end of the Cold War, the Korean peninsula lacks any significant security relevance to America. A second Korean War would be horrid, of course, but would not threaten the United States in any way. Loss of a mid-size trading partner cannot justify a permanent garrison let alone willingness to risk full-scale conflict.

Many American policymakers see the ROK as necessary to contain China, but South Koreans are unwilling to play that role. They want to be defended against Beijing, if necessary, but not to join a Sino-American war—say over Taiwan—and become a permanent enemy of the PRC. Anyway, if the United States and China come to blows, ground troops in Korea would have no useful role to play.

Finally, some have justified America’s military presence as necessary to prevent war, proliferation, pestilence and most every other evil known to man from descending upon the region. No doubt, U.S. defense guarantees do discourage some potential conflicts. However, America’s role also encourages allies to behave irresponsibly, forcing Washington to try to dissuade nations such as the ROK from doing what they perceive to be in their national interest. Moreover, the military tripwire ensures U.S. involvement in any conflict even if not in America’s interest.

In East Asia it is in no party’s interest to go to war, and the region doesn’t appear to teeter on the edge of chaos. Indeed, it is in everyone’s interest to promote stability even in America’s absence. And if the result is an arms race, mostly by friendly states seeking to balance against the PRC, why is this cause for U.S. concern? Better to have friends and allies do more, rather than relying on America’s willingness to come in. Washington officials forget that alliances are a means to an end — U.S. security — not an end in themselves.

Would an American departure cause South Korea and Japan to go nuclear? Virtually no one believes that Pyongyang can be persuaded to yield its nuclear arsenal, and the latest sanctions resolution adopted by the UN Security Council will have no more impact than those approved in the past. The North is likely to slowly but steadily expand its nuclear arsenal.

Washington could maintain its nuclear umbrella while withdrawing its conventional forces. But there is something worse than the possibility of friendly democratic states building nuclear arsenals, and that is getting in the middle of a nuclear exchange over stakes of minimal importance to the United States. Nonproliferation is a worthy objective, but America would be safer if it withdrew from a potentially unstable region in which only the “bad guys” have nukes.

In short, Washington should engage in burden-shedding, not burden-sharing. Candidate Trump suggested that the ROK pay America for the latter’s defense services. However, the U.S. armed forces should not be rented out like mercenaries. South Korea is able to defend itself. It should do so.

Of course, it would take some time for the South to adapt its forces and policies to changing U.S. strategy. But the incoming administration should begin the process by setting the end point: no more security guarantee, no more tripwire garrison. The replacement would be an agreement for cooperation as equals on issues of mutual interest. The goal should be responsible internationalism rather than either isolation or intervention.

President Park said that President-elect Trump promised to work with Seoul “to protect against the instability in North Korea.” The best way to do that would be to push the ROK to take the steps necessary to deter and if necessary defeat a North Korean attack. But South Korea will do so only when forced to do so, which means after Washington kicks the South off of America’s defense dole.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World and co-author of The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea.

Confronting genocide in Myanmar


Interethnic divisions in a young democracy cannot be downplayed or wished away, and it’s time Myanmar’s government and the international community acknowledge strong evidence that genocide is being perpetrated against the Rohingya and act to end it.

Violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State escalated after a 9 October attack on border guard posts, leaving nine officers dead. Humanitarian assistance and media access to the area have been cut off for weeks while the Myanmar authorities conduct a counterinsurgency operation against allegedly Rohingya assailants. Responsibility for the initial attack remains unclear, however. More than a hundred people are thought to have died already, with 30,000 internally displaced adding to the 160,000 people who have been subsisting in squalid displacement camps since previous outbreaks of violence in 2012 and 2013. Human Rights Watch has released satellite imagery showing that over 1,200 buildings in Rohingya villages have been razed in the past month. Government soldiers have reportedly gang-raped Rohingya women and girls.

Bangladesh, which for 30 years has permitted more than 230,000 registered and unregistered Rohingya refugees to shelter in its territory, has been turning people back who seek refuge across the border. Thousands have already crossed and continue to gather at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

These events mark a dramatic deterioration in what has long been a desperate situation for a minority that many have identified as among the most persecuted in the world. Most of them are stateless, with the government designating them as “Bengalis” or “illegal immigrants,” despite many having had citizenship in the past and having lived in the region for generations. They have been subjected to forced labour and confined to displacement camps where they do not receive adequate food and medical care, leaving pregnant women and children particularly at risk of agonising illness and death.

Rohingya are subject to harsh restrictions on marriage, family size and movement. Their religious buildings have been destroyed, and those who flee on rickety boats to other countries such as Malaysia or Thailand have, in the past, been turned back to the open seas to die or suffer at the hands of traffickers or languish in indefinite detention.

A question that haunts Myanmar’s government, and the international community, is whether what is happening to the Rohingya constitutes genocide. By now a credible claim can be raised that the internationally recognised crime of genocide is taking place in Myanmar. Accordingly, based on international legal obligations, the Myanmar government and other nation states should be taking all necessary actions to stop and avert the gravest kind of humanitarian catastrophe.

Under Article II of the 1948 Genocide Convention, which Myanmar has ratified, “genocide” is defined as “…any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

The Yugoslav tribunal has elaborated further on Article II (c) that deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to bring about a group’s destruction can include “subjecting the group to a subsistence diet, systematic expulsion from homes and denial of the right to medical services. Also included is the creation of circumstances that would lead to a slow death, such as lack of proper housing, clothing, and hygiene or excessive work or physical exertion.”

There is little doubt that for years the Rohingya population has suffered the acts listed in Article II (a) – (d) of the Genocide Convention.

On the intent requirement of the crime – that the acts are committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, an ethnic or religious group – courts have taken a highly contextualised, case-by-case approach, to determining whether intent can be inferred from factual circumstances. Such an inference must be “the only reasonable one available on the evidence.” Additionally, as the Rwandan tribunal has stated: “The offender is culpable because he knew or should have known that the act committed would destroy, in whole or in part, a group.”

This case-by-case approach to intent, along with the high burden of proof requiring the evidence to be “fully conclusive,” renders genocide determinations unavoidably contestable. Other analyses could suggest that the overall intent of perpetrators in Myanmar is better understood as “ethnic cleansing,” which reflects the idea that the actual intent is to forcibly transfer or expel the Rohingya rather than physically destroy them.

In the 2015 case of Croatia v. Serbia, which also included evidence of killings, sexual violence, forced labour, and displacement, the International Court of Justice did not find genocidal intent on the part of the Serbs against the Croats in the context of the Yugoslav war. Key considerations were that the conflict was seen as territorial and the Serbs had organised transportation for Croats to evacuate the territories that Serb forces had occupied.

The difference in the Rohingya case is that there is no clear escape from the abject misery and high risk of death or extreme abuse at the hands of traffickers or by other countries’ immigration authorities. There are no systematic measures to officially deport the population, either through providing transportation or agreeing to formal arrangements with receiving countries. Moreover, Rohingya are deterred from departing through restrictions on movement and punishments for leaving, such as by the removal from household lists, the extortion of family members left behind and imprisonment for “illegal” re-entry.

Hundreds, possibly thousands of babies born in squalid camps have suffered preventable deaths due to lack of food and medical care. The overall conditions are such that those persons imposing them over a prolonged period either know or ought to know, that the eventual outcome will be the physical destruction of the group, in whole or in part.

The complexity of proving genocide is ill-matched to the urgency of preventing and responding to genocidal situations when they arise. We could be waiting years for an international tribunal or a panel of experts to conclude authoritatively that genocide is or is not taking place. This scenario would come as too little too late for the many victims and their families, not to mention the domestic political fallout and economic disaster which would ensue after the fact. At the same time, the moral and political costs – the enduring stigma and potential criminal liability – of not acting to stop genocide are severe.

International law and institutions extricate us from this quandary through their emphasis on genocide prevention as an obligation that is at least as equally strong as protection. The 1948 Convention obligates states to prevent and punish genocide. The widely affirmed Responsibility to Protect doctrine requires states to prevent and protect victims from war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the absence of a meaningful government response.

We can now draw on ample scholarship and case law to identify situations that look very much like genocide and compel robust responses to live up to these obligations to prevent and protect. In 2015, the London-based International State Crime Initiative released a report based on a social scientific study and concluded that, “genocide is taking place in Myanmar” and warning of “the serious and present danger of the annihilation of the country’s Rohingya population.” Others have made a legal case for genocide, or the high risk of genocide, such as scholars Zarni and Cowley, Yale Law School’s human rights clinic, and former deputy prosecutor of the Yugoslav Tribunal, Sir Geoffrey Nice, among others.

Some might argue that the label for a crime should not matter, and in a sense they are right. These crimes too often occur along a spectrum that, without corrective action, can lead to the same calamitous result; massive loss of life and destruction.

We might think the responses would be the same, regardless of the words we choose to define the crime. However, too many international conferences and diplomatic meetings over the years have lamented the long list of persecutions and suffering this group has endured over decades, resulting in responses that are disproportionately inadequate to the gravity of the Rohingya’s plight. Tepid policies toward Myanmar and the Rohingya betray a deep-seated reluctance to label these crimes as genocide for fear of subverting the narrative so many in the world have waited for; an enlightened democratic transition. The notion of genocide in Myanmar risks turning the country back into an international pariah rather than an international darling.

But the current violence painfully illustrates that interethnic divisions in a young democracy cannot be downplayed or wished away. It is time for Myanmar, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the United Nations and others to face facts, to confront the prospect of genocide being perpetrated against the Rohingya. They must be open to judgment for their inaction, or more hopefully, take action and commit the resources needed to save lives throughout the region and preserve Myanmar’s future.

This piece is published in partnership with Policy – Asia and the Pacific’s platform for public policy analysis and debate.

Katherine Southwick is a Visiting Scholar at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.


Trump in the Taiwan China shop

News of the Trump/Tsai Ing-wen phone convo exploded into the mediasphere on Friday night and learned and unlearned predictions of dire consequences raged for a good four hours until the PRC government issued an anodyne statement that characterized the phone call as “a petty trick” by Taiwan.

By placing the onus on Taiwan, the PRC was indulging Trump’s tweeted version of events, which is that Tsai had called him, not the other way around.  Awkwardly, original reports out of Taiwan had characterized the phone call as initiated by Trump through the good offices of Stephen Yates, a pro-Taiwan hardliner in the Republican Party.

The incident provided ample grist for the Trump outrage mill, feeding the preferred liberal/Beltway narrative that Trump is either surpassingly maladroit in the fine arts of governance, certifiably insane, or venally exploiting his (soon to be occupied, if the recount doesn’t scupper him) office to advance plans for a hotel complex in Taiyuan, in any case unfit for office The End.

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For some interesting reason, there has been little speculation on the motives or wisdom of Tsai Ing-wen, a quite canny politician, in accepting (version 1) or initiating (version 2) this supposedly reckless telephone conversation. Judging by an account in the Taipei Times, the call was a planned event developed by both sides and not an occasion of one side impetuously drunk-dialing the other. Tsai’s office issued a readout of the ten-minute call, noting that her national security advisor was also present.

Apparently Tsai is going through a rough patch, approval-ratings-wise,  and perhaps thought of a phone call with Donald Trump might be a neat political game-changer.

My take is not too alarmist.  Trump stirred the Taiwan pot.  Not necessarily a bad thing or a good thing.  Maybe nothing. It’s a phone call.

Taiwan indeed is regarded as a red line, since the United States honors the Shanghai Communiques and the One China policy and ostentatiously avoids infringing on the integrity of China i.e. encouraging Taiwan independence, even as the US engages in various other anti-PRC shenanigans throughout East Asia and for that matter stating a commitment to defend Taiwan against aggression under the Taiwan Relations Act and, indeed, selling arms to Taiwan.

The PRC is quite fanatical about restricting, well extinguishing any international recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign state and Trump, by referring to Tsai as the president of Taiwan, gave the PRC ample grounds for offense.

But a realist as well as idealistic case can be made for standing up for Taiwan’s liberal democracy and its de facto independence.  A key competitor for influence with America inside Taiwan is not just the PRC — it’s Japan, with which Taiwan in general and the DPP in particular share a close and powerful affinity.  By sticking his oar in the Taiwan situation, Trump could potentially make the United States a more active and positive actor in Taiwan’s politics and diplomacy and forestall its drift into the Japanese sphere of influence.

The most interesting fallout from L’Affaire phonecall was, for me, the signs that Cheney neocons are taking position at Trump’s elbows, apparently jostling aside the Kurt Campbell pivoteers as maestros of Trump’s anti-China policy.

Reporting on Trump’s foreign policy staffing is notoriously unreliable, but the names bandied about include John Bolton and Michael Pillsbury.  And there’s Stephen Yates, already mentioned above.

The generous characterization of the relationship between Taiwan and John Bolton, the notorious mustachio’d regime-change testicle-twisting stapler-flinging uber-hawk who represented the US at the United Nations under George W. Bush, is “it runs deep”.

Less charitably, Bolton took money from a notorious KMT slush fund to write pro-Taiwan articles without registering himself as a foreign lobbyist, thereby creating some definite if transitory awkwardness during his confirmation hearings.

Michael Pillsbury was, in the Bush years, the go-to alarmist on the Chinese military buildup at the Department of Defense, as well as a frequent source for China hawk (and Asia Times columnist!) Bill Gertz.  I expect that Pillsbury’s dire predictions about Chinese capabilities and intentions are more mainstream and less mocked now than they were back in 2006, when The Washington Monthly published a scathing profile of him as a serial sensationalizer and fantasist.

Stephen Yates, who was initially credited helping set up the Trump-Tsai call, was a key member of Dick Cheney’s inner circle.  Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, an inveterate foe of the neocons, supplied the dish to Robert Dreyfuss at The American Prospect:

Two of the people most often encountered by Wilkerson were Cheney’s Asia hands, Stephen Yates and Samantha Ravich. Through them, the fulcrum of Cheney’s foreign policy — which linked energy, China, Iraq, Israel, and oil in the Middle East — can be traced. The nexus of those interrelated issues drives the OVP’s broad outlook.

Yates … had an important impact on Asia and Middle East policy. Says Wilkerson: “Generally Steve was quiet. But when there came a time for him to speak, the room grew very silent, and that did it. We weren’t going any further in that discussion item if Steve said that the vice president didn’t like it. And it didn’t take too long to understand that the real power in the room was sitting there from the vice president’s office.”

Today, Yates denied the Taipei Times report that he set up the phone call.  But he said he thought it was a good idea.  So there’s that.

It appears quite likely, therefore, that Trump is not winging his foreign policy based on how he’s digested his last taco bowl, but instead has chosen to surround himself with acolytes of Dick Cheney.

The defining characteristics of Cheneyite neocons included a contempt for transparency, consensus, and strict notions of legality, a love of virtuous conspiracies, and infatuation with the direct wielding of unilateral American military power.  Their signature legacies were the disastrous invasion of Iraq, torture, and Guantánamo.

The highly legalized, alliance-based soft power incrementalist approach to foreign affairs of the Obama administration was to a significant extent regarded as a repudiation of the brutal US cowboyism of the Bush/Cheney years.

If the Cheney revival does play out under Trump, his China policy will be in the hands of unilateralist hard-power neocons who scorn the painstaking legal parsing, coalition-building and soft-power incrementalism of the pivoteers.  They also, I will imagine, be eager to seek out opportunities to wield America’s military might in concert with the uniformed military personnel, like Michael Flynn, James Mattis, and possibly John Kelly, with whom Trump has decided to stock the White House security and defense apparatus.

I predict interesting times ahead for Kim Jong Un, since North Korea was a notorious target for neocon regime change shenanigans during the Bush administration, well, make that serial fiascos, and John Bolton probably feels he’s got some unfinished business up there.

As for Taiwan, the neocon history is, to put it mildly, interesting.

I daresay it is a little-known fact that during the George W. Bush administration, when PRC ability to project power across the Taiwan Strait, though growing, was still rather limited, anti-China hard-liners were encouraging Taiwan’s Chen Shuibian to declare independence, presumably on the theory that this would draw the PRC into a catastrophic confrontation with the United States and probably bring down the regime.

Lawrence Wilkerson told the story to The Hill in 2007:

“The Defense Department, with Feith, Cambone, Wolfowitz Rumsfeld, was dispatching a person to Taiwan every week … essentially to tell Chen Shui-bian … that independence was a good thing.”

Wilkerson said Powell would then dispatch his own envoy “right behind that guy, every time they sent somebody, to disabuse the entire Taiwanese national security apparatus of what they’d been told by the Defense Department.”

“This went on,” he said of the pro-independence efforts, “until George Bush weighed in and told Rumsfeld to cease and desist told him multiple times to re-establish military-to-military relations with China.”

Today things are a little different and how to fight a Taiwan war with a massively bulked up PRC military is a matter of anxious discussion in Washington.  The conventional deterrence façade is crumbling, there is, I hope, a deficit of enthusiasm for entering into a nuclear exchange, limited or otherwise, with the PRC, over Taiwan.  Shared, I expect, by Taiwan itself.

The Trump team may still be in thrall to the dream of exterminating Chinese Communism by severing its Middle East energy lifeline — the anti-Iran obsession of the current outfit probably harks back to the Cheney Clean Break strategy — but I expect they will find Taiwan considerably less eager to roll the dice with independence and help precipitate an existential crisis for the CCP.

Don’t expect Taiwan independence, in other words, but expect some Trump blame-fingering at the pivoteers for letting America’s window of military opportunity in the Taiwan Strait slide shut during the Obama era.

And there will be limited coddling of the PRC’s sensitivities when it comes to supporting Taiwan.

I think the old-school China hawks who are reportedly gathering around Trump will be of the opinion that it’s up to Taiwan to decide what risks it wants to take in the relationship, not for the United States to discourage it.  If Tsai wants to talk to the US president, good for her and to heck with China.  It’s her country and her neck. In fact, from their perspective, there’s no harm in encouraging Taiwan to push the envelope, and see how far it can take things in its dealings with the PRC and the United States.

And if the PRC wants to make something of it, well — in the immortal words of George W. Bush when he dared the Iraq insurgency to slug it out with the US occupying forces — “bring it.”