Monday, November 29, 2004

China does a Little America Bashing

What’s gotten into the Chinese these days? At a time when America’s politicians usually indulge in a little China bashing, Beijing’s political elite is doing some America bashing. First came the strangely timed anti-American diatribe supposedly penned by former Foreign Minister Qian Qichen on the eve of the US Presidential election. Now comes another lecture from the deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China.

In an interview with the British publication, the Financial Times, Li Ruogu scolded Washington for blaming its fiscal problems, particularly the burgeoning trade deficit, on other countries. “China’s custom is that we never blame others for our own problems,” he said. “The U.S. has the reverse attitude. Whenever they have a problem, they blame others.”

Li may have been a little peeved over the remarks that Secretary of the Treasury John Snow has been making of late claiming that Washington wants a strong dollar, when everybody knows that it has been pressuring Beijing to revalue China’s currency, the reminbi, that is make it stronger against the greenback, to make Chinese exports to the U.S. more expensive and perhaps cut down the trade deficit.

It may be a mark of China’s growing economic confidence, not to mention more than $500 billion in foreign currency reserves, that Li can offer such blunt advice. He insisted that the appreciation of China’s currency would not solve America’s fiscal problems. Noting that while China does have a small overall trade deficit, ”we certainly don’t want to run into the U.S. situation of having a deficit of 6% of GDP.”


Qian Qichen’s earlier essay in the People’s Daily, later reprinted in the English-language China Daily, was entitled “U.S. Strategy Seriously Flawed.” On one level it could be read as a standard Chinese attack on U.S. hegemony in the aftermath of the Cold War. This has been a common theme of many official pronouncements over the decade.

Two things made the article remarkable. The first, of course, was the timing, published just a day before the election. Why is a mystery since it is hard to believe that anyone in Beijing thought they might influence the course of the polling. Indeed, the article was hardly reported in the U.S. at all. The Foreign Ministry LATER issued a non-denial denial, saying Qian had not been interviewed by the newspaper but did not claim he had not made the comments.

Beijing usually shows a little more tact in such matters. Moreover, China’s leaders had no special reason to wish Bush’s defeat. Beijing has generally tilted toward Republicans ever since Richard Nixon led the way to restoring normal relations. They liked President George H.W. Bush who had served as ambassador and later sent his national security deputy Brent Scowcroft to Beijing shortly after the June 4, 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

Moreover, China hardly figured in the presidential election at all. No references to dictators, no references to strategic competitors, no real complaints about the trade deficit. Democratic candidate John Kerry occasionally blasted outsourcing of manufacturing to China, but that was just about all.

The second thing that made Qian’s attack notable was the unusually harsh tone. Part of Qian’s essay was simply a kind of tour d’horizon of political and strategic developments up through the current war in Iraq, which he noted had made the U.S. even more unpopular in the world community than the Vietnam War. Nothing too remarkable about that.

He went on to say, “ The troubles and disasters the United States has met do not stem from threats by others, but from its own cocksureness and arrogance. The 21st Century is not the ‘American Century.’ That does not mean that the United States does not want to dream. Rather it is incapable of realizing the goal.”

Ouch and double ouch.

Qian is in retirement, but he remains one of the recognized experts on international relations in the Chinese Communist Party. As foreign minister he maneuvered skillfully to try to win back China’s international prestige following the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. As a vice premier, he continued to direct foreign relations even after he ceased being foreign minister.

By and large Sino-American relations have been on a pretty even keel in recent years, aside from the occasional sniping about its overvalued currency. That makes the recent comments all the more mysterious. If it had been Qian alone, the issue might be passed over a curiosity. But two such criticisms in one month raise questions that something is afoot.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Empress In Her Own Right

When Masako Owada married Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito in 1993 the Japanese thought it was the best thing that ever happened to the venerable imperial family. The public was thrilled by their story. A formidably educated, modern woman gives up her promising diplomatic career to marry her prince, and, it was thought, bring a fresh breeze into a stuffy imperial household. And a determined emperor-to-be, ignores all potential brides to win her hand in marriage.

More than ten years later much about this storybook marriage remains true. The couple seems genuinely devoted to each other. Before her recent illness, the couple used to go on mountain hikes, take snapshots of each other on formal tours and play music together. Not a whiff of scandal has ever touched their marriage. Only one thing clouds this happy picture. They have not yet produced baby boy, and heir, and Masako is now 40.

In any other family, of course, this situation would be a matter of personal inclination or at worst private grief. But Naruhito will, on his father’s death, become the 126th emperor of Japan, in a line that stretches back some 2,800 years into the mists of legend. Even discounting some of the earlier emperors as mythical figures, historical evidence traces the imperial line from at least the 6th Century to Emperor Akihito – without once having passed to another family.

This is a record of dynastic continuity unmatched in Asia or anywhere else in the world. In Thailand, for example, the present Chakri royal family was preceded by two others – that of the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya Houses. The British royal family can be traced back nearly a thousand years to William the Conqueror, although the succession has passed through a number of families to the present House of Windsor.

Today, six men, including the Crown Prince, his brother, Akishino and their great uncle, the brother of the late Showa Emperor (Hirohito) are in line to succeed the current emperor. Naruhito and his brother are both are both relatively young. But the remaining four are middle-aged or elderly. Indeed, no males, and only males can succeed, have been born into the family in nearly 40 years. Therein lies the problem. If this trend is not reversed, and increasingly this seems unlikely, the Japanese imperial line could come to and end.

Next In Line

Naruhito 44
Akishino 38
Hitachi 67
Mikasa (Takahito) 89
Mikasa (Tomohito) 58
Katsura 59

Almost as soon as the couple returned from their honeymoon, royal watchers and journalists began looking for signs that Masako was pregnant. Speculation rose every time she canceled a public event because of a fever or a cold. Countless newspaper articles reminded readers that the Empress Michiko had used similar excuses when she conceived. But these hopes were regularly dashed when Masako reappeared in public obviously still not pregnant.

As the years passed, speculation began to arise that the couple was seeking professional help. One clue was a visit Masako made to a hospital in northern Honshu, as part of a blood donation campaign. Immediately, the pundits noted that a prominent infertility specialist was based at the facility. It was reported that ginseng extract, widely believed to promote virility, had been dispatched to the palace. Naruhito, who had earlier brushed aside concerns about the prospects for a baby with the quip, now acknowledged the “degree of peoples’ interest in this matter as well as the importance.”

In 2001 it seemed that whatever steps the couple may have taken were finally working. In December Crown Princess Masako gave birth. Department stores held celebratory sales, newspapers published special editions, television stations broadcast hours of programs about the royal family. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi offered his “heartfelt congratulations.” Alas for traditionalists Masako gave birth to baby girl, soon named Princess Aiko. The problems of succession had not been solved.

There is plenty of evidence that the burden of producing a male heir, not to mention other problems of living in an institution known for being a pressure cooker -- stories abound of the mental pressure that Empress Michiko, born a commoner, suffered at the hands of imperial minders when she was younger – were affecting Masako’s health. She was in virtual seclusion all during 2004. In May, departing alone for an official trip to Europe, the Crown Prince publicly announced that Masako had “completely exhausted herself.” It was understood that she was suffering from mental depression and undergoing psychotherapy.

The obvious question is why perpetuate this agony? Why not change the law so that a female could accede to the throne? There is no lack of candidates. In addition to princess Aiko, Prince Akishino has two daughters, Mako, 12, and Kako, 9. The Imperial House Law clearly states that the throne “shall be inherited by a male of patrilineal imperial descent.” But this was not always the case. In Japan’s history eight women have ruled as empresses in their own right. The most recent was Empress Go-Sakuramachi (1762-1771), who abdicated when a male royal came of suitable age. Is there any reason why a woman could not reign in this new century?”

Japan is one of the few monarchies in the world with a “salic” law. This sounds like something out of Shakespeare (see Henry V), but in fact the law is not all that ancient. It dates back to the beginning of the Meiji Era (1867-1912). As they did with other issues, the Meiji era modernizers studied European institutions in which both male and female descendants are usually of equal royal status. But the drafters of the first Imperial Household Law decided not to allow women to ascend the throne in order to preserve the single line that, according to legend, is descended unbroken from the sun goddess, Amaterasu Omikami.

After World War II the American occupiers defined the emperor of Japan as a constitutional head of state and “symbol of the state and unity of the people” but in redrafting the Imperial Household Law in 1947, they maintained the male-only provision. This was a curious anomaly. After all, the American-drafted post-war Constitution enshrined equality of the sexes, allowed women to vote and opened the Diet to female representatives.

Moreover, the Americans instituted other changes that would eventually complicate the succession. They abolished the aristocracy and divested 11 families of imperial status, considerably shrinking the pool from which future emperors could be drawn. That is one reason why the current emperor and his son chose commoners for brides. There was literally nobody else outside the immediate family to marry. Of course, marrying a foreigner, even of royal blood, would be unthinkable.

Public opinion polls now show that the Japanese public strongly supports opening the imperial throne to female succession. This trend accelerated markedly after Masako gave birth to a daughter. The current prime minister has also said that he too favors female succession. This month a panel of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, held out the possibility of allowing a woman to succeed to the throne. But it remains something of a mystery why Prime Minister Koizumi decided to make it a Constitutional amendment. After all, the Imperial Household Law, is only that, a law. It would be changed by a simple majority vote in the Diet.

One gets a glimmer of understanding when one learns that the amendment has been paired with another Constitutional revision that would allow Japan to use force in international peacekeeping operationst. Article 9, the war-renouncing clause is the proverbial “third rail” of Japanese politics. It has been untouched since the document was approved in 1947. Indeed, it has prevented any amendments to the Constitution, even fairly innocuous housekeeping changes, for fear it might involve a change in Article 9.

Conservatives ardently desire to repeal Article 9 or alter it so that Japan can become what they call a “normal” nation. The proposed change in the Constitution would insert language allowing for “military force for self-defense.” That falls short of what many conservatives would like, but it does spell out what has up to now only been something rather loosely inferred from the documents and from a “natural right” to self defense.

But any such step runs against a strong strain of pacifism in the modern Japanese polity which is felt with special passion among . . . whom? Women. So one can easily sniff out the beginnings of a compromise. Traditionalists, who might be opposed to women on the throne, are mollified by a modest alteration of Article 9 (which breaks the taboo of tampering with it). Liberals and women concerned about any steps towards “militarism” are pacified with a change in succession law, allowing a woman to become empress. Viewed from this angle, a necessary and popular change to bring Japan closer to the modern era as well lift some of the burden and pressure that nearly broke a young woman who gave up her career for the nation beings to look just a little bit shabby.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

How Australia Finessed Iraq

The Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, was the first leader of any of the three nations that went to war in Iraq last year to face a general election. On Sunday, Oct 10, his ruling coalition was returned to power with an increased majority. That would seem to be good news for U.S. President George W. Bush, who, of course, faces his big electoral test in a couple weeks, and Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has to call a general election by next spring.

Of course, Australia is no stranger to terrorism. The general election came just days before the second anniversary of the horrible terror bombing of a popular tourist resort in Bali, Indonesia. The blasts killed 88 Australian citizens among the more than 200 victims. In September a bomb exploded outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta. But in many ways the remote war in Iraq was as unpopular in Australia as it is in Britain and other countries, like Spain, that were part of the larger coalition. Howard’s decision to send troops to join the Americans and British sparked some of the largest anti-war street demonstrations since the end of the Vietnam War.

In the aftermath of the war, there have been the familiar arguments over distorted intelligence, and the leader of the main opposition Australian Labor Party, Mark Latham, promised bring what troops are left in the Persian Gulf region back home by Christmas if he were elected, but he never was able to make this promise resonate with Australians. Right after the election, Australia’s leaders sounded resolute. “We will not let down our allies,” proclaimed Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in the Wall Street Journal. “The overwhelming majority of Australians believe strongly that having gone there, we should stay and finish the job,” Howard told the CNN network.

Yet the words obscure just how adroitly Prime Minister Howard has navigated this difficult issue, managing on the one hand to present his government as a steadfast ally in the Global War on Terrorism while at the same time keeping passions among the people cool and managing to keep power for himself. Not a bad trick.

Australia, of course, was one of the three countries that attacked Iraq in March 2003. Canberra dispatched about 3,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen, many of them from the vaunted Special Air Service. They are said to have done valuable though still secret commando work in the Iraqi desert.
But Howard withdrew most of these troops shortly after the fall of Baghdad, and he immediately served notice to Washington and the rest of the world not to expect much more help. In a speech to Parliament in May, 2003, Howard said, “The government has made clear all along that Australia would not be in a position to provide peace-keeping forces in Iraq.”

The approximately 850 Australian servicemen still in the Persian Gulf region are, for the most part, stationed outside of Iraq, serving aboard naval vessels in the Gulf or with air force detachments on the periphery. Fewer than 100 are actually in Iraq now, providing security for the embassy and some air controllers at Baghdad International Airport.
But having been with the Americans at the very beginning, Australia effectively immunized itself from having to pony up any additional troops to try to suppress the growing insurgency. Not for them the thankless task of garrisoning and patrolling the dusty, dangerous towns in the south of Iraq. These were left to the Italians, Poles, Ukrainians and smaller contingents. Alone of the major coalition partners Australia has suffered no combat casualties in Iraq, no beheadings and probably no kidnappings (one report kidnapping is ambiguous as to whether the rebels held Australians or persons of some other nationality).

The cornerstone of Australia’s foreign policy for the past 60 years has been to support the United States and its foreign policy in expectation that the U.S. will defend Australia if attacked. Howard’s ability to maintain this relationship in the face of popular opposition to his Iraq policy is a testimony to his considerable skills – and luck.

Of course, Howard’s electoral prospects were bolstered by a steadily expanding economy. Businesses are hiring, and unemployment is lower than it has been in 20 years. In September the Australian economy added 63,500 jobs. Weighted for the vast disparity in population that’s roughly equal to the U.S. adding a million jobs in one month (actual figure about 96,000). No casualties in Iraq, the equivalent of a million new jobs in September. No wonder they call it the Lucky Country.


Good News from an Unlikely Corner

Indonesia rarely impinges on the consciousness of most Americans, despite being the world’s fourth largest country -- and world’s largest Muslim country. Relatively few Indonesians have immigrated here compared with Koreans. It sells no recognizable brand-name products like Japan. U.S. companies do not “outsource” many jobs there as they do to China or India.

Nevertheless, something very important took place there that was largely ignored in the drumbeat of bad news coming out of Iraq. For the first time since independence, Indonesia’s people, about 150 million voters in all, went to the polls to choose a new president. The results, when confirmed on Oct. 5, will likely show that by an overwhelming margin they enthusiastically ousted the incumbent president, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

The new president, former Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is a popular leader with a strong record of fighting terrorism. If there is anything the world needs these days it is more moderate, energetic and democratically inclined Muslim leaders. By all accounts the 55-year-old former security chief, fits that description precisely.

Indonesia has been the site of three of the most serious terrorist attacks by Islamic militants since the attack on America three years ago. The terrorist bombing of a nightclub frequented by foreign tourists in Bali in October, 2002, killed more than 200 revelers. Since then there have been two other serious bombings in Jakarta, the capital, the last one, aimed at the Australian embassy, took place as recently as Sept. 9.

The attacks were believed to have been sponsored by a revolutionary outfit called Jemaah Islamiyah, which is allied with al-Qaeda and has ambitions of forming a radical pan-Islamic fundamentalist state in Southeast Asia, stretching from Malaysia and southern Thailand through Indonesian into parts of the southern Philippines and northern Australia.

President Megawati was a secularist in the tradition of her father, Indonesia’s founding President Sukarno, but she never gave an impression that she took the threat of Islamic terrorism very seriously. It is true that the ring leaders of the Bali bombings were apprehended, tried, and sentenced to death on her watch – although most of the detail work was done by Yudhoyono as security minister.

But Megawati couldn’t be bothered even to join Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard at a ceremony in Bali honoring the victims at the one-year anniversary of the bombing last year. It was as if she were saying, hey, they were just a bunch of foreigners, anyway, why should I attend? American officials often grumbled about her lack of energy in pursuing terrorism. Little wonder that the U.S. was quietly rooting for Yudhoyono in the election.

The new president was a four-star general, which makes him suspect in the eyes of many. The Indonesian Army has a bad reputation for tactics it used to suppress various separatist movements in the vast and complex archipelago. He was chief of staff in East Timor, the former Portuguese colony that Indonesia occupied in 1975 then fought a bloody and tenacious insurgency before East Timor gained independence in 1999.

These abuses by the Indonesian armed forces are the reason why the United States still suspends funding for military aid or refuses to allow cooperation and contacts with the Indonesian military, even though the country is one of the major fronts on the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). Hopefully that will change under Yudhoyono.

Those who worry that the ex-general might turn himself into another dictator should be encouraged by the way he acted when ex-President Abdurrahman Wahid, ordered him to use his powers as security minister to declare a state of emergency and suspend parliament. He refused, and that body went on to impeach Wahid for incompetence.

Ever since the long-time dictator Suharto was ousted in 1998, Indonesia has suffered through a succession of weak and erratic leaders. Megawati did some good things as president, but on the whole her lackluster performance failed to provide the leadership that Indonesia desperately needs to provide for a growing population or to seriously crack down on terrorism.

Indonesia is a largely Muslim nation often beset by civil strife and at times terrorist bombings which once had a longtime dictator that is now transforming itself successfully into a stable democracy – without any need for assistance from the U.S. At a time of seemingly unending bad news from Iraq and other GWOT fronts, that is reason for optimism.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

"It's time to Prosper"

Perhaps only those who inhabited China’s vast countryside can appreciate the greatness of Deng Xiaoping, whose 100th birthday would have been August 22. In numberless villages lived hundreds of millions of Chinese in abject poverty. If lucky they might live in a small hut with a thatched roof with a hole at the top to let the smoke out from the open-hearth fire. Peasants transported their ducks and geese to markets along rivers and ancient canals, there being few roads, as they had done from time immemorial. This was not the Middle Ages, but China circa 1977, the year after Mao Zedong died and the year Deng was rehabilitated.

Deng recast China, and in doing so altered the world we live in. “It’s time to prosper. China has been poor a thousand years,” he proclaimed and set in motion policies that lifted more people out of poverty – 200 million by some counts – then any other world leader anytime, anywhere. He did this, in part, through the simple expedient of giving the land Mao had originally confiscated from the landlord class back to the peasants. Through the contract responsibility system, farmers were freed to grow any crops they wished, so long as they delivered a specified amount of staple crops to the central government. Soon money was beginning to course through the system. Two-story brick houses rose where thatched huts used to be.

Deng’s policies had immense impact abroad. From the 1950s to the 1970s, China was ruled by ideologues committed to exporting the communist revolution. Beijing supported and underwrote insurgencies throughout the region. Under Deng, China set aside such adventures to concentrate totally on building up the economy and attracting foreign trade and investment. That in turn permitted neighboring countries to concentrate on their own development rather than fighting insurgencies. Certainly, Deng’s economic turnaround and political realignment constitute the most important geopolitical event in Asia in the second half of the 20th century.

The man known as China’s “patriarch” because no official titled conveyed the authority he held, tackled the great problems “left over from history” – namely the separation of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan from the mainland – with the constructive pragmatism that marked all of his political endeavors. The famous “one-country, two systems” formulation under which Hong Kong was returned after 155 years of British colonial rule was imaginative, daring, and, so far, a success. It was an issue not only of supreme importance to China in its quest to regain national unity, It was also of international concern because of what Hong Kong had become under the British and its key role in Asian economic development and as a model for China in the coming century.

Great men have great flaws. Deng shared the ruthlessness, which has been a mark of Chinese leaders since Shi Huangdi first united the country by force 22 centuries ago. Much of his career was spent embroiled in the wars against the Japanese and the Kuomintang. Purged twice under Mao and his successors for being a “capitalist roader,” Deng saw no other sure way to survive, and advance his political aims, but through force. But that very toughness led him to order the harsh, bloody suppression of countless people. He persecuted thousands of intellectuals during Mao’s Anti-rightest Campaign of 1957, And when the students called for democracy and an end to corruption on Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989, he called out the tanks.

Of all the 20th Century’s great leaders, Deng was truly a man of his century, For one thing, his life (born 1904, died 1997) neatly spanned the era. More importantly, his career embraced most of it. As far back as the 1930s, Deng was shaping the course of history as a top-level military commander. He led China’s revolutionary armies in some of the great campaigns of the civil war, culminating in the capture of the Kuomintang capital Nanjing. Yet he was still influencing events right up to the century’s end, when in 1992, he rekindled economic reforms, stymied for more than two years after Tiananmen, with his famous tour of southern China.

For Asia, the past 100 years have been a drama in two big acts. The main theme of the first half of the century was the region’s struggle for independence from European colonizers. The second half has been dominated by nation-building and East Asia’s phenomenal economic success. Alone of all the great Asians, Deng was a leading player in both of these acts, first as a revolutionary leader, then as the architect of a social revolution which has fundamentally changed China and the rest of the world for the better.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Day Hong Kong Stood Up

July 1 is supposed to be a red-letter day for China. It celebrates the day, seven years ago, when the British Union flag was hauled down and the red and yellow banner of the People’s Republic of China was raised over Hong Kong, ending, to quote the Peoples Daily, a long, sad history of “violence, blood, humiliation and struggle” -- meaning 156 years of British colonial rule.

Yet the authorities have come to rue the day they declared July 1 a public holiday. Many Hong Kongers will forsake the beaches, forsake the cinemas, forsake the dimsum restaurants, to spend hours standing in the blazing sun listening to political speeches. Last year on July 1 more than half a million people marched through central Hong Kong in the largest such demonstration in China since 1989. Organizers expect 300,000 at this year’s protest.

The first day of July has become an iconic day but not in the way China had expected. In most people’s minds it is no longer a date celebrating the glorious return to the motherland. To paraphrase what Chairman Mao Zedong famously declared on the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, July 1 was the day that Hong Kong’s people “stood up.”

Seven years after the British departed Hong Kong’s people seem no more loyal to the PRC than they were then. Of course, everyone takes pride in being Chinese and there are plenty of people who profess to be “patriotic,” who support the “pro-Beijing” candidates in elections. But if Beijing thought that the clamor for greater democracy would fade as Western influence receded, they were mistaken.

China’s leaders are uncomfortably aware that this year’s July 1 action is going to be much more directly aimed at Beijing than it was a year ago when Hong Kongers still harbored considerable good will towards the PRC. That changed when in April the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress served notice that Hong Kong can forget about any further changes in the political system, including direct election of the chief executive and the full legislature, at least for the next decade.

The demonstration is also seen as the opening salvo in what will likely be the most divisive election in Hong Kong since the handover. Contrary to popular view, Hong Kong’s political development has not been static these past seven years. It is now about at the level where the British left it when they departed and before the Chinese rolled back some of former Gov. Chris Patten’s democratic reforms.

This September half of the 60-seat legislature will be filled through universal suffrage. The remaining 30 seats are elected from special interest constituencies made up of business and professional groups. For example, the chamber of commerce elects a member; the accountants get to choose another. Naturally, they tend to elect more politically correct “pro-business” or proBeijing” members.

For the first time the democrats think they are in striking distance of capturing a majority of the seats in the legislature (the term “democrats” as used here encompasses the Hong Kong Democratic Party as well as smaller democratic parties and independents). They are furiously jockeying to get the candidate lineup right to exact the greatest advantage in the coming election.

Still, it would take something close to a political miracle to win 30 seats plus one. To do so the democrats would have to sweep at least 25 of the directly elected seats and win a handful of special interest constituencies to offset the number of directly elected seats that will probably go to the main pro-Beijing grouping, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB).

Hong Kong is divided into a few large geographical districts each one electing five or six members through proportional representation. PR was introduced shortly after the handover specifically to give the pro-Beijing party a leg up. The democrats are counting on a huge swell in voter turnout to swamp the DAB, limiting them to at most a single member from each constituency. Then if they can pick up five or six special isnterest seats, they might get a majority.

Even if the democrats managed to win a bare majority of the legislature, it is unclear what they could do with it. The local constitution gives individual members very little leeway. Even “private member” bills must be vetted by the administration. And Beijing has clamped down on these rules, ensuring, for example, that the central government be informed in advance of any proposed changes in the electoral system.

The democrats will find themselves all dressed up with no place to go. Still, a legislature dominated by democrats will further stymie Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa’s ability to govern adding to local frustrations and becoming an ever present rebuke to the Communist rulers on the mainland.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Put Mahathir in Charge of iraq

In a recent speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, John Kerry, outlined what he would do in Iraq if he was elected president. Kerry said he wanted to appoint a “high commissioner” for Iraq, some internationally respected figure who could work with the United States, with the Iraqi interim government and with the world community to pave the way for elections, the drafting of a new Iraqi constitution, and reconstruction.

If the goal is to create a stable, prosperous and democratic Iraq, who better to do that than Mahathir Mohamad, the former leader of the most stable, prosperous and democratic Muslim country in the world today. Mahathir served 22 years (1981 to 2003) as Malaysia’s fourth and most successful prime minister. He transformed a nation dependent on rubber and palm oil into a regional high-tech, manufacturing and financial powerhouse. Malaysia’s economy often grew at 10 percent annually and living standards rose twenty-fold.

Moreover, Mahathir successfully governed a country divided, like Iraq, on racial, ethnic and religious lines. Where Iraq is comprised of Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens, Malaysia is made up of Malays, Chinese and Indians, plus other minorities in East Malaysia. He has fostered affirmative action programs that have created a sizeable and stable indigenous middle class, essential for democracy, without alienating the minority races.
The Malaysian political model offers lessons for building democracy in Iraq. The principal vehicle is a broad, “big-tent” coalition of racially denominated parties grouped together under the umbrella of the Barisan National Front. All races in the country thus have a stake in the government.

That this is a winning combination was demonstrated once again in the general election held earlier this year. Mahathir’s successor and protégé, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, scored a smashing victory for progressive Islam, easily defeating the more fundamentalist parties. Islamic fundamentalists willing to play by the rules of electoral politics have been allowed to advance their ambitions for creating an Islamic state, either by winning seats in the national parliament or, more importantly, capturing the governments of Muslim majority states such as Kelantan. (In the last election they lost Terengganu.) In those states they are able to apply, not impose, sharia (Koran-based) laws on a public that generally supported them through free elections.

At the same time, Mahathir has had no qualms about cracking down heavily on violent Islamists. Less than two years ago he detained 70 militants believed to be connected with the bombings in Bali, Indonesia, under the country’s Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial for national security reasons. It is unfortunate that Mahathir is known in the West, if he is known at all, for his remarks at the Organization of Islamic Conference in Kuala Lumpur, where he suggested that the Jews controlled the world. That and similar remarks from time to time cause many to write him off as an anti-Semite. Whether he is viscerally anti-semitic (not to mention anti-British, anti-Australian and probably anti-American, too) is a question. The important thing is that his steadfast support of the Palestinians over the years would stand him in good stead with most Iraqis, if not the neoconservatives in Washington.

If the real U.S. goal is, as some believe, to create in the heart of the Middle East an Israel-recognizing, American-military-base welcoming and pliant oil-producing client state, Mahathir is not the man to do it. If the goal instead is to turn Iraq into a model for conservative free market and “Russian-shock-style,” foreign-investor-dominated economic policies, Mahathir would obviously be wasting his time. He firmly believes in what is often called the Asian model of guided economic development.
His policies have been fairly criticized for fostering cronyism and inefficiencies and lack of competitiveness, but this must be placed in the context of a country that is economically flat on its back. The corruption and cronyism were inevitable side effects of Mahathir’s long rule, but presumably, the 78-year-old Malaysian’s tenure in Iraq would be relatively brief.

Mahathir offers the opportunity for an effective transition from American occupation to a genuinely sovereign Iraq presided over by a neutral but widely respected and deeply experienced Muslim manager who would be nobody’s puppet—certainly no foreigner’s puppet. The irony is that Iraq might become more truly sovereign after the June 30 transition under the temporary stewardship of a foreign Muslim leader than it would under almost any interim Iraqi leader currently conceivable.

How China Benefitted from the Iraq War

If there is any country that has benefited from America’s adventure in Iraq and the larger war on terrorism, it is China. Notwithstanding the brief detention of seven Chinese hostages, the War in Iraq was a Godsend for Beijing.Before the attack on America in September 11, 2001, China was moving into Washington’s gun sights. A head of steam was building behind the proposition that China was emerging as America’s new rival, the only country left in the world, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, that was big enough and potentially powerful enough to challenge the U.S. on near equal terms.

It is true that China was not viewed as an imminent threat in the same way as Iraq or other “rogue nations”. Rather it was seen as the new Germany, referring to the Germany of one hundred years ago, newly unified, newly prosperous, ready to take its place on the world stage, needing to be watched, tamed and contained. Much attention was devoted to China’s growing military budget and whether it signaled Beijing’s warlike intentions. Every purchase of modern weaponry, such as fighter-bombers or destroyers from Russia, was noted and commented on. Books with titles like The Coming Conflict with China rolled off the presses.

In many ways China does represent a theoretical threat in a way that Saddam Hussein never could. For one thing, China really does possess weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them against the US. Less than ten years ago a Chinese general actually threatened the U.S., during a time of tensions in the Taiwan Strait. He wondered out loud if Los Angeles was worth intervening in a dispute among Chinese. Yet, these days China has dropped almost totally off the radar screen. Very occasionally the editors at The Weekly Standard, a prominent opinion journal of the neo-conservatives movement in America, abandon their obsession with Iraq to complain about President George W. Bush’s policies toward Taiwan. But almost no other publication of any political persuasion pays China any attention at all.These days when China appears in the news at all it is on the business pages. China has in the past few years morphed into an economic story, not a strategic one. The points of conflict seem to revolve around such things as the strength of the renminbi against the U.S. dollar, the burgeoning trade deficit, and the awful question: what if the Chinese stopped underwriting the budget deficit by recycling its huge dollar reserves into U.S. Treasury bonds?

A big story today would be the U.S. filing its first case against China at the World Trade Organization, contending that Beijing imposes unfair taxes on imported semiconductors. Secretary of Commerce Donald L. Evans goes to Beijing to tell its leaders that America is “losing its patience” with its refusal to move more quickly on implementing WTO. For old Asia hands, it all sounds familiar. They could easily pull their old clippings of a decade or so ago and by simply substituting the word “China,” for “Japan,” republish them almost word for word. This development must be highly satisfying to China leaders. It means that China has moved from being perceived as the “new Germany” to being the “new Japan” -- the economic powerhouse of today, of course, not the expansive, militaristic Japan of the 1930s. That is a more comfortable place to be.

Of course, conflict is still conflict, and Beijing is right to worry about potential backlash and protectionism in its most important market. And Beijing’s leaders must be a little nervous about how the issue of “outsourcing,” shorthand for moving factories to China, could grow into a potent campaign issue in the presidential election this year. But this is all familiar ground, more easily manageable than if China were viewed as a strategic opponent. The longer America’s attention is riveted on the Middle East, the more the perception will take hold that China is an economic rival, not a strategic competitor. That is better for both countries.
This is not to argue that China should or would use this respite to build up its military beyond normal modernization or that it has been granted a freehand in Asia. It merely states that it is better not to conjure an unneeded confrontation. We’ve already learned from the Iraq adventure, the consequences of doing that.