Taiwan's army needs a revamp, The 'new normal economy in China', Free market vital for Hong Kong Stock Exchange

M110A2 self-propelled howitzers take part in a display during the annual Han Kuang military exercise in an army base in Hsinchu, northern Taiwan.
M110A2 self-propelled howitzers take part in a display during the annual Han Kuang military exercise in an army base in Hsinchu, northern Taiwan. PHOTO: REUTERS

Commentaries and insights from newspapers from the Asia News Network (ANN).

1. Can Taiwan's army be second-to-none in Asia?

The military needs discipline and a revamp to restore its lost glory 

Joe Hung
The China Post/ANN

Taiwan army special forces demonstrate their combat skill in front of the Unmanned Aerial vehicles (UAE) during the 70th Anniversary of the WWII at the Huko military in northern Hsinchu on July 4, 2015.  PHOTO: AFP

Shortly after graduation from Taiwan University in 1954, I was drafted as a translator-interpreter at the then General Headquarters of the Chinese Army to discharge my ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) duty. 

There was a Department of Translation in the GHQ responsible for translating almost all the field, technical and weapons manuals of the US Army, because Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek was implementing his Operation Forward Look to reorganise the Army of the Republic of China into one like the US Army, which is second-to-none.

There was a blunder in translation of "second-to-none" into Chinese.

A liaison officer assigned to translate knew little English. Moreover, he was lazy. He didn't even try to look it up in an English dictionary. 

The English-Chinese dictionary he used didn't have an entry for "second-to-none." So he improvised. His translation was bi mei you shao wei hao yi dian-dian de lu jun or literally "an army a little better than nothing."

It made sense to him. The word none actually means nothing. The phrase second to, well, also means "inferior to" or "next to." But "an army next to nothing" didn't sound right; and so he invented his "logical" translation.

The impromptu sobriquet the liaison officer at the GHQ Department of Translation had given the Army was an apt one for Chiang's Kuomintang Army defeated in the Chinese Civil War, at the end of which the government of the Republic of China was moved to Taipei from Nanjing in 1949. 

His government Army lost every battle after Manchuria had been taken over by Mao Zedong's People's Liberation Army.

Initially, the government Army had won a number of battles in Manchuria thanks to its American-equipped armored divisions under command of Lt. Gen. Du Yu-ming, but was routed later for lack of discipline.

Incidentally, the PLA retained quite a number of artillery units of Japan's famous Kanto Army (and used them to defeat Du's armored divisions.

With the US military assistance and advisory help, President Chiang was able to turn his "army a little better than nothing" into one really better than all in Asia except for China's PLA — so much so that Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur planned to get an "Elite Corps" of Taiwan's reorganised Army to join in the Korean War to fight the PLA expeditionary army in Korea. 

Chiang agreed with MacArthur with a proviso that the Elite Corps of three divisions could cross the Yalu River to attack Manchuria.

The plan was vetoed by President Harry S. Truman.

The chances are now that that army second-to-none may return to its old self of one a little better than nothing.

President Lee Teng-hui might have, and his successor President Chen Shui-bian did have, an ungrounded fear of an uprising by the Kuomintang Army, which they both tried to weaken. 

Together with the retirement of practically all the well-trained officers and men, the poorly trained, inexperienced general staff has turned the Army into a low-grade fighting force, which President Ma Ying-jeou wants to replace with an all-volunteer Army by 2016, if possible.

Not just the Army, but the Navy and the Air Force lack discipline as well.

Remember the two submarines that failed to score a hit in an exercise witnessed by President Chen? 

Four torpedoes were fired, but none of them hit the drone. Warplanes tried to sink a capsized Korean freighter carrying toxic benzene off the coast of Hsinchu in 2005.

Missiles were fired, but the freighter remained afloat with the belly up.

The Army was then called on to send attack helicopters to sink it. They failed just as miserably.

One idiotic mistake the general staff made occurred in an Operation Han Kuang while President Chen was still in office.

Han Kuang was a troop maneuver to test Taiwan's capability of defense against a PLA invasion from the mainland of China. 

According to the scenario, a reinforcement unit was sent by Taiwan's vaunted high-speed railroad to help repel the landed Red Army.

Soldiers in full battle gear almost crowded out civilian passengers aboard the bullet train who were at a loss for what was going on.

Didn't staff officers who created the scenario for the exercise know no reinforcements could be sent by rail which must have been blocked out or destroyed by the PLA's pre-landing bombardments? 

While I was still serving in the Army GHQ, a troop maneuver to defend Taiwan was called Operation Rochester.

US Army units joined in the exercise, which was truly realistic. President Chiang even went aboard an American aircraft carrier to witness Operation Blue Star that tested the joint operation plan of the two countries to abort a Chinese amphibious operation against Taiwan.

After Ma's takeover from Chen, discipline and military security were so lax that Lt. Col. Lao Nai-cheng could take family and friends to the Longtan base near Taoyuan without permission to show them AH-64 Apache helicopters just delivered by the United States and his superiors did the same earlier this year.

Minister of National Defence Kao Kuang-chi had to apologise to the nation for the Apache scandal.

Another scandal involving the MND was unearthed shortly afterward. Prosecutors are now investigating the purchases of parts and components by its Ordnance Readiness Development Center in Jiji in Nantou County that produces CM-12 and CM-11 "Brave Tiger" tanks, along with CM-21 armored vehicles and "Clouded Leopard" eight-wheeled armored vehicles for the Army.

Contractors are suspected to have bought parts and components for the Clouded Leopards from China and sold them to the ORDC.

President Ma, who will step down on next May 20, called on the Armed Forces on June 26 to honestly face their mistakes and correct them in order to build a sounder system within the military in the wake of the Apache scandal.

Can the Army that looks like one only a little better than nothing claw back to its once second-to-none status in Asia after the very likely change of government next May?

2. ‘The new normal’ economy and policies of China

Many are watching to see how China plays its role in the present and future.

Martin Khor
The Star/ANN

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) speaks during a meeting with former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and other delegates of the Global Think Tank Summit, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on June 26, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

I am not sure who first coined the term “the new normal”, but it is increasingly being used worldwide to mean that something that was unusual is now becoming quite usual and we should become used to this new situation.

Last week, during a trip to China, I heard this phrase quite a lot.

It was used by several Chinese officials and scholars to describe the changed or changing situation in their country.

The “new normal” is indeed an apt way to describe or analyse several things taking place in China.

I was there mainly for a Think Tank summit which brought together leaders from research institutions and former political leaders, many of whom had joined think tanks or created institutions of their own.

About 40 of the foreign participants had a one-hour dialogue session with Premier Li Keqiang.

He was asked questions, mainly by Western leaders such as former president of the European Commission Romano Prodi, former Australian premier Kevin Rudd, and US President Obama’s former special climate change envoy John Podesta who now heads Hilary Clinton’s election campaign.

The visitors were clearly impressed by China’s recent economic performance but also had big worries about many issues, including the country’s impact on global climate change and the geo-political implications of its new initiatives such as the huge “one belt, one road” project that will involve many countries from China through Central Asia to Europe.

Premier Li handled the questions very well without referring to notes or to aides.

Speaking in a steady tone and with up-to-date facts and statistics, he tried to assure the group that China recognised the global and national problems and that its new initiatives would involve cooperation and not conflictual competition with Europe or the US.

If his aim was to assure his audience that China was seriously tackling issues like air pollution, economic slowdown, the remaining poverty and increased inequality, as well as to join in the fight against global problems such as climate change, economic slowdown, financial crises and political instability, he succeeded.

When someone asked the premier to get China to assume more global leadership, Li said, “China has a long way to go to achieve modernisation. China does not have an intention to lead the world but to assume the responsibility of a big country.”

This was a theme I heard often from both Westerners and from Chinese officials and scholars during the week.

Many in the West want China to take on more global responsibility, especially with regard to action on climate change, and to place more of its foreign exchange assets in resolving global economic and environmental problems.

At the same time, it is worried that the new global initiatives China is taking, such as its emerging massive investments abroad – exemplified by the New Silk Road projects – and its role in forming the New Development Bank (NDB) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), will reduce and then displace Western economic dominance.

The Chinese, inspired by President Xi Jinping’s speeches on the China Dream to rejuvenate the nation, are gaining confidence in their continuous economic growth and re-gaining their significant role in the world.

But they are also aware of the dangers and threats from existing big powers afraid of losing their monopolistic grip on world power. Historians remind that war usually breaks out when a dominant world power is replaced by an emerging power.

Avoiding war and conflict as China con­tinuously engages with the US and also Europe, so that there is a “new type of relations between major powers”, seems to be a strategy that all three powers are adopting, while being aware that there are forces in each society that are pushing for a more confrontational approach.

In a dinner speech, the “new normal” was used by Xu Shaoshi, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (the powerful agency responsible for economic policies and projects), to describe the shifts in China’s economy and policies.

This new normal includes four stable factors (stability in agriculture and services growth, in consumer demand and prices, and in employment) plus the sluggish economies in developed countries that are weakening global trade, commodity prices and affecting China.

The growth rate has fallen from over 10 per cent to around 7 per cent. This was described by Xi as China entering the new normal, a shift in gear due to a change of speed and driving forces.

China is countering the slowdown through monetary policy (reducing the interest rate), large investment projects, boosting demand, encouraging entrepreneurs through cutting red tape, and transforming the development model itself by expanding consumption and rapid urbanisation.

It would appear from Xi’s speech that change is the response to the new normal of moderate growth after the past decades of blistering double digit growth that won’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) come back.

At the think tank summit, a highlight was the presentation by Jin Liqun, head of the interim secretariat of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and tipped to be its first president.

Critics have already predicted that the AIIB and its sister, the new Development Bank of the BRICS countries, might have lower environmental and social standards than the World Bank and Asian Development Bank and thus pick up the types of “dirty projects” rejected by the existing development banks controlled by the developed countries.

Jin surprised his audience by promising that the AIIB would be “lean, clean and green”.

It would have high standards for the environment, and push for energy-saving and environment-friendly technology in its projects.

A few days later, on June 29, the AIIB was launched when 50 of the 57 founding countries signed an agreement laying out the framework of the new institution.

It is the first major multilateral bank with developing countries holding the majority of shares and votes.

There is quite a lot of excitement as to what the new bank will do that is different from the existing banks, and whether China (the biggest shareholder at about 26 per cent of the equity) can manage such an institution whose members also include major European countries.

On June 30, China announced its climate change contribution – that it would cap emissions around 2030 and its carbon intensity per unit of GDP would decline by 60 per cent to 65 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005.

As the largest emitter in absolute terms (though only an average emitter among developing countries in per capita terms), China’s “contribution” in terms of its planned actions has been long anticipated. The response from experts and NGOs so far has been favourable.

Whether it is adequate in terms of helping the world stay below a two degree target will still be debated in the days ahead, together with analyses of the pledges made by the US, Europe, Japan and others.

Being intensely scrutinised by the world is thus also a “new normal” for China.

What remains in my mind after leaving China is Premier Li’s answer to the question of whether China is willing to lead: “We still have a long way to go. We have no intention to be a world leader, but we will take on our responsibilities as a big country.”

Smaller countries, including in neighbouring Southeast Asia, will want to be assured that China also does not have ambitions that encroach on their rights.

How China plays its role in the present and future will be a developing story, which is new rather than normal.

3. Free market vital for Hong Kong Stock Exchange

A mechanism to limit daily fluctuations will be limiting in other ways 

Hong Liang
China Daily/ANN

Yao Zhiyong (centre), chairman of Guolian Securities Co., toasts with attendees during the company's listing ceremony at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in Hong Kong, China, on Monday, July 6, 2015. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG 

Hong Kong Stock Exchange officials are reported to be mulling a proposal to introduce a mechanism to limit daily fluctuations of individual share prices.

Apparently, such a proposal, which represents a fundamental change in the underlying free market principle and dictates the management’s approach to the local bourse, was raised by the recognition that share trading would become increasingly influenced by the notoriously fickle sentiment of the army of retail investors on the Chinese mainland.

The inflow of mainland investment funds is said to have ballooned since the launch of the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect program in November last year. This has prompted some government officials, including Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, and stock analysts to remind Hong Kong investors of the new force that’s making its presence felt on the trading floor.

While the concern and vision of Hong Kong’s financial leaders are worthy of note, it’s hard to justify their approach in addressing the issue.

Whatever benefits the price limit may bring can’t offset the damage it can cause to Hong Kong’s reputation as a free-market economy. A former finance official once famously said the government has no obligation to stop people from losing money.

Having gone through several market crashes in the past few decades, the vast majority of Hong Kong investors have come to terms with the risks associated with stock investment. What the government has always done is to regulate the market and diligently enforce the rules to ensure transparency and a level playing field for all.

Price fluctuation is a reflection of market sentiment, swayed by economic fundamentals that, in turn, are influenced by sometimes unpredictable and fast-changing local or global events. To be sure, the market is often seen to have overreacted to these events, sending prices up or down to excessive levels. Such overreactions are usually exacerbated by program trading or, in the case of the mainland, investors’ herd instinct.

But attempts to contain these aberrations could lead to trapping investors in stocks that are found to have been grossly overvalued for one reason or another.

In a free and liquid market like Hong Kong, the flow of information usually could help ensure that pricing aberrations would correct themselves quickly and efficiently.

Only in markets where enforcement of the rules is lax and the flow of information is slow is there a need for setting daily price limits.

Hong Kong is not one of them. A mechanism that seeks to limit daily price swings in Hong Kong would only hinder market efficiency in price discovery and impinge on investors’ freedom in taking risks.

The author is a senior financial editor at China Daily Hong Kong.