Thursday, November 20, 2014

Make Abe a global persona non grata until he stops denial

The New York Times recently published an opinion piece on comfort women and Japan's continued denial by Ms. Mindy Kotler. Ms. Kotler pulled no punches as she presented a long list of rape and violence by the Japanese soldiers on women throughout the war. She criticized the Abe administration for their vigorous effort to revise history and restore Japan's imperial wartime honor. This was another timely reminder of Japan's national amnesia over the WWII atrocities committed by the Japanese imperial troops.

Until Japan wakes up from its amnesia, the world cannot forget the trauma of the hundreds of millions brutalized by the Japanese. This was particularly true for nations in the Asia Pacific. The best way to jolt Japan's collective memory is to make sure the shame of world wide censure overwhelms the comfort of hiding under continued denial.

In Germany and other parts of the world, school children are taught about the European Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany that killed millions of Jews. Deniers of the Holocaust can be sent to prison. In similar vein, to drive home that Abe cannot get away with denying the Asian Holocaust, let international community declare Abe and all members of his cabinet as persona non grata and denied passage or entry to any other country. The precondition to lifting the travel ban would be only after they have rectified the textbooks missing the actual history and publicly informed the Japanese public of the truth of WWII.

Rather than seeing themselves as the victims of WWII, Japan must accept its responsibility as the perpetrator of atrocities of a magnitude beyond human imagination and understanding.

As the recognized leader of the world, the U.S. government must make the first official proclamation that Abe and his cabinet officials are, until further notice, no longer welcomed in the United States. Other nations will surely follow suit, but even if not all go along with America, the shock of the American indignation would surely catch Japan's attention. When losing face by continued denial far outweigh the pain of owning up its sordid past once and for all, Japan may finally join the community of nations with a conscience.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book Review: One Man's View of the World

My friend, Ken Fong, found the book so compelling that he bought a bushel so he can give a copy to each of his friends as he ran into them in daily encounters. At age 90, this is most likely the last book by Lee Kuan Yew. Lee was Singapore’s first prime minister in 1959 and led the city state to full independence in 1965 when the rest of Malaysia rather unceremoniously invited Singapore to go their separate ways. By the time he stepped down in 1990, Singapore has been transformed into a First World metropolis. His is a legacy of what good government is like and how a successful national leader should behave.

As the book jacket stated, with little else left to prove, he looks ahead to offer his unvarnished view of the future shape of the world. In reading his view of the world, the reader will come to understand the core beliefs of this remarkable man. Some of these include:

(1) For any nation to succeed, clean government is a must. Road to a clean government is to pay the civil servants generously so that there is no reason for corruption. For those that do stray and gets caught, the punishment needs to be harsh for betraying the public trust.

(2) Democracy is no panacea. If the citizens are poorly educated and have no idea of what democracy is all about and if the country lacks a history of progressive thinking and culture of individual equality, the introduction of democracy will fail. As Lee predicted in his book, winter inevitably followed Arab Spring because tribal based feudal systems of the Middle East cannot nurture democracy.

(3) Education is the necessary foundation to any successful developing nation and the access to quality education must be equal to all citizens, male and female. Educated workforce is vital to economic development and a growing economy gives the population opportunities to a better life and thus a willingness to support their government. Thus in his view, the caste system will always hold India back from realizing its full potential and keeping women from education will block the development of Islamic countries.

(4) Diversity in a population trumps homogeneous population because diversity means more diverse gene pool and greater range of creative thinking and capacity for innovation. From his point of view, the U.S. greatest strength is its welcoming attitude towards immigrants. By the same token, Japan’s inability to accept anything foreign, even ethnic Japanese who has lived abroad is the root of its inevitable decline.

Hi book deals with major global topics and each major regions of the world.  On China, his impression of Xi Jinping is in the “Nelson Mandela class of persons,” and Deng Xiaoping is undoubtedly the most impressive international leader he has ever met. Key difference between the US (a benign power) and China is that China does not believe in “evangelizing their form of government.” His biggest concern on China is if the future young generation of Chinese, not having experienced the challenges of China’s difficult past, gets overly nationalistic and aggressive.

From his visits to the U.S, “I came to appreciate fully the dynamism of the entrepreneurial American.” Lee sees long-term success of the U.S. resting on its ability to continue to attract “bright and restless immigrants from the world.” As for the competing influences of the U.S. and China in Asia, he felt that even though the US military budget is still six times greater than that of China, China has advantage of proximity in competing for influence in its neighboring states. He seems to think that both sides need to find mutual accommodations around a stale mate.

Lee is considerably less optimistic about Europe. He sees two major hindrances. The flaw behind the Euro is monetary integration without fiscal integration between 27 nations with wide and disparate of economic development. He sees no hope for fiscal integration ever. Europe is afflicted with the welfare state mentality and stifling labor laws that discourage entrepreneurialism, innovation and striving for productivity. Rather condescendingly, Lee thought Europe might be able to get away with the welfare state mind-set if they were competing with Fiji or Tonga.

The book jacket endorsements list some of world’s who’s who as heads of state, diplomats and international notables.  But I don’t think that was the reason Ken liked the book so much that he became a volunteer propagandist of Lee’s worldview. In Lee, he sees and the world sees a great statesman who successful synergized his impeccable western education with his innate Asian values to show the world how a small port city can integrate into the global economy and let the people thrive. The politicians in Washington would do well to read and heed the lessons he learned.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Will Obama Seize the Moment and Make History?

A shorter version appeared earlier in China-U.S. Focus. The short version also appeared on the Chinese website, on November 14, 2014

When President Obama goes to Beijing and meet President Xi, will he make history and finally make good on the Nobel Peace Prize awarded him rather prematurely at the beginning of his first term?

He will be in China to attend the summit of the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation. In addition, he will also have a private meeting with China’s President Xi. This trip could be Obama’s best chance and possibly the last chance to radically alter the bumpy bilateral relations and leave a lasting legacy of genuine peace.

Up to now, his administration has far from winding down violent conflicts around the world—naively anticipated by the peace committee—but has instead presided over violence and mayhem more intense than even during the reign of the predecessor war mongering administration.

Today we see Ukraine confronting its eastern secessionists supported by Russia in direct opposition of the U.S. and Ukraine’s western allies.

The competence and reliability of new leadership in Afghanistan and Iraq are at best dubious; the internal stability and security is shaky to say the least; and the prospect of American military and mercenaries being able to extricate is never bright and becoming dimmer by the day.

ISIS didn’t even exist during the disastrous Bush years and arguably might not come to being if the American military incursion under Bush hadn’t broken the hornet’s nest of radical jihadists. Nonetheless, history will credit the emergence of ISIS and its threat to the existence of Syria and subsequent tearing asunder of the entire Middle East to Obama’s watch.

During his watch, Israel and Palestine have been as nasty to each other as ever and inevitably with the hapless and out-fire powered Palestinian getting the worse of lives lost. The prospects of peace are no more realistic than before.

Egypt and Libya should have been bright spots where Obama could claim ownership for replacing authoritarian regimes with democracy. Only problem is that the new governments are not letting their people enjoy any fruits of democracy. We don’t hear much about their being worse off only because the media’s short attention span is now focused elsewhere.

On top of all that, a worldwide Ebola outbreak threatens.

Despite both sides claiming a warming of bilateral relations, the bilateral relation between China and the U.S. has been more of one step forward and one step backward, sometimes even two steps back.  The latest example was for the Pentagon to give a senior PLA official the red carpet treatment while the Justice Department was very publicly indicting 5 PLA soldiers alleging illegal cyber attack.

The current U.S. annual defense budget plus the cost of veteran services is around $900 billion. The Obama budget for 2015 will have to borrow $561 billion to meet revenue shortfall and the interest on debt is expected to be $252 billion representing 6% of the annual spending. While facing the daunting task of taming the federal budget deficit, can Obama justify adding to the nation’s financial burden with a “pivot” to Asia designed to confront if not to contain China?

Rather than increasing military expenditures in the Pacific to correct any perceived imbalance with China, Obama needs to throw away the moldy script of “strategic ambiguity” left in the White House desk by his predecessor.

Obama should understand that petty politicians take pot shots at China for perceived profit at the polls. Of all people, as president, he should see that it is in America’s national interest to have a friend and not an adversary across the Pacific.

He needs a China less willing to work with Iran and Russia and more openly willing to cooperate with the U.S. and he can be proactive about it. He should stop pandering to those that do not see the big picture.

All it takes is political courage and a start from scratch with a new approach to China. The new approach should include the following:

(1)         Stop expecting or telling China to do what we want them to do. Respect that they have a different point of view and a different way of getting things done. Treat them as a prospective partner and they will become a friend. Treat them as an adversary and they will become one.

(2)         Stop articulating differences publicly but by all means discuss them frankly but in private. Already in place are regularly occurring bilateral meetings between leaders and working level officials. Use them constructively.

(3)         Recognize that China wishes to establish its sphere of influence around its borders, and as an act of good faith, stop surveillance flights near China. Let China work out their bilateral relations with Japan and other Asian states without the U.S. being the elephant in the room. Accept that China too has its own national interest. It’s not in our interest to go out of our way to deprive China of theirs.

(4)         Stop writing rules of conduct unilaterally, such as proclaiming that cyber activity by the NSA is legitimate but any from China is not. Instead both sides need to sit down together, share best practices and agree on lines on the sand that neither side would cross. Then invite other nations to join in the discussion. The dispute should not be between states but between legitimate governments and the cyber criminals.

(5)         Agree that terrorists are terrorists. So long as the U.S. sees terrorists in China as possible freedom fighters, there is a big problem. Agreement on the other hand would allow the two major powers to work together in stemming the jihadist madness.

(6)         Remember that the Cold War is over. China is not a stand-in for the former Soviet Union. Rather than any expressions of intent to compete with the U.S. for world domination, China has gone out of its way to stay out the U.S. way.

The above six basic planks for developing a new bilateral relations with China represent an affirmation that China is a economic partner, sometimes a competitor but not an adversary. Given time for the two countries to work together, a genuine and durable partnership could develop and the U.S. find a China more willing to pick up its share of the tab for maintaining world peace.

Critics might consider the proposed approach naïve. But the naiveté if it succeeds will save America from grief and finally reap a peace dividend that Bush squandered away. When Americans charged into Iraq expecting a liberating hero’s welcome, that naiveté cost the U.S. dearly--last count exceeding $1 trillion and close to 40,000 casualties.

At least starting from a position of goodwill, Obama can credibly propose to Xi on resolving the North Korea debacle as a common problem to tackle between friends.

Both Bush and Obama had expended a lot of energy on getting North Korea to undo their nuclear program to no avail. When the lack of progress frustrated the U.S., they would throw up their hands and proclaimed that only China can influence the North Koreans to behave.

In reality China has been just as frustrated by North Korea. China’s only leverage is to sever the economic lifeline that has been keeping North Korea from economic implosion. China can’t afford to let North Korea collapse because the existing treaty between the U.S. and South Korea would allow American troops to move right up to the China/North Korea border.

If Obama were to build real mutual trust between China and the U.S. and, in the context of building trust, pledge to withdraw all U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula upon the reunification of Korea, there would be a whole new ball game.

China would consider the U.S. as a genuine working partner in the global arena. North Korea, realizing that the prospect of American soldiers standing across the Yalu River no longer serves as a threat to China, would have to be more amenable to negotiate for security assurances in exchange for giving up the bomb. Over the longer term, the north may find the reunification with the south inevitable.

South Korea should welcome a less belligerent north and be open to reconciliation in exchange for the cancelling the military alliance with the U.S. The treaty was established in 1953 and the South Koreans have been questioning the relevancy of the treaty since at least 2006.

China and South Korea are already quite comfortable with each other. They are major economic partners. Xi and President Park of South Korea like each other, and Xi would find a united Korean peninsula one less source of worry—so long as the Americans are no longer there.

The U.S. would be the biggest winner of all. Obama can claim to finally achieve a nuclear free Korean peninsula, to have created go-forward progressive relations with China, and to deduct the cost of stationing 30,000 troops in South Korea from the annual budget.

The world will thank him for the legacy of at least making one part of the world safer then he found it. He can then rightfully be a Nobel laureate.