1. US political posturing harms Thai-US relations
Thailand mistakenly thought the US would apply the same standards of engagement to all allies
The Nation/ ANN
The latest strong condemnation by Washington of Thailand's action over the Uighur illegal immigrants has dampened any future amelioration of Thai-US relations.
Thailand recalled a similar episode at the end of 2009 when it repatriated over 4,000 Hmong refugees back to Laos, ending four-decades of bitter Thai-Lao hostility.
At the time, the US led the international community to severely trash Thailand, arguing the returnees would be prosecuted and tortured.
In other words, it was all bad, violating human rights and relevant international laws - exactly the same tone used against Thailand these past weeks.
In retrospect, Laos proved to be a trustful friend fulfilling all the promises - with some lapses, of course - given to the Abhisit government and literally allowing some breathing room to Thailand in the global arena later on.
What followed has been a rapid improvement in Thai-Lao relations, which had been stuck with the Hmong issue since 1975.
This time, US harsh reaction drew a rare response from Dr Panitan Wattanyayagorn, a security adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who pointed out that the US often offers self-serving comments on issues in its own interest.
That spoke volumes of the current state of Thai-US ties.
Despite the mutual desire to improve relations, Washington's continued unwarranted political posturing continues to undermine the Thai government at every turn.
Here are some additional examples often cited:
First of all, Washington's inability to reconcile political developments since the coup in May 2014. This will continue to have a long impact on Thai-US relations, especially on the security alliance and multilateral security franchises. The US voiced threats after previous coups as a routine response - apparently not this time, even though the current environment is more favourable than before.
Let's face the reality. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is not going anywhere soon, as he will continue to fulfil what he pledged to do.
Like it or not, the Thai military is part of the country's political DNA as its evolution has long demonstrated. Washington continues to view the military's intervention as an illegitimate act.
Therefore, with this different basic understanding, the two countries will drift further apart.
Second, the ultimate failure to build on progress in the renewed Thai-US strategic realignment in 2012, as part of the US rebalancing policy in Asia.
The two allies urgently need to rebuild their security ties - basically unchanged since 1962 - so they do not get him by political posturing and uncertainty. For instance, there is still no combined defence and foreign ministerial meetings between the region's oldest allies - a display of mutual recalcitrance. The US is now placing high strategic value on non-ally countries such as Vietnam, Myanmar and Singapore.
Thailand has been quick to adjust its strategic postures towards more embracing of key powers amid the US absence.
Thailand mistakenly thought the US would apply the same standards of engagement to all allies, such as Egypt or Israel. Therefore, from now on, Thai policy makers are no longer acting "expediently" to help the US manoeuvre through their territory.
The delay in permission for US flights in the Thai sky at the end of May during recent collaboration over the "Rohingya crisis" for maritime surveillance is a good example. In favourable times, it would have taken no time for such permission.
Third, it is all about Cobra Gold - the notion that the military exercise will continue, but scaled down as a consequence of the coup.
Truth be told, as far as the 32-year-old Cobra Gold is concerned, it is the American troops, learning interoperability with selective friends, that are the main beneficiaries.
The recent Cobra Gold was a humiliating exercise for the Thais as the US's half-hearted and scaled-down participation did not go down well with the Thai co-hosts.
The joint exercise next year is showing similar symptoms.
For the Thai armed forces, the more respected officials are often missing from the annual exercise.
In fact, they would not mind scrapping it altogether, if push comes to shove.
Fourth, Thailand has few friends in the US Congress and government. American lawmakers hostile to Thailand are in abundance in Washington these days as they continue to view Bangkok as pro-Beijing.
The US State Department also sees the country as a disloyal ally. It has also completely lost all diplomatic finesse and charm in engaging Thailand after the Christmas of 2007. Where is the "Skip" control?
Fifth, Washington has not shown sufficient appreciation of Bangkok's relentless efforts to stabilise the country and move towards democracy.
This has been the biggest pitfall for Washington's policy makers on Thailand, believing that the current military-run administration would yield to US pressure on the electoral process.
Currently at odds is also the much delayed Traffic in Persons report, which prompted Prayut and related agencies to kick butts and prosecute wrongdoers and dramatically boost migrant workers' conditions.
If the TIP report is indifferent to the latest progress, it would be a severe blow to the current state of the relationship.
Interestingly, all other countries have shown more respect and conducted diplomatic ties "almost at near normalcy" with Thailand. If this trend continues, it will become normalised, which leaves little or no room for Thai-US relations. Thailand has changed greatly since last May.
Finally, the notion that Thailand is just "bluffing" in its engaging with China and Russia, especially over hardware procurement.
Sooner rather than later, China and Russia as well as other arms exporters, will gradually edge out the US-dominated arms procurements in this country, disrupting the US oriented interoperability.
Western pundits view Thailand's planned purchases of Chinese and Russian arms as a reaction to the US rejection of domestic conditions - that this sentiment would soon disappear once the political woes have been fixed. Indeed, it is a wrong prognosis as there is no turning back this time.
Bangkok deliberately used this vacuum to diversify its arms arsenals as other Asean countries have done.
Before long, there will be Russian-made jetfighters flying in the Thai sky and Chinese-made submarines under the Andaman and in the Gulf of Thailand. They will open shops to service jetfighters and submarines and also train the Thai armed forces.
Who knows? There could be a series of "Dragon Gold," or "Golden Bear" joint exercises on the pipeline.
2. China's humiliation in the past will govern its future actions in the region
Put simply, it is highly unlikely for China to be embroiled in an armed conflict with India that will bring about dishonour and, ultimately, loss of face for the Chinese in the global community.
In Indian media, experts often discuss China's expansionism, economic clout, aggressive foreign policy and its military threat to India as well as other nations without really contextualizing the historical factors that have played a critical role in shaping China's current nationalist policies.
Although experts may have different perspectives on many issues, they might agree on one important point: one simply cannot understand China's present foreign policy without knowing China's past.
China's 100-year history of shame and humiliation at the hands of western nations and Japan serves as the main raw material for constructing China's contemporary national identity.
Since national interests are defined by national identity and national identity, in turn, influences foreign policy, a deeper understanding of Chinese history is essential to understand China's politics and more importantly its foreign policy.
With Marxism-Leninism on the wane in China since the mid-1980s as a consequence of Deng Xiaoping's major economic reforms, the People's Republic embraced patriotic nationalism as a way to unify the nation.
It would be a mistake to assume that nationalism is only about the glorification of Chinese culture and civilization.
On the contrary, nationalism attaches great importance to the 100-year history of shame and humiliation that China suffered from foreign imperialist powers.
Chinese textbooks, popular history books, feature films, museums, and atlases, among others, constantly remind the people of their nation's century of shame and humiliation.
These different media outlets explain how China, which in Mandarin is called "Zhongguo," meaning the "center of the world" later came to be known as the "sick man of Asia" by westerners after the first Opium War of 1839.
These narratives are about the fall and rise of the Chinese Republic.
The overarching message in all the stories is "Never forget China - the country of 100 years of national humiliation."
The nationalist discourse about China's humiliation is often about dealing effectively with the imperialist west and other enemies both militarily and economically.
Chinese nationalist discourse also serves in the symbolic realm by functioning as the collective memory of the people.
For the Chinese, the sense of shame and humiliation functions as a major catalyst for unifying people and getting them to put the nation forward, thereby exorcising the humiliation and shame of the past.
The first Opium War of 1839, whereby the British navy forcibly opened the Chinese empire to western capitalists, along with the British acquisition of Hong Kong in 1842 is usually seen as the beginning of the century of China's national humiliation.
People are reminded of all the wars that they lost, especially the Sino-Russian and Sino-Japanese wars that brought a deep sense of shame and humiliation to the nation.
The historical tales are written in a predicable manner; it is about various foreign invasions, wars, lootings, killings, rapes, and unequal treatises that China was forced to accept from Japan and other Western powers.
Starting at the beginning of the 20th century with the onset of the Sino-Japanese War, China's primary enemies shifted from western imperialists to Japanese imperialists.
To this day the Chinese people have neither forgiven nor forgotten the horrific atrocities in Nanjing [NANKING], also known as the "Rape of Nanjing," committed by Japanese soldiers that ended up in the systematic killing of Chinese men and rape of women.
Several China experts have listed the following events as major sources of shame and humiliation at the hands of foreign powers:
# The beginning of China's history of humiliation with the First Opium War (1839-42).
# The humiliating defeat in the Second Opium War of 1856-60.
# Burning of the famous Yuanming Garden Palace by Franco-British soldiers in 1860, bringing disgrace beyond redemption for the Chinese people.
# The humiliating defeat at the hands of Japanese in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894.
# The Russian massacres of 64 villages in Jiangdong, Manchuria in 1900.
# Crushing defeat of the Boxer Revolution in 1900 with allied forces from eight European countries invading China.
# Defeat at the hands of the Russians in the Sino-Russian War of 1905.
# Japanese invasion and defeat of Chinese in 1931.
# The infamous massacre in the capital of Nanjing (Nanking) by Japanese in 1931.
In 1949, when the People's Republic of China (PRC) was founded, Mao Zedong, the new leader, told the whole world "China will no longer be a nation subject to insult and humiliation," marking the end of 100 years of humiliation.
From Mao Zedong, Deng Zhao Ping, Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao, all Chinese leaders have effectively used historical memories of shame and humiliation for social mobilisation of mass support.
Each of these leaders emphasised that his work was to restore China's power and glory. Each also asked his countrymen and women to be ready to sacrifice personal interests in order to restore the past pride and glory of China.
It is quite evident that national humiliation functions in important ways in China's public memory.
Now, the question is: what are the implications of such narratives of shame and humiliation for foreign policy?
China experts usually refer to two schools of thought on this issue.
The first school's perspective is since China wants to be a major player in the global arena, it will adhere to a policy of peaceful coexistence given their Confucian tradition of respecting peace and harmony.
Not doing so will make them lose face.
The 100-year history of shame and humiliation also has made the Chinese more sensitive to the necessity of maintaining friendly, equitable, respectful and harmonious relationships with other nations.
The second school acknowledges the enormous power that China now wields both economically and militarily, and its ability to face the military might of any nation.
Now that China has risen as a great power, it will seek to avenge its past humiliations economically, politically, or even militarily, which could potentially be very damaging for its enemies.
The century of humiliation has made the Chinese people vengeful towards perpetrators of shame and humiliation.
These experts warn that China will not hesitate to use its military might to avoid further humiliation while attempting to shame more powerful nations by returning the disgrace on their opponent.
The first perspective is untenable because it does not explain the aggressive posturing that China has been engaging in recently with several of its neighbours concerning territorial rights on the East and South China Sea.
The second position is narrow and has a top-down view of Chinese identity and politics.
I, therefore, propose a third alternative, which is a synthesis of the first two.
In the third perspective, China will not hesitate to engage in armed conflict when it is convinced that it is the right thing to do and, more importantly, it will help save its face.
In keeping with the notion of face saving, the Chinese will play hardball and refuse to make any compromises on issues that are critically important to them.
Specifically, for India, resolving border problems with China will be a thorny issue.
Given China's persistent refusal to accept the McMahon Line as being official, it is highly unlikely it will make any concessions on its demands concerning the disputed areas because that will indicate weakness on its part, which, in turn, will make it lose face.
Although there may be heightened border tensions from time to time, China cannot afford to engage in a full-fledged armed conflict with India because it will damage China's image and goodwill internationally.
Furthermore, from a pragmatic perspective, it makes perfect sense to maintain warm, cordial relations with India in order to protect China's trade interests in India's burgeoning market.
Given that China has an all consuming desire to be a major player globally, it might want to be perceived as a nation that stands for peace and prosperity in the world.
That way the Chinese will be able to show the rest of the world that its ancient Han culture and civilization, which they are so proud of, is superior to other warmongering nations because of the Confucian tradition of respecting peace and harmony.
Put simply, it is highly unlikely for China to be embroiled in an armed conflict with India that will bring about dishonor and, ultimately, loss of face for the Chinese in the global community.
In China, concern with face and face-saving is critically important, and this is why avoiding confrontation is so highly valued even today. For the Chinese, losing face is tantamount to losing one's honor, dignity and pride.
In the end, the truth of the matter is nobody can say with certainty how China will conduct itself in the world community.
One thing is certain though, as China expert, David Shambaugh, aptly put it: "China will remain a country of complexity and contradictions - which will keep China watchers and Chinese alike guessing about its future indefinitely."
The writer is professor of communication studies, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.
3. Will Gerakan Harapan Baru be a new hope for progressives?
Wan Saiful Wan Jan
This Raya week marks the beginning of a more concerted effort by some figures in the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) to set up a new political party. Calling themselves "Gerakan Harapan Baru" (GHB), they have started a nationwide tour to speak to the public in all states across Malaysia.
Turnout at the event in Kelantan and Perlis on Sunday was good and people whom I spoke to who attended the events were excited.
PAS' response to GHB is expected. They see it as a threat and they are painting GHB in a bad light. This is sheer hypocrisy.
Various individuals in PAS, including their President Datuk Seri Hadi Awang, have gone overboard to insult their former colleagues who lost in the party election in June.
Some others claimed that the outcome of the party election is a sign that God is helping PAS to "cleanse" the party.
But when they realised that GHB could become a threat, PAS changed their tack and started to get upset. They are now saying that it is sinful to leave PAS to form a new party, despite earlier saying that they want them out anyway.
If GHB does end up forming a new party, the one person who will take the biggest blame will be Hadi. He will be remembered as a president who was completely impotent to prevent the break-up.
History will also record Hadi as one of the main causes of the break-up. When party members were insulting each other, he did not urge restraint but he joined them. I have never seen a party president who just does not care about the fate of his own party like Hadi.
Having said that, I must also put it on record that Hadi remains one of the Islamic scholars whom I respect. Unfortunately, when it comes to political acumen, I regret that he will be remembered for this political failure.
The GHB movement has committed to forming a new party. This will come with many hurdles and it will not be easy.
Registering a new party is a challenge by itself. Then there is the problem of grassroots machinery. The party will have to work hard to create their own campaign teams on the ground and this, too, is no easy task.
When I heard the results of the June party election, I was hoping that those who lost would remain in the party. I would have preferred if they allowed the conservatives full and free reign for two years.
That way, everyone would eventually realise that the conservatives are nothing but empty heads who have no real ideas to offer the country. And during the two years, I was hoping that the progressives would turn themselves into an organised force to win back important posts in the next party election, just before the 14th general election.
But the PAS progressives seem very certain that the party is beyond redemption. I have now realised that too.
The reality is, PAS has always been a conservative party and they have only allowed the progressives to hold certain positions temporarily, without the party changing its nature.
The progressives have miserably failed to change the party when they had the chance. Ultimately, the progressives charted their own demise in PAS when they mistakenly refused to educate party members about what progressiveness means. They even refused to acknowledge the need to do it when they had the chance.
The formation of a new political party could signify a major shift in Malaysian politics. But looking at the messages coming out from the GHB leaders, I worry about another mistake that they are now making.
They are positioning themselves as a competitor to PAS. One of the GHB leaders, Khalid Samad, said that the only difference between them and PAS is their commitment to working with other partners and their commitment to the Pakatan Rakyat concept. He also said that in terms of belief and understanding towards Islam, they are the same.
This "PAS-but-different" strategy means that they are pitting themselves not against their bigger political enemies, but against PAS. Of course, PAS will go ape because this also means GHB will focus on stealing PAS' members and voters. When two parties who are supposedly on the same side fight each other, the only beneficiary is the party on the other side.
I do understand that the GHB leaders are looking at the next general election and therefore they want to fill in the gap left by PAS. But this is too shortsighted.
It would have been much better if GHB were to position themselves as completely different from PAS and from all other parties in Malaysia. Their real sign of success is if they can attract not just current PAS members, but also the progressives from Umno, PKR, DAP, Gerakan, Sarawak's PBB and all the other parties, plus those who are not yet in any party. Then only will they add real value to Malaysian politics.
Malaysians are tired of ethno-religious politics and obsession with one political overlord. Malaysians are looking for a party that fights for universal values who will champion the rights of all of us. Many are waiting to see if GHB can turn their Islamic rhetoric into universal messages acceptable to all.
This is the real challenge faced by those who want to take Malaysia into the next stage. We may believe in different things. We are a diverse country and each one of us may lean towards different directions. But we will all gather around those who can project a message of hope and unity.
If GHB positions itself as just another Islamic party rivalling PAS, then I doubt it will survive in the long term.
The writer is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my) and a PAS member.
4. In search of the right Philippine President
The key attribute we ought to be looking at in choosing our president is character.
Cielito F. Habito
Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN
President Aquino delivers his sixth and final State of the Nation Address (Sona) next week, and will henceforth be tagged with the unsavory appellation of "lame duck" in his final year in office.
The question of who will succeed him already figures prominently in public and private discussions, to the point of becoming a distraction from more urgent work.
Many expect little from the administration in its final year, as political campaigns start being foremost in politicians' minds.
Businesses also tend to hold back on new investments, taking a "wait and see" attitude in anticipation of a leadership change.
Everyone hopes that the next president will stay the course on things where we've done well, and improve on those where we have not.
The question boils down to what our next president should be like (and who among the viable candidates would fit the bill best).
Most o f us welcomed the presidency of Benigno S. Aquino III for the way it promised improved governance, especially in the area of integrity and honesty.
It showed quite clearly in how our investment numbers shifted dramatically after 2010, with an upswing that has consistently marked the past five years' data.
Yet President Aquino and his administration have not been without fault. Even so, so much has been accomplished under his leadership that presidents before him had been unable to deliver. I will not elaborate on these here, as next week's Sona will surely highlight them.
His faults notwithstanding, President Aquino has been, to my mind, a true blessing to the Filipino nation-and we all hope his successor will be as well.
In choosing who he or she must be, we must be clear on the qualities we want him/her to have. I think we should have all learned by now, from experience with past presidents, what kind of president we should not have.
More generally, we should have also learned by now what kind of attitudes we as a people should not have as well.
Many of us remember that essay supposedly written by a Korean observer that made the rounds online several years ago, asserting that our problem is that we Filipinos simply don't love our country enough.
He cited how Koreans and Thais from all walks of life voluntarily gave up their gold jewelry to the government, for example, to help shore up their dwindling reserves at the height of the 1997 financial crisis-something supposedly unthinkable for Filipinos.
James Fallows, in an Atlantic Monthly article that attracted much attention in 1987, wrote about the Filipinos' "damaged culture," with the damage he alluded to summed up in a general lack of concern for the common good.
I call it a lack of nationalism.
But I do not mean the nationalism espoused by some that borders on xenophobia, almost to the point of despising everything foreign.
Rather, the nationalism we lack is the sense of oneness as a nation, the lack of ability to place the national common good above self-interest.
We see it in many people in public office, and we see it among us ordinary citizens.
We seem to be a fragmented nation of self-centered individuals-and we know it and even joke about it.
We see it in Filipinos here at home, as in motorists who inconvenience everyone else by forcing a new counterflow lane rather than wait for their turn.
We see it in Filipinos abroad, as in the way many overseas Filipino associations split up repeatedly when election losers "secede" and form their own group.
We see it in Filipinos rich or poor alike, well-educated or not, wherever they may be.
For me, then, the foremost quality we need in our next president is the ability to exemplify and bring about unity or oneness as a Filipino nation-that is, nationalism of the right kind.
I particularly admired the way I was recruited into the Ramos Cabinet without anyone bothering to ask me if I had even voted for him.
Later, I heard of how an extremely qualified candidate for a key position in the Estrada administration was told outright that she could not be chosen because she had not campaigned (not just voted!) for Estrada.
At times, the fallen president even appeared to be fomenting a class war, when he should have been fostering unity and harmony among Filipinos.
That, to me, was the most unpresidential of his faults-and I worry for our country now that I see the same tendency in a prominent presidential contender.
Not a few people were scared in 2004 of the prospect of a Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ) presidency, clearly because of our past disastrous experience with an actor president.
But one's profession need not be a liability (nor an asset, for that matter) for the country's presidency.
Most did not need to be convinced that FPJ's values were different from Estrada's; the former seemed to have been seen favorably by most people in that regard.
But there remained a common fear that he could easily be subject to manipulation by ill-motivated advisers and cronies.
It's for this reason that I've come to believe that more than anything, the key attribute we ought to be looking at in choosing our president is character.
It is that character that would lead him/her to heed the right advice when his/her lack of technical competence will call for it. And it is that character that would determine his/her judgment on decisions of policy and selection of appointees to key positions.
It's time we stopped looking for the perfect president, now or in the future. There is no such animal.
But in our search, I submit that the first thing we ought to look for is solid character.
Given that, I believe that most everything else should fall into place.