Samoa Elections: Slow Advance for Women

In elections on March 4, Samoans showed their resounding support for the governing Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP). Under the leadership of long-time Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, the HRPP won 44 of the 49 seats in parliament. Among those elected only 4 are women. Leaving little room for opposition, these elections demonstrate that barriers still exist for women to enter parliament. This International Women’s  Day, we consider the slow advancement of women in Samoan politics.

The number of women running for parliament has fluctuated over the past 3 elections, in part because of discouragement after only a few women have been successful. In 2006, 22 women candidates ran, and 3 served as cabinet ministers.   The 2016 election saw the most women run for parliament in Samoa’s history (24). Nonetheless, only 4 were elected. Thanks to a 2013 law mandating 10 percent of parliamentary seats be reserved for women, a 50th seat will be created for the losing female MP candidate with the most votes. Compared to the previous election in 2011, the large number of women contesting the election has been seen as a small victory.

Gender quotas for Samoa’s parliament may help to normalize women in politics over time, but are not a singular solution. Quotas are intended to be a fast-track way to ensure women’s perspectives are heard when they might otherwise be left out. While they are not effective in all countries, quotas have been successful in Rwanda, India and Norway, among others. In addition to the gender quota, Samoa should look to its other cultural traditions that hamper women’s participation.

There are no legal barriers to entry for women to become an MP in Samoa. Yet, traditional cultural and institutional barriers still exist. Samoa only achieved universal suffrage in 1991. Prior, matai (chiefs, or family heads) were the only members of Samoan society who could vote. While everyone at least 21 years of age can now vote, matai continue to receive favoritism because they are the only ones able to stand for parliament. In a country of almost 190,000, there are more than 16,700 matai, but only 923, or 5.5 percent, are women. The need for MPs to be matai is related to Samoa’s tradition of customary land, whereby matai are the administrators of the family property.

On a more local scale, villages in Samoa have a women’s committee representative to liaise with the government on issues related to women and children. For development projects, organizations like the United Nations have used these committees to facilitate early detection of non-communicable diseases. These institutions provide pathways for women’s involvement in formal politics, but also reinforce traditional gender roles. For example, Prime Minister Tuilaepa has previously reminded women seeking to enter government not to neglect their “God-given” duties as mothers. These roles and pressures from Samoan society hamper women from going further in their political quest. 

After the 2016 elections, Samoa is basically a one-party state, but there are signals that a wider public voice is needed. The most candidates in the country’s history ran as independents. HRPP stood 83 candidates, Tatua stood 25 candidates and 63 ran as independents. Opposition Tautua Samoa Party will no longer qualify as a political party, retaining only 3 of its 12 original seats. In addition, its leader, Palusalue Fa’apo II, did not win his electorate. Many independents have been left on the sidelines.

In order to create a vision of progress and connect with the public, the HRPP chose an establishment female to become the country’s new deputy prime minister. Fiame Naomi Mataafa is the longest-serving woman in parliament. She will now hold the highest executive position for a woman in the history of Samoa’s government after 30 years of service. As the daughter of the first prime minister of Samoa, with a mother also a figure in Samoan politics, Fiame should be primed for leadership. As early as 1988 she was the first female cabinet minister, and during the previous term, she was the justice minister.The HRPP has held power since its formation in 1982, and Fiame has been the only woman consistently  part of their rule.

Samoa is not alone in the Pacific for its underrepresentation of women in politics. According to the organization Pacific Women in Politics, “women have never comprised more than 10% of the membership of Pacific national parliaments in Forum Islands Countries since Independence.” Women currently make up 5.9% of total Pacific national parliaments. Perhaps surprisingly, Fiji, one of the least democratically-inclined Pacific Island states, has the most women represented with a total of 8 in parliament. The global average of all elected members is 22.6% women and 77.4% men.

 

Countries Number of MPs Number of Women
Fiji 50 8
Kiribati 46 3
Niue 20 2
PNG 111 3
Palau 29 3
Cook Islands 24 4
Samoa 50 4
Tuvalu 15 1
Tonga 26 0
Marshall Islands 33 3
Solomon Islands 50 1
Nauru 19 1
Tokelau 20 0
Federated States of Micronesia 14 0
Vanuatu 52 0

Source: Pacific Women in Politics

The transition of women into politics in Samoa has been slow, but there continue to be new ways to measure progress. In the first election with a gender quota, it was needed to reach a minimum number of women parliamentarians. The record number of women and independents running shows Samoans’ propensity for change, despite the landslide victory for the establishment party. For Samoa as well as the wider Pacific, new Deputy Prime Minister Fiame hopes to inspire and encourage more women to participate in politics.

Top 5 Stories to Follow in the South Pacific in 2016

DSCN6487
Auckland, New Zealand, where the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be signed. Photo Credit: Genevieve Neilson

 

  1. National Elections

This year, there will be national elections in Australia, Kiribati, Nauru and Samoa. Australia’s relatively new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be tested at the polls, and we are yet to see whether the public concentrates on the candidate’s personality or international issues, specifically, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and immigration. Pacific island voters face local issues like storm recovery, welfare and some big personalities of their own.

On January 22, Vanuatu held snap elections because 14 Members of Parliament, including the Prime Minister, were involved in a corruption scandal last year. Kiribati goes to the polls on January 30 to replace President Anote Tong (due to term limits), who has been at the forefront of international advocacy for action on climate change. Next, Samoa will hold elections on March 4, with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele a “reasonable bet” given that he has held office since 1998. Last year, Nauru was plagued by concerns over its rule of law; because of this its leaders have asked for support from the Commonwealth Secretary when the country holds elections in June. Elections in Australia are not yet scheduled, but should take place before the year is over. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was ousted in September 2015 and replaced by Malcolm Turnbull; the new leader is seen as more open to debate than Abbott, who is contesting his Parliamentary seat again this cycle. Locally, Australia’s Northern Territories will vote in August to determine whether the government can lease the port of Darwin to Chinese company Landbridge.

Bonus: NZ Binding Flag Referendum

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key is behind the referendum to change the national flag. Critics call the move a vanity project in legacy building, in the absence of meaningful debates about New Zealand culture, Maori rights, or becoming a republic. In shocking news to many, late entry and hipster crowd favorite Red Peak did not make the final vote. There will be a binding referendum between March 3-24 requiring voters to select between the current flag or a silver fern design by Kyle Lockwood. Voters in Auckland confused about which design to select will get a demonstration on the Auckland harbor bridge.

  1. West Papua

The separatist movement in West Papua is as alive as ever, and human rights abuses committed by Indonesian forces have reportedly increased under the Jokowi government. In an address at the United Nations General Assembly in October 2015, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to step up monitoring and investigating efforts for human rights abuse and violations in Papua and West Papua. In November, Human Rights Watch published a 73-page report condemning the government of Indonesia for the lack of access for foreign journalists in the region. Meanwhile, in December, the Indonesian government warned other countries to respect its sovereignty and reportedly ordered international NGOs to close their offices in Papua. Much of the wealth from the resource-rich province goes to Jakarta, leaving West Papuans relatively poor.

There seemed to be a small amount of traction in the case for peace. Having spent the last 10 years in prison, West Papuan separatist leader Filep Karma was released from prison five years early. Yet, on the same day that Indonesian and Australian defense ministers met to declare closer ties, a young West Papuan was shot by the military while protesting a palm oil company. Pacific Islands Forum may be a platform for intervention, particularly when it releases information about its “fact finding mission” agreed to at the last Leaders Summit.

  1. Pacific Fisheries

Overfishing has been a significant problem for the Pacific Island region, leading to competition for depleted fish stocks. Ineffective international management of the Pacific tuna supply, strong consumer demand and weak monitoring of vessels have led to overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and bycatch. And, in some cases, operators of IUU fishing vessels disregard basic labor standards.  Illegal fishing cannot be solved unilaterally; Pacific Island Countries will need support from their island neighbors, larger international actors like the United States, Indonesia, Japan and Australia, as well as support from non-government groups.

Marine sanctuaries are one option for island states to protect local fisheries and recover populations lost due to overfishing.  In October 2015, Palau created one of the world’s largest marine sanctuaries that covers 80 percent of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). You can read my article focusing on Palau for the Islands Society here. Palau lacks the enforcement ships to ensure its sanctuary is protected. In addition, the United States government has reneged on a fishing agreement with Pacific island nations which will leave them in a budget shortfall. Island states like Palau hope to replace declining income with an increase in tourism by wealthy travelers and will need international support to maintain sovereignty over its fisheries.

Among other groups, the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency is responsible for coordinating these efforts, and should be more vocal internationally this year.

  1. Trade Agreements

The signing ceremony for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is scheduled for February 4, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. Meanwhile, the fate of the agreement is still uncertain. Protesters in Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the United States among others continue to demonstrate their displeasure for the 12-nation pact. As Canada’s government recently made clear, “signing does not equal ratifying.” In fact, ratification could take up to 2 years. Even in the United States, passage of the agreement through Congress is anything but certain; in an address in Washington, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull lobbied the American Congress on the agreement. But what does the TPP mean for the Pacific? Australia and New Zealand are the only South Pacific countries party to the agreement, yet the agreement allows other states to join in the future.

The Pacific is currently negotiating its own free trade agreement, Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations, or PACER-Plus, which focuses on removing tariffs and duties. Last September, PIF leaders agreed that they wanted negotiations for PACER-Plus to conclude by mid-2016, yet cohesive political leadership is lacking. Fiji and Papua New Guinea have warned about the potential inability to regulate and protect specific industries; PNG believes it will hurt its manufacturing sector. Additionally, non-government groups have questioned the ability of the agreement to produce significant benefits for island countries under its current status; while it enables Australian and New Zealand access to Pacific countries, it may not similarly provide support mechanisms for local producers to get their goods to the market.

As larger island countries and regional leaders, Fiji and PNG may have too much to lose if they walk out on PACER-Plus, much the way some states feel that have already agreed to the TPP. As these processes unfold, Pacific states will be watching how the TPP impacts smaller and less diverse economies.  

  1. Climate Change Leadership

Since 1992, sea levels have risen nearly 8cm according to Nasa, and the Pacific has experienced a faster increase than other areas.  The plight of Pacific Island states has been well-documented by The Guardian and Pulitzer Center. Maintaining international commitment, funding and access to funding for climate change will be critical to adaptation and mitigation efforts. Kiribati President Anote Tong has reiterated that climate negotiations are not a game but “a matter of survival.” In part because of the persistence by Pacific island leaders, the latest UN climate agreement in Paris set a target of 1.5 degrees Celsius as opposed to the 2C limit preferred by industrialized states.

For 2016, the Pacific will need to continue to speak with a unified voice. Kiribati President Tong and Palau President Tommy Remengesau have led advocacy efforts, and increasingly Fiji under President Frank Bainimarama is making its voice more prominent. The Pacific Island Development Forum (PIDF) hosted by Fiji is now an observer in the United Nations; leaders have used the PIDF to caucus because it excludes Australia and New Zealand. The group came together for the 2015 Suva Declaration on Climate Change because, according to Bainimarama, “We in the Pacific tend to speak softly. It is in our nature. But on this issue, we needed to cry out with one voice, enough is enough. And we have. And it is all the more powerful for that.”

In June 2017, Fiji will host the United Nations Conference on Oceans and Seas. Throughout the year, but particularly in the lead up to regional and global meetings, look for Fiji to take an aggressive advocacy position.

Gender Equality in Australia’s International Development Program

This post is part of a longer research paper.  It was adapted for the Australian and New Zealand Studies Association Conference in Dallas, Texas, on January 31, 2015.

The Australian aid program follows the international convention of pursuing gender equality as part of its core mission using a gender and development framework. But how does this goal align with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s goals of achieving efficiency and investing in women as ‘smart economics’? By examining how Australian aid defines, administers and implements its gender policy, this presentation will assess the organization’s assumptions about gender relations and social transformation in development programs. Australia is committed to gender equality throughout its development policy, but the restructuring of AusAid into DFAT and new strategic directives could have mixed impacts on Australia’s development approach and capacity.

Background: Australian Aid

Between 2013 and 2014 the Liberal Abbott Government restructured the aid agency, launched a new development policy and announced the government’s largest ever multi-year aid cuts (33 per cent) and largest ever single year cuts (20 per cent and $1 billion in 2015-16). AusAID was previously Australia’s autonomous aid agency whose mission was to help people overcome poverty. In 2013 AusAid was integrated into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, officially to enable the closer alignment of the aid and diplomatic arms of Australia’s international policy agenda and to better serve the interests of Australian taxpayers (Lowy Institute, 2014).

DFAT defines its gender policy over multiple strategy and policy documents, releases and websites. The organization still largely follows concepts from the 2011 document. Notably, DFAT is changing what and how aid is delivered as exemplified in the 2014 policy document. I also examined a paper commissioned by the Office of Development Effectiveness evaluating the Australian government’s support for economic empowerment.

Approaches to Gender and Development

Gender is an essential consideration in development. It provides a way of examining how power structures and social norms impact the lives and opportunities available to men and women. Acknowledging “that men and women, boys and girls experience poverty differently, and face different barriers in accessing services, economic resources and political opportunities” and decision-making “helps to target [development] interventions” (Kangas et al. 2014, 4).

Defining the Gender Policy

As a government agency within a developed country, Australian Aid’s policies must follow norms and trends perpetuated by the (OECD), United Nations and World Bank that it helped to create, such as gender mainstreaming, the gender and development approach and women’s empowerment. First, Australian Aid explicitly follows the GAD approach because it sets out to serve the practical needs and strategic interests of women and girls, men and boys in development programs. Using a GAD approach denotes that the Australian government understands the impacts of power relations between men and women.

Australian Aid emphasizes gender mainstreaming, a standard mechanism in development since 1995. The United Nations explains “Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs, in all areas and at all levels” (Patel, Fritz, Mehra, Golla, Clancy and Cheney 2014, 21).  In this way allocation of appropriate resources can be tracked and evaluated (Patel et al. 2014, 21).

Also promoted by neoliberal institutions, Australia supports the ‘efficiency approach’ that gender equality and women’s empowerment improves economic productivity (Patel et al. 2014, 18). Termed ‘smart economics,’ it rationalizes investments specifically in women for more effective and efficient development outcomes (Chant and Sweetman 2012, 518). Smart economics champions the neoliberal perspective in seeing business as a vital vehicle for change.

Second, for Australian Aid, gender equality means that men and women should have an equality of access to opportunities. Gender equality is linked not only to human and economic development but also to women’s rights because gender inequality can be a rights violation and impediment to poverty reduction, good health, and safety, among other areas (AusAid 2011a, 1; Patel et al. 2014, 16).

Third, the policy emphasizes that women’s empowerment must be addressed in multiple areas to combat the effects of the unequal distribution of power in gender relations (Patel et al. 2014, 16). Changing dynamics of gender norms and power relations through access to new opportunities contributes to women’s empowerment, but a focus on economic empowerment as the key to ending poverty can place an added burden on women when they are already responsible for both formal and informal labor.

Administering the Policy

Australian Aid targets its policy investments to advance three pillars: “women’s voice in decision-making, leadership, and peace-building, women’s economic empowerment, and ending violence against women and girls” (DFAT 2014, 23). A fourth pillar of “advancing equal access to gender-responsive health and education service” present in the 2011 policy was removed from statements in 2014 (Patel et al. 2014, 16; DFAT 2014, 23). To improve women’s voices and political participation, Australia’s first pillar focuses on capabilities; it aims to build women’s capacity to participate as candidates and voters, as individuals, communities, and at the state level. For example, in Vanuatu, Australian Aid found that it was essential for women to have representation on water management committees, leading to their participation in other forums (AusAid 2011a, 12).  Building women’s capacity to participate in decision-making can increase their agency, which is an essential component of improving gender inequality as seen through the capabilities approach.

The second pillar of Australia’s gender policy is women’s economic empowerment and livelihood security, using a targeted approach where mainstreaming gender considerations alone will not suffice. The organization calls for gender roles and norms for both men and women to be changed in order to succeed (AusAid 2011b, 11). Yet the focus continues to be on providing women with access to credit, encouraging employers to hire women over men, and finding ways to provide alternative care for children and elderly, enabling women to have more employment opportunities.

According to the third pillar, violence against women “is a result of unequal power distribution between women and men, exacerbated by lack of functioning laws, policies, and institutions in place to deal with perpetrators of violence and provide services to survivors” (AusAid 2011a, 15). Therefore Australian Aid seeks to work with men and boys, women and girls, community organizations and legal frameworks to prevent violence against women, and expand counseling services (AusAid 2011a, 15-16).

Women’s capacity to improve society including changing cultural norms is a central theme for Australia’s gender policy. However, the gender policy document does not detail the differing roles for men and women of different classes, ethnicities, sexual orientation or age groups (AusAid 2011a, 4). Using economic efficiency arguments for development projects where women become active producers and consumers in an economy has become more appealing in an age of government austerity and public scrutiny of foreign aid budgets. The consideration of investing in women because it is ‘smart economics’ highlights women as the solution to crises which stem from structural problems. Chant and Sweetman argue that “women are enlisted as foot soldiers to serve in battles whose aims are not related directly to their interests, consigned to the role of ‘conduit for policy’ in the service of others” (Chant and Sweetman 2012, 524). In another respect, efficiency can lead to investments in young women, forgetting about those who will at some point become ‘unproductive.’

Relying on women’s economic empowerment to change cultural norms places a heavy burden on women; for instance, programs must be careful to ensure that women do not face increased violence for their newfound empowerment, as those not selected for programs can become resentful and cause harm. Solidifying women’s rights through legal institutions then becomes increasingly important and can take time to establish progress.

Implementing Gender Policy

Australian Aid has systematic methods for implementing gender policy based on OECD policy markers. Australia participates in and encourages partner countries to join UN human rights conventions such as CEDAW. With fewer funds to work with, Australia’s DFAT is now more critical of programs that do not achieve visible, measurable results. Australian Aid screens all projects using its database AidWorks, and codes them as one of the following: not focused on gender equality; having gender equality as a significant objective; or having gender equality as a principal objective (Swiss 2012; Esplen and Hedman 2014; Patel et al. 2014, 22). These statistics are compiled based on the OECD DAC gender equality marker. Projects that are considered focused on gender equality (principal or significant) accounted for 55 percent of investments from 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. The government aims to have 80 percent of all aid programs address gender (Wroe 2014). In 2007, a Gender Advocate was appointed to promote gender equality and empowerment. In 2011, they appointed an Ambassador for Women and Girls (Patel et al. 2014, 19). While Australia’s development organizations dealt with challenges from institutional restructuring, the changes have made Australian Aid more focused on core goals of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

In changing how aid is delivered, Australian Aid has a new “Value-for-Money” performance framework where 85 percent of investments must achieve effectiveness and efficiency standards using tailored benchmarks for each country or regional program. If programs do not improve within a year they will be cancelled. Targets apply at the strategic level, one of which is empowering women and girls. Moreover, partners such as contractors and nongovernmental organizations, increasingly scrutinized (DFAT 2014, 25-26). In strategy documents, some programs, such as the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development initiative are explicit that transformation of gender relations will take decades to be resolved. (Parpart et al. 2000, 142).

Implications and Conclusions

Australian Aid’s capacity to implement the gender policy is determined by its approach, independence and external influences. That Australian Aid is no longer an autonomous agency changes its former independent perspective; a greater reliance on public-private partnerships and stimulating private sector development will also provide more power to external influences.

It is clear from the way that Australian Aid defines, administers and implements its gender policy that the organization values gender equality. Further, the 2014 development policy highlights the importance of engaging a gendered approach based on the social, political and economic benefits to communities. As such, the increased focus on gender in Australia Aid’s programs is an encouraging sign. Of the three pillars, Australia appears to prioritize women’s empowerment to participate in the economy, education and leadership because it values the ‘untapped’ economic role of women in development. This new economic focus may, however, have negative implications as part of a bid to secure private sector involvement, pursue measurable gains and provide ‘value for money.’ The transformation of gender norms can be difficult to measure and changes may not correspond with the ideals of DFAT’s Value-for-Money framework. There is also a worrying trend towards individualizing gender issues and reducing them to economic equations.

Bibliography

Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid). Promoting Opportunities for All: Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. 2011a. [http://aid.dfat.gov.au/Publications/Pages/7174_3886_222_8237_2915.aspx]

Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid). Promoting Economic Opportunities for All: A How to Guide for AusAID Staff on Programming for Women’s Economic Empowerment and Livelihood Security (WEELS). 2011b. [http://aid.dfat.gov.au/aidissues/gender/Documents/promoting-economic-opportunities-for-all.pdf]

Byron, Gabriela and Charlotte Örnemark. Gender Equality in Swedish Development Cooperation: Final Report. Sida Evaluation, 10:1, 2010.

Chant, Sylvia and Caroline Sweetman. “Fixing Women or Fixing the World? ‘Smart Economics’, Efficiency Approaches, and Gender Equality in Development,” Gender & Development 20, no. 3 (2012): 517-529.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Australian Aid: Promoting Prosperity, Reducing Poverty, Enhancing Stability. Commonwealth of Australia. June 2014. [http://aid.dfat.gov.au/Publications/Pages/australian-aid-promoting-prosperity-increasing-stability-reducing-poverty.aspx]

Esplen, Emily and Jenny Hedman. From Ambition to Results: Delivering on Gender Equality in Donor Institutions. OECD, DAC Network on Gender Equality. May 2014.

Kabeer, Naila. “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Critical Analysis of the Third Millennium Development Goal 1,” Gender & Development 13, no. 1 (2005): 13-24.

Kangas, A., Haider, H., and Fraser, E. (2014). Gender: Topic Guide. Revised edition with E. Browne. Birmingham: GSDRC, University of Birmingham, UK.

Lowy Institute. “Australian Foreign Aid.” Lowy Institute. 2014 [http://www.lowyinstitute.org/issues/australian-foreign-aid]

Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Sweden. On Equal Footing: Policy for Gender Equality and the Rights and Role of Women in Sweden’s International Development Cooperation 2010-2015. 2010. [www.government.se/content/1/c6/15/22/97/a962c4c8.pdf]

Parpart, Jane, Patricia Connelly and Eudine Barriteau (eds.) “Feminist Theories: Applying WID and GAD,” Theoretical Perspectives on Gender and Development (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 2000), pp. 140-147.

Patel, Payal, Katherine Fritz, Rekha Mehra, Anne Golla, Anna Clancy and Helen Cheney. Smart Economics: Evaluation of Australian Aid Support for Women’s Economic Empowerment. Office of Development Effectiveness, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. August 2014.

Swiss, Liam. “The Adoption of Women and Gender as Development Assistance Priorities: an Event History and World Polity Analysis,” International Sociology 27, no. (2011): 96-119.

Wong, Franz. “The Micro-politics of Gender Mainstreaming: the Administration of Policy in Humanitarian Work in Cambodia,” Gender & Development 20, no. 3 (2012): 467-480

Wroe, David. “Cuts to Foreign Aid ‘Another Broken Promise,’” The Age, December 3, 2014. [http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/cuts-to-foreign-aid-another-broken-promise-20141202-11ypou.html]

Negotiating Dominance: China in the 21st Century

Will China Dominate the 21st Century? By Jonathan Fenby.

Polity Press, 2014, 139 pp.

In Will China Dominate the 21st Century? author Jonathan Fenby seeks to dispel myths about China’s economic and strategic rise as it relates to the United States and the international order. He does not understate the significance of the rise of China, but rather calls it the “most important event since the end of the Cold War” (5). He attempts to renegotiate the reader’s understanding of China’s history and its foreign policy ambitions. While Fenby provides examples to support claims about China’s foreign policy direction, his evidence is selective and promotes an inflexible view of China. Fenby determines that, while China has and will continue to become a formidable state with economic and strategic potential, its lack of soft power compared to the United States will have negative implications for alliance-building and its relationship with international institutions. Fenby frames the discussion by explicating the political, economic and social constraints that will hamper China’s ability to “dominate” the 21st century. Importantly, the factors which helped China to rise – primarily the centralized nature of governance – will now stand in the way of its progress and speed, and will inevitably lead China to focus on internal structural issues.

In the opening pages, Fenby sets out to debunk myths that he sees as central to the international community’s understanding of the foreign policy. First, Beijing perpetuates the ideas of Chinese unity and continuous Han rule. Fenby disputes these myths by pointing to periods of division in Chinese history and the rule of non-Han including the Manchus and Mongols. Second, Fenby confronts the myth that Confucianism is China’s guiding ideology. This perception of China downplays the “doctrine of legalism, which uses the law to cow citizens into submission” (4). Fenby’s biggest quarrel concerns the myth that China is re-emerging as a global power. He argues that Imperial China “did not play a global role in the way of European empires” (4). However, his approach to contemporary China conflates re-emergence with soft power, or “global influence,” while downplaying the relation to China’s economic clout. Fenby has two reasons to attempt to debunk these myths. First, he seeks to discredit the myths that “China breeds” in order to delegitimize the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its authority. From the outset, he instills a perception of Beijing and the CCP as deceptive and manipulative and suggests that the leadership’s ultimate goal is to secure their position. Second, the book is a sharp response to those, primarily Western, authors who promote the concept of Chinese dominance.

Domestic Impediments: Political, Economic and Social Factors

For Fenby, domestic politics are the main reason why China will not dominate international affairs. Foremost in the political sphere, domestic structural factors prevent China’s political machine from evolving into a state capable of matching its economic progress. The CCP is central to all official affairs including business and infrastructure and both local leaders and leaders in Beijing bring their personal interests, historical inheritance related to Party membership and biases to decision making. Further, the centrality of state enterprises means that political and business leaders have an interest in maintaining the status quo. Membership in the CCP presents itself as integral to financial success, and the Party maintains a tight and embedded control with propaganda campaigns warning against foreign influence and flaunting the CCP as the single and ultimate choice for rule. Reforms are always planned in such a way that they maintain one-party rule.

Fenby claims that a central aim of Chinese leadership is to maintain power. He illustrates his claim that maintaining power is “more important than the necessary maturing of the nation,” for the CCP leadership through a comparison between Bo Xilai and Xi Jinping (52). Bo used populist policies in an attempt to create his own power center free of constraints and to pressure Beijing’s new leadership. Becoming a “crowd-pleaser” in his local role in Chongqing, Bo challenged the standard way of managing affairs in Beijing; for this he was removed and “brought down as the result of a murky affair” (39). On one hand, this example shows that the model of embedded control has become more difficult to maintain in an evolving society that includes more vocal interests and divergent stakeholders (51). On the other, Beijing’s purge of Bo and others that are not faithful to its patron-client system confirms Fenby’s argument that leaders seek tightly managed governance and are threatened by challenges to their authority.

In contrast to Bo, Xi Jinping insists on the maintenance of CCP’s hold on power. A recurring question given the economic progress of China has been “why should China change?” According to Fenby, this reluctance to change will constrain China’s ability to succeed on the international stage. However, changing public expectations about what the government should provide raise questions about the longevity of China’s single-party rule. Fenby presents a paradox whereby individuals support the regime and its benevolent rulers, but lack faith in the system. He contends that “it is the bureaucrats with whom people come into contact in their everyday lives who are seen as the villains” (48). However, Fenby’s emphasis on wholesale change to a Western style democracy is implausible and no analyst should expect such change to occur overnight. Further, he does not consider the gradual and grassroots-level transitions which include the increasing authority given to local governments and localized democracy. His focus on the top-down approach for change is consonant with his emphasis on the power of Beijing, but neglects other realities.

Not only do potential reforms face political obduracy, but they will lead to subsequent problems. Despite its unprecedented growth over the past decade, China faces many economic challenges. Fenby uses Wen Jiabao’s “four uns” to argue that Beijing leaders understand the troubled state of its economy and potential harm that sustaining the status quo could instill: unsustainable, uncoordinated, unbalanced and unstable. First, China’s economy is unsustainable because of its heavy reliance on imported raw materials, and could become reliant upon food imports if faced with droughts or other environmental disasters. Second, China has a heavy reliance on exports and construction projects for growth; export profits proceed to the central government, often leaving fewer funds available for local authorities, leading the economy to be uncoordinated. Third, the economy is unbalanced because it focuses on special economic zones, coastal and eastern areas. Fourth, social unrest due to income inequality causes the economy to be unstable. As head of the government for a decade and promoter of China’s economic policy Wen Jiabao proves to be on the right side of Fenby’s arguments; he grasps the difficulties ahead for Beijing and contradictions of the status quo.

Fenby belabors the point that inefficient state-owned enterprises, like Party officials, have been cushioned for too long; reform then is a double-edged sword for China’s economy and state institutions. For example improving benefits for migrant workers in the face of the hukou system would improve workers’ bargaining power, which would spell trouble for factories and hence conflict with market principles. Internationally, China’s model as the world’s factory is being challenged; other countries including developed states increasingly compete with China’s labor force as the country attempts to move up the value chain.  Ultimately, Fenby states that China’s economic problems are normal for a state its size and at its development stage. He purports that China’s economic challenges necessitate a “degree of realism” concerning its “prospects for dominating the globe given the systemic risks” (76). Nevertheless, China’s economy has continued to grow in the face of the global downturn, without the market reforms insisted on by Western commentators like Fenby.

Fenby recounts anecdotes of attempts at market-oriented reforms by Wen Jiabao and Li Keqiang in the face of Party opposition. Wen and Li put forth the goals of market reform but inevitably those enlisted to pursue reforms hesitated to pursue policy which would weaken the regime (63). Fenby, like many China skeptics, advises Beijing to release its tight grip on the Chinese economy, from agricultural land policy to currency and capital accounts. He supports a preconceived notion of how China should implement market reforms. However, Western market reforms run counter to CCP ideology of state control which means that top-down proposals come up against political and systemic forces seeking to maintain the status quo.

In the chapter “Behind the Dream,” Fenby details how an increasingly transaction-based economy has infused a capitalist mentality into society and perpetuated corruption and mistrust of officials, creating a conflict with state ideology; greed and individualism are concepts which the CCP set out to remove from society. While some commentators claim that Confucian principles helped to thrust China into global dominance, Fenby argues that Confucianism’s disdain for money-making runs counter to Beijing’s focus on economic growth. In Chinese politics, career potential is tied to delivering economic growth. In some instances this breeds corruption; for example, officials have turned a blind eye to factories that pollute as long as GDP figures improve. For the public, an emphasis on material prosperity results in criticism of the wealth gap and the loss of moral standards among public officials. This conflict identified by Fenby is important in the public and private spheres in China and contributes to debates about China’s foreign policy motivations.

Beijing remains aware of popular sentiment through frequent public opinion surveys; however, Fenby reiterates that there is a separation between the Party and citizens due to the grandiose nature of the PRC combined “with the omnipotent claims of its ruling apparatus and lack of space for adaptation of the basic structure” (99-100). To demonstrate his claim that there is a popular disapproval of officials, Fenby mentions several times in the book that annually there are between 150,000 and 180,000 protests in China. In light of protests, the government budget for internal security continues to increase while, to keep the peace, it cancels controversial construction projects that may be unsettling or harmful for communities. Alongside this, Fenby justifiably raises the issue of “where politics stops in China” (99). Consultation with the public does not occur effectively, because meetings with protestors occur after the Party decides to begin a project.

According to Fenby, the public’s discontent with Beijing poses a threat to the CCP’s rule and raises a number of questions. He asks, “Why has the priority been so overwhelmingly on building hardware rather than improving the quality of life?” (52) Why can the state not provide basic necessities to everyone and why are corners cut? Fenby remarks that traditionally Chinese popular reverence for the state “is based on the bargain that the state will act as a protector, and the PRC has not been doing a great job in this respect” (79). Whereas previously people relied on an “iron rice bowl” to provide a minimum level of comfort, now they find support outside of the Party system, in religions and belief systems such as Christianity, Daoism, Buddhism and even feng shui and Falun Gong. China’s social problems have a distinct impact on foreign policy and its national priorities. With each food scandal, corruption case, pollution incident and other events that garner negative publicity in the global media, respect for CCP leadership wanes (99-100). Fenby argues that Beijing’s ability to control internal social dynamics impact its ability to manage its image both domestically and internationally and may even impede its capacity to act in the international arena.

Pressures in International Relations

On several fronts, Fenby offers hope for those fearful of China’s rise and a counterweight for American declinists. Foremost, Fenby suggests that China’s rise must “be kept in perspective” (102). By comparing factors of China’s domestic and international situation with that of the United States, Fenby frames the debate in terms of competition. China still has a long way to go before it will catch up to the United States in economic, strategic and international political realms. The author reiterates China’s problems with corruption, safety standards, pollution, and “a weak record in innovation” (104). Meanwhile, in part due to its legal system and economic policies, the US remains top destination for FDI. Fenby contrasts the hard power of the U.S. with China, pointing out that the U.S. maintains 39% of global military spending. With China’s military spending still only one quarter of U.S. spending, any comparison of military power is overwhelmingly skewed toward U.S. dominance. The US also maintains an unparalleled global cultural appeal. For instance, compared to U.S. companies, Chinese companies do not have the same brand recognition or global reach, which Fenby deems important for dominance. All of these factors are mobilized by Fenby to dispel myths that China is at the doorstep of the U.S. However, by keeping China clearly in the rearview mirror of the U.S., Fenby acknowledges some degree of competition. He briefly mentions that the world is not dominated by a single power, while simultaneously asserting factors contributing to U.S. dominance and minimizing multilateral institutions.

China lacks several factors required to be a global power. Notably for Fenby, the Beijing Consensus is not replicable, and there are scant states that seek to model themselves after it. In part this is due to China’s perceived avoidance of major conflicts and dispute resolution and influence of its Sino-centric history. He disapproves China’s deference to state sovereignty as a guiding principle. Further, China’s close political and strategic relationship is with North Korea, an autarkic state and volatile state, is viewed with suspicion and disdain by the international community. China does not maintain alliances which Fenby believes are important for global dominance. He contrasts U.S. alliance networks, for example Japan and NATO countries, with China’s fluid international relations. In examining soft power, Fenby goes so far as to state that “There is scant evidence for the thesis that the world will become more Chinese” (114). English remains the dominant language globally and the West has a dominant influence on global culture. Chinese people continue to move or travel abroad and bring back international influences. Furthermore, in international public opinion polls “warmth for China seems to be somewhat on the wane” (115-116). Despite its economic clout and membership status in institutions such as the UN Security Council, Fenby believes that China has yet to become a geo-political stakeholder, least of all a responsible one (105).

Fenby argues that China should have no interest in disrupting the status quo because it is a dependent power. The international order facilitates China’s rise and provides advantages for its ability to “trade and to exclude external influences” (106). China’s neighbors meanwhile rely on the U.S for security and continue to elude falling under China’s protection. China’s economy relies on foreign investment and imported energy and technology. Further, compared to the US, China has a more limited cultural influence. With international affairs as with international business, the global trust deficit continues outside of China’s small sphere of influence because of its history of corruption, food scandals and low environmental standards.

Fenby waits until late in the book to address the global ‘rules of the game,’ that have been set by the West and any challenge to these rules that China may pose. China’s strategic influence has remained reasonably localized. For instance, it has exacerbated tensions with neighbors Vietnam and Japan through territorial disputes, while simultaneously holding “back from assuming a global role,” (124). Fenby contends that China resents not being able to reframe set the rules that Western powers have established for the global system and that it is short-sighted to believe that China will quietly adhere to these rules. He claims that China risks placing itself as an outsider to “a world system it has joined and needs” but where it has not fully engaged (125). But, it is naïve for Fenby to preclude changes in the rules given shifts in economic power toward the global South. Further, the author denies the potential of a cooperative, ‘G-2’ model between the United States and China; he views events such as the U.S. pivot to the Pacific and Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement which currently excludes China as features of containment. Fenby’s skepticism about China-U.S. relations and China’s role in international institutions doesn’t account for the CCP’s concept of a “peaceful rise” and U.S. public diplomacy efforts of welcoming China into the international sphere.

Conclusion

Throughout the book Fenby paints a picture of a troubled China, struggling to cope with domestic challenges. He cautions the reader “against being swept away by Sinomania based on a combination of ancient civilizational claims and crude GDP numbers” (102). For Fenby, China is a revisionist power, but domestic political, economic and social constraints will hamper any capacity for China to threaten U.S. hegemony. Fenby encourages Beijing to implement political and economic reforms as a way to “rule more effectively,” but he is aware that his proposed market reforms are not in the short term interests of Party officials (121).

While Fenby provides a concise contribution to debates surrounding the rise of China, his approach is framed by a limited definition of “domination” that predetermines his answer to the question “will China dominate the 21st century.” Fenby’s implicit definition of domination, as an active role in multinational institutions and influence in shaping the rules of the system differs considerably from the goals of the CCP and tends to downplay China’s impressive economic growth. In fact, the concept of dominance may be losing its descriptive power in the current state of international relations. At the end of the text in “Further Reading” Fenby engages with others in the debate on China’s rise and presents his account as an argument against those who believe an ameliorative change will arise from China’s domestic development and increasing participation in multinational institutions. Fenby advises that “The scale and momentum of the mainland’s growth should not blind us to the strengths of the rest of the world” (113). However, Fenby’s critiques of China should not blind us to a potential reorganization of international affairs in light of a more capable and influential China and global South.

Leading at the Margins: Palau’s Role in the 2014 Pacific Island Forum

This year states are being asked to take action on sustainable energy projects “irrespective of political status.” As host of this year’s 45th Pacific Islands Forum from July 29 to August 1, leaders of the Republic of Palau are doing their part to call global attention to the plight of Pacific islands. Palau’s efforts coincide with the United Nations designation of 2014 as the ‘Year of the Small Island Developing States’. Palau’s culture of conservation and preservation has helped the state to become a leader in climate adaptation and a formidable partner in pursuing multilateral solutions to migration challenges.

Now is the time to connect conservation with development. Nonprofits, government and the private sector are working together through the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA) in an attempt to build resilient and sustainable island communities. Leaders of small island states like President Tommy Remengesau of Palau seek to reverse the trend of increasing spending on defense budgets and instead spend more on conservation, and peaceful relationship-building efforts. Through GLISPA, actors are trying to find “island solutions to island challenges” because “nature forms part of [their] economy.” At a GLISPA meeting earlier this year, Palau’s Ambassador to the United States Hersey Kyota quipped that the country has an informal motto to “take enough for yourself, leave some for others.” Over time, traditional concepts of conservation have changed with technology, enabling people to store more and for companies to produce more than they need to live sustainably.

President Remengesau is expecting at least 500 people to attend the Pacific Island Forum this year, including heads of state. During his recent visit to Japan, Remengesau extended an invitation to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to attend the forum in the wake of Japan’s increasing development projects in the region. Japan continues to add to its Aid-for-Trade programs including a new agreement in June with the Kingdom of Tonga which will help the state to purchase goods from Japan’s earthquake and tsunami-damaged region. To counter China’s diplomatic and economic efforts and as part of the ‘rebalance,’ the United States has notably increased its presence at PIF meetings since Secretary Clinton’s visit to the Cook Islands in 2012; last year the US sent Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell along with a delegation also representing Departments of State, Homeland Security, Energy, Agriculture, Health and Human Services and US Pacific Command. In contrast, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key may not attend due to upcoming elections in September; but, NZ recently created a new position and appointed former Labour Member of Parliament Shane Jones as Ambassador for Pacific Economic Development, to help coordinate and boost the country’s relationships, development programs and fisheries projects.

More important than the number of attendees is the commitments that can be made and followed through by larger states, and the impact a cohesive Pacific group of nations can have on swaying the international community to not only change their behaviors but help . At last year’s PIF meeting in the Solomon Islands, members signed the Majuro Declaration and made specific commitments, hoping to launch a “new wave of climate leadership.” So far it seems Australia has been the only state to move away from its commitments, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott holding the country’s plans hostage; Australia previously agreed to have 20% of its electricity generated from renewables by 2020 as well as its pursuit of emissions reductions targets. Small island states meanwhile created ambitious targets to transform their economies: Niue and the Cook Islands aim to generate 100% of their energy from renewables by 2020, Vanuatu seeks 65% by 2020, and Nauru and Solomon Islands have targets of 50% renewable energy generation by 2020 and 2015, respectively.

Emissions reductions are a more delicate political issue than changing sources of energy for both large and small states because of the economic implications for heavy polluting industries in particular and businesses in general; in the Pacific though, according to Kyota, the tension surrounding who is to blame for high emissions levels inducing climate change becomes old news when states must deal with the consequences including ocean acidification, overfishing and rising sea levels. Kiribati for example is facing certain sea level rise that will make its islands uninhabitable, and the government is investigating options for mass migration.

Palau has to evolve with “climate mitigation,” according to Ambassador Kyota, due to “things that were not caused by us.” Palau has a population of about 20,000 people, and is currently facing prospects of severe drought this year due to El Nino weather patterns. Multilateral cooperation will be critical to changing the rhetoric and discourse of climate adaptation and mitigation, and should aim to prevent free-riding. In opposition to Tony Abbott’s complaints about economic impacts of carbon pricing and other climate-related regulations, Kiribati’s President Anote Tong said “We’re not talking about the growth GDP, we’re not talking about what it means in terms of profit and losses of the large corporations, we’re talking about our survival.”  For Kiribati, “our future is already here … we will be underwater.” President Tong recently announced that Kiribati would prohibit commercial fishing in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, which is about the size of the state of California. President Remengesau has also recently called for a total ban on commercial fishing, in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone, which would create a sanctuary an area the size of Ukraine. Banning export-oriented commercial fishing is likely to have a larger impact on government budgets than on local fishermen and food supplies, as fishing revenues come primarily from selling permits to overseas vessels. For Kiribati, Palau and others, the short term losses will outweigh the benefits of restoring stocks of tuna for global food security and regional conservation efforts.

Thanks to Japanese investment through the Pacific Environment Community Fund, in March this year Palau installed a new solar power generation system and salt water desalination plant which exemplifies the water-energy nexus. It will reduce reliance on fossil fuels while also providing clean, safe drinking water to residents. According to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, administrator of the fund, the governments of Samoa, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Nauru, theSolomon Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Niue, Republic of Palau, Republic of Marshall Islands and Vanuatu have to date utilized the PEC Fund “for national renewable energy and seawater desalination projects.”

Many events are happening this year specifically to coincide with the Year of the Small Island Developing States, and there are positive signs that the international community is recognizing the opportunity to act to support the efforts of island states. On June 17, US President Barack Obama proposed to create the world’s largest marine sanctuary in addition to other actions at the State Department-led “Our Ocean” conference; President Obama seeks to use his presidential authority if necessary but will work to create guidelines based on stakeholder input. The US, Japan and China as the world’s largest economies must continue to follow and model the efforts of the smallest states as they transform what we think of as sustainable development. As water increases in scarcity and ocean acidification intensifies in the Pacific, Australia should reverse its mistakes on climate initiatives. The PIF meeting in July hopes to continue the groundswell of action, leading to a well-prepared UN Conference on Small Island Developing States to be held in Samoa in September. At each multilateral setting, Japan, the European Union the US have continued to display their support for sustainable development initiatives, recognizing not only the pristine environment to be saved and peoples to support, but also the potential to showcase to their own publics the power of creating more areas for conservation and the need for a shift in discourse. It will be up to all actors – including Palau as leader of the PIF – to keep one another engaged in this critical year.

Contestations of Memory: Comfort Women and East Asian Politics

“To ignore violative conduct is to invite its repetition and sustain a culture of impunity.”[1]

If survivors from a tragic event do not step forward to share their experiences, how will historians and the public know the truth about what happened? A lack of personal testimonials may invite suppression of memory or rewriting of history. It took nearly fifty years for women who survived the Pacific War ‘comfort stations’ of the Japanese military to reveal their maltreatment and forced experiences as ‘comfort women.’ As opposed to redress initiated by the state, a shift in academia from the 1980s led by several female academic researchers helped open a space for survivors to bring grievances against the Japanese state for crimes against humanity (including rape and sexual slavery) and South Korean state for support. Japan and Korea’s sanitization of their official histories of the Pacific War, denial of evidence of Japan’s state coordination of enslaving comfort women and stigmatization of former comfort women amounted to a re-interpretation of history and denial of the women’s memory; with the atomic bombing of Japan and the desire for the US to have a strong non-communist ally in the region after the war, Japan was able to shed its image as an aggressor relatively quickly and in its textbooks told the story of the Pacific War through its prism as a victim. The history of comfort women, and particularly the responsibility of the Japanese state, is still disputed; this debate has led to a damaging divide between experiencers and mythologizers of history.

In discussing the history of ‘comfort women,’ there are multiple angles from which to approach their experiences as well as the constructed memory in the ‘official histories’ of Japan and South Korea. Christine Chinkin (2001) in “Women’s International Tribunal of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery” addresses the importance of tribunals–official and unofficial–and community involvement so that states cannot “ignore or forgive crimes against humanity.”[2] Chunghee Sarah Soh (1996) in “The Korean ‘Comfort Women’: Movement for Redress” focuses on the inability of former comfort women to reconcile their past due in part to cultural legacies and the institutionalization of sexual slavery based on class, gender, ethnicity, and nationality; although, changes in national and international structures since the Cold War have helped translate the problem into a universal women’s issue. Shuko Ogawa’s (2000) “The Difficulty of Apology: Japan’s Struggle with Memory and Guilt” and Bonnie B.C. Oh’s (2001) chapter “The Japanese Imperial System and the Korean Comfort Women of WWII” attempt to explain the Japanese state’s perspective. Oh accepts the uniqueness of Japan’s situation while finding underlying cultural issues that impacted the role of the government; Ogawa advocates the importance of Japan coming clean on its history of comfort women in order to save face. In “History & Memory: Comfort Women Controversy” Hyun Sook Kim (1997) compares official Japanese and South Korean textbooks with testimonials of survivors and similarly identifies cultural reasons for both states to selectively ignore, repress and sanitize experiences of comfort women. This contestation of memory entails mythmaking and a division between official narrative of ‘lack of evidence’ and narratives of testimonials from those that experienced history.

By reiterating tales of female exploitation, historical roles of Japanese and Korean governments, and the states’ claim of a ‘lack of evidence’ these texts elucidate the difficulties that former comfort women, as those that ‘experienced the history’ have faced in reconciling their past and attempting to educate future generations. Because of the official treatment of their history the women feel as if the mythologizers of the past (i.e. Japanese government) are “uninterested in knowing the past as its makers have experienced it.”[3] Women have been unable or unwilling to tell their experienced history because of the stigmatization within the families, communities and society, particularly in Korea, from the time of their return. A government study in 1993 led to the Kono statement where Japan officially recognized its role in establishing comfort stations, coercing women into sex with the military; however, controversy still ensued as the government claimed reparations should be made through private rather than public funds meaning the state would not pay for–and so would remain separate from–the harm it caused. Moreover, the states’ alternative histories are positioned from different historical data; survivor testimonials have become “reified as ‘information’ and ‘data,’ and they are treated as hard facts and the truth about the past – ‘facts’ that must be verified.”[4] According to Kim, for decades personal narratives have been withheld or ignored due to “patriarchal and national cultural arrangements.”[5] Oh meanwhile explains that comfort women were seen as “gifts from the Emperor,” pointing to the underlying issue of “contempt with which women have been held in Japanese society and exploitation of their sexuality.”[6] Decades on, financial compensation has been sought (and some achieved), but more than that is the desire for Japan to accede full responsibility for their terrible experiences; from this full apology the women seek acceptance from communities and the state to prevent this situation from occurring again.

At different points the governments of Japan and South Korea modified their positions on comfort women yet internal and external cultural and political factors led them to maintain control on history. But what did the states have to gain from their (mis)treatment of these women? Initially the Korean government ignored issues of the ‘Chongsindae’ women; there was a “lack of documentary evidence” because Japan destroyed records, and the 1965 Normalization Treaty “foreclosed the Korean government from making any further claims for reparations for damages incurred during the colonial period.”[7] Soh indicates that the state’s treatment of the plight of comfort women fits with South Korea’s tradition of sexual and physical exploitation of women for tourism and labor industries. Both cultures maintain a reverence for ancestors which enables construction of memory; in Japan specifically, “ideological wars have been fought over the wording of history textbooks, commemoration of the war dead, and personal compensation demands from foreigners” victimized by the Japanese.[8] Conservatives in Japan then do not want to teach a history which they believe will prevent students from retaining pride in their country.

While Japan eventually admitted that comfort women were coerced and recognized that “it had violated international humanitarian laws by persecuting Korean women,”[9] this contestation of memory is far from reconciled. Disputes over compensation to victims have put pressure on Japan-Korea relations, while “ethno-nationalistic sentiments have given rise to a renewed sense of historically rooted mutual hostility and contempt.”[10] Korean and Japanese heads of state have prioritized and publicized the dispute over memory of the comfort women at different levels. Current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently stated he would accept the 1993 Kono Statement while still enabling a review on how the apology was constructed.[11] Critics such as Ogawa claim that Japan will not be able to gain full acceptance in international institutions until it recognizes its past injustices with comfort women, who have been unable to receive closure with their past.

Contemporary politics reinforces Japan’s mythologization of its Pacific War experiences as a victim rather than the aggressor.  Recent high-level, bilateral summits between South Korea and Japan discussing security, development and now potentially the comfort women issue are a positive sign and represent a significant diplomatic concession by Japan. Events such as the fallout from Trans-Pacific Partnership discussions and the North Korea program have added to US concern over the behavior of its allies and its inability to control actors in the Asia-Pacific. Japan’s historical hesitation to confront nationalist tendencies has negatively impacted relationships with its neighbors and more importantly, has marginalized memories that can instill humility and prevent the event’s repetition.

[1] Chinkin, Christine. “Women’s International Tribunal of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery.” The American Journal of International Law. 95.2. April (2001).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Cohen, Paul A. History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), xiv.

[4] Kim, Hyun Sook. “History & Memory: Comfort Women Controversy.” Positions. 5:1. Spring (1997): 95.

[5] Ibid, 101.

[6] Oh, Bonnie B.C. “The Japanese Imperial System and the Korean Comfort Women of WW2” In Legacies of the Comfort Women. Edited by Margaret Stetz and Bonnie B.C. Oh. (New York: M. E. Sharpe Inc., 2001), 5, 9.

[7] Soh, Chunghee Sarah. “The Korean ‘Comfort Women’: Movement for Redress.” Asian Survey. Vol. 36, No. 12, Dec. (1996): 1230. 

[8] Ogawa, Shuko. “The Difficulty of Apology: Japan’s Struggle with Memory and Guilt.” Harvard International Review. Fall (2000).

[9] Soh, “The Korean ‘Comfort Women,’” 1236.

[10] Ibid, 1239.

[11] Akihiko Kaise. “Abe Administration Maintains Delicate Balancing Act over Kono Statement.” The Asahi Shimbun. (3/15/14) [http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/politics/AJ201403150044]

Political Risk Analysis of the 2008 Sanlu Melamine Scandal and 2013 Fonterra Botulism Scandal

This post is part of a longer research paper.  It was adapted for the Australia and New Zealand Studies Association Conference at the University of Texas in Austin on February 8, 2014.

New Zealand’s agricultural sector not only makes up the majority of its exports but also constitutes an important part of the country’s cultural identity. Risk events related to Fonterra can have significant impacts and spillover effects as the world’s largest dairy exporter. An initially localized quality problem can lead to the perception of risk on a global scale. Fonterra’s experience with two major health risk events exemplifies the imperative of risk communication and management strategies for businesses and governments to cope with risk and show accountability to stakeholders.[1] Tools of political risk analysis can help organizations to evaluate multi-layered risk situations, create risk communication strategies and mitigate spillover effects caused by social amplification. This essay compares the 2008 Sanlu melamine scandal and 2013 Fonterra botulism scandal through a risk analysis approach from the behavioral sciences. The latter provides political risk analysts a valuable tool to understand how society responds to new and unfamiliar technologies and risks, and how to manage them. In 2008, Sanlu’s information vacuum led to health problems and widespread social reactions, damaging firms and individuals. In 2013, early risk communication benefited public health but was detrimental to reputations of Fonterra and the New Zealand dairy industry; long-term effects of Fonterra’s risk communication are still unknown but are likely to be positive, displaying a desire for transparency and risk avoidance.

Risk Terms

The field lacks a unified definition of political risk, but the term implies a change in circumstances, usually a loss, for a defined actor or set of actors. Charlotte Brink’s definition of political risk analysis is aimed toward foreign investors, encompassing

the probability that factors caused or influenced by the (in)action or reactions of stakeholders within a political system to events outside or within a country, will affect investment and business climates in such a way that investors will lose money or not make as much money as they expected. [2]

Importantly, Brink shows that risks can be caused by lack of action, such as withholding information.

For public and experts, risk perceptions are built primarily using three factors: 1) degree to which the risk is understood; 2) level of dread; 3) number of people exposed.[3] People use ‘affect heuristics,’ or mental shortcuts, to process judgments about the “positive or negative quality of a stimulus.”[4] The affect heuristic is important in changing perceptions of a hazard, as access to more information can sway perception.[5] Whether risk communication seeks to inform or advocate, it is important to inform early, regularly and with accurate information to gain maintain trust, and encourage desired behaviors from the target audience.[6] The social amplification of risk framework exemplifies how risk events interact with various psychological and cultural factors in ways that affect public perceptions of risk; the portrayal of an event through different channels including, for example, media, and corporate and government releases can lead to ripple effects which can be more damaging to firms and individuals than the original impact.

Adapted from Kasperson & Kasperson (1996).
Adapted from Kasperson & Kasperson (1996).

Background on Sanlu and Fonterra

In 2008 and 2013, public health risk events rocked two of the world’s largest dairy companies. Fonterra is the world’s largest dairy exporter, a multinational cooperative owned by more than 10,000 farmers. To expand its networks in China, in 2005 Fonterra signed a joint venture with Sanlu, acquiring a 43% stake.[7] As a state-owned entity with close ties to government officials and China’s former largest seller of milk powder, Sanlu was expected to self-regulate quality control and was not subject to the same regulations as other firms. Moreover, Sanlu was critical to the economy of Hebei Province, employing 10,000 workers. As two of the world’s largest dairy producers combined forces, the reputations of their brands became intertwined while they retained separate operations.

2008 Sanlu Melamine Scandal

The 2008 Sanlu melamine scandal was China’s worst food contamination disaster; until the central government intervened, risk communication efforts were non-existent. The company, which had built up its reputation over five decades, became bankrupt as a result of the scandal. At least 6 infants were killed and 300,000 developed kidney stones due to melamine contamination of infant milk powder. As early as March 2008, Sanlu and the media received complaints about ill children, suspected contamination and performed its own testing. The media was unable to warn the public or probe complaints by parents due to government restrictions on reporting before and during the Olympics. Fonterra was not informed of the contamination by its local partner until a board meeting in August. Shortly thereafter, Fonterra notified local authorities in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province about suspected contamination but were constrained by other Sanlu board members. When Sanlu refused to recall the products or inform the public, Fonterra contacted the New Zealand government on September 5 to pressure Beijing which then recalled all Sanlu milk powder and embarked on a campaign. [8] The scandal impacted the entire dairy industry, hundreds of thousands of individuals and two national governments.[9] Earlier risk communication efforts and a product recall by the Chinese government and dairy industry actors may have lessened the damage caused by contamination.

Risk Perception: Threat to Children Breeds Panic?

In both cases, characteristics of the hazard combined with the public’s heuristic thinking, leading to social amplification. In the Sanlu scandal, risk perception factors of understanding, level of dread and number of people affected contributed to a high public perception of risk. The Chinese public was familiar with melamine; in 2007 there was a similar contamination scandal in the pet food sector and in children’s toys.[10] Specifically, the risk to children, close proximity and that it was man-made were important dread factors.

Risk Communication and Amplification: Multiple Interests Impair Efforts

Sanlu withheld communication and responsibility as long as possible and influenced media outlets to conceal the risk. In return for suppressing negative publicity, Sanlu purchased NZ$640,000 of advertising on Chinese search website Baidu. Additionally, Sanlu used a public relations executive to act as a reporter; using propaganda techniques, they promoted positive stories of Sanlu.[11]

The increasingly decentralized political system in China and Sanlu’s unwillingness to inform the public contributed to poor risk communication. Local officials hid the problem and lacked proper standards and supervision to regulate the industry; officials were informed on August 2 but took no action until September. Beijing announced the contamination after the Olympics ended by apologizing, ensuring communication was transparent, clear and individuals were held accountable.

Beijing’s response was to “curb the risks, punish the perpetrators and help victims.”[12] Government agencies enacted a full product recall and punished many of those responsible. But, scores of children were already affected. After the government issued a warning on September 15, and Premier Wen Jiabo embarked on a media campaign in late September visiting sick infants in hospitals, journalists felt safe reporting about the scandal.[13]

Impacts and Ripple Effects of Social Amplification

Impacts of the Sanlu melamine scandal were widespread. Due to compensation claims, Sanlu went bankrupt only a few months later in December 2008; a previously little-known company unconnected to the scandal, Sanyuan, eventually purchased Sanlu. Overall, Fonterra lost NZ$139 million. More than 22 companies were implicated in the melamine scandal, which included other dairy products and eggs. Among other arrests and firings, high-profile punishments included life imprisonment for Sanlu chairman Tian Wenhua and death sentences for three men.[14]

In addition to the immediate impacts, consumers lost confidence in the domestic dairy industry, requiring government action. Consumers took weekend trips to Hong Kong to purchase large quantities of infant formula, believing it was safer than those on the mainland.[15] Beijing enacted emergency subsidies to combat further bankruptcies. To repair the industry’s damaged reputation, “local authorities were urged to reinforce technical guidelines on cow feeding and epidemic control.”[16] China’s relatively managed economy with strong state-owned enterprises enabled Beijing to exert influence and rescue smaller dairy farmers. The government also rescued a failed risk communication effort and saved its reputation by prosecuting individuals, being clear about the risk and helping victims.

Impacts of the scandal were less immediate and acute for Fonterra because the contamination did not originate from Fonterra’s farms in NZ and the company held a minority stake in Sanlu. Yet spillover effects continue to emerge. NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark publicly criticized Fonterra for mishandling the crisis. Fonterra followed a protocol which put the responsibility on their partners. Delayed notification, number of people affected and desire to expand profits in Asia led to a corporate social responsibility effort. To combat brand damage, the company donated NZ$8.4 million to a Chinese charity establishing rural clinics for mothers and infants.[17] Association with the 2008 scandal has become part of Fonterra’s record, impacting public perception and framing of the 2013 botulism scandal.

2013 Fonterra Botulism Scandal

As early as March and confirmed late July 2013, thirty-eight tons of whey protein were thought to be contaminated with clostridium botulinum, bacteria that can lead to botulism. On August 3, 2013, Fonterra issued a precautionary recall, and countries including China subsequently banned the sale of a range of Fonterra’s products; by the end of August secondary tests showed that the products contained no clostridium botulinum, but instead had clostridium sporogenes from a dirty pipe, which presents no food risk. Fonterra “blamed systematic glitches and the use of non-standard equipment for the botulism contamination scare.”[18] The immediately affected product was an ingredient sold to third parties rather than a finished product, impacting big-name infant formula and beverage. While Fonterra’s August 2013 botulism scandal turned out to be a false alarm, the risk event significantly impacted its international image as well as that of NZ dairy products, leading to a decline in sales and legal suits from customers.

Risk Perception: Affect Justifies Product Bans

The affective association of Fonterra products with harm was readily available in memories due to Fonterra’s connection with the 2008 Sanlu scandal. Botulism was a less familiar hazard for consumers than melamine but because it was new and had the potential to impact infants and children, the risk was perceived as high. Decisions to ban imports of Fonterra products added to the proximity of the risk. The comprehensiveness of Fonterra’s risk communication efforts contributed to conflicting public perceptions of its products.

Risk Communication and Amplification: Early Efforts to Prevent Worse Fallout

Fonterra amplified the risk by alerting consumers to a problem which did not exist, and the company’s early, forward efforts had mixed reviews. The public felt they were receiving incomplete information from an unorganized source, using inaccessible language; moreover, Fonterra did not apologize until days later. It was unclear how much of the public knew the event was a false alarm. A survey quoted one respondent “That this happened at all was unbelievable. Everyone was taken by surprise and they couldn’t reassure consumers.”[19] Farmers, shareholders and market analysts meanwhile were comforted by Fonterra’s communication efforts and agreed: “They did the right thing going public and the media whipped it into a frenzy.”[20] Overall, stakeholders agreed that communications improved after the first 72 hours of the recall.

Despite the launch of four independent inquiries into the botulism scare, public perception of Fonterra products has been altered. The media in both NZ and China maintained significant coverage of the product recall and announcements of potential contamination; however, after the risk was found to be a false alarm, the story only received minor coverage. In China in particular, an unknown portion of the public may still believe the products were contaminated due to lack of closure.[21]  However, there is a segment of microbloggers in China that maintain confidence in NZ products and are cynical about their own national media.

Impacts and Ripple Effects of Social Amplification

Because no consumers became ill or died of botulism, the event’s impacts centered on financial and reputational losses for Fonterra and its partners: the NZ dollar declined, the head of Fonterra’s New Zealand milk products business, Gary Romano, resigned,[22] and total damages in the case are still to be determined. In September 2013, NZ exporters claimed they were losing up to NZ$2 million in Chinese sales per week.[23] As a result of the precautionary recall, Fonterra’s supplier Danone, the world’s largest yogurt manufacturer, is suing Fonterra “after an estimated loss of 300 million euros (NZ$407 million) of free cashflow.”[24] Before the Danone suit, Fonterra estimated a loss of NZ$14 million from the event and claimed its legal liability to Danone was minimal.[25] Additionally, Fonterra reduced payouts to shareholders by about 20 NZ cents per share. Widespread publicity of the recall and import bans across Asia due to social amplification impacted companies further along the supply chain and cast doubt on standards in NZ’s largely self-regulatory dairy industry. Among other ideas, Fonterra’s review recommends strengthening crisis communications as well as processes, culture, and governance.

Concern for falling Asian consumer confidence in the New Zealand dairy industry led to government action. Unlike the Sanlu case, the NZ government did not have to step in to ensure a recall, but officials were called upon to save Fonterra and NZ’s face due to its premature communication. The initial government report claims the risk event was not due to a failure in the regulatory system but rather a failure in managing the situation. Yet a key recommendation is “establishing a food safety and assurance advisory council to provide high-level independent advice and risk analysis.”[26] Despite currently acceptable standards, the NZ government allocated $NZ8 to 12 million per annum to follow the report’s recommendations to tighten food safety and improve standards and regulations.[27]

Conclusion

Decision makers in private and public sectors employ multi-disciplinary political risk analysis to understand probabilities of losses or gains in specific scenarios. Increasingly analysts use the tools within political risk analysis that include risk perception, risk communication and social amplification of risk to build risk mitigation and communication strategies to a more advanced and connected audience. The 2008 Sanlu melamine scandal and 2013 Fonterra botulism scandal exemplify how different organizations approach a risk event, who they identify as their stakeholders and what they consider as responsibilities. A more thorough analysis of this case may examine additional factors including cultural and organizational dynamics.

In both cases, perceived risks were amplified by manufacturers and media. In 2008, amplification occurred out of the initial information vacuum created by local officials and Sanlu, a domestic history of melamine poisoning and because children were the primary targets. For Sanlu, risk communication should have occurred at the time of known contamination or confirmed cases; pressure from Beijing, producers and local government meant the public was uninformed. In 2013, Fonterra’s risk communication efforts were early, with multilevel communications reaching shareholders, customers and governments. After the fact, Fonterra sought to understand customers’ risk perception and opinion of communication efforts. The importance of Fonterra to the NZ economy meant the government was interested in a swift, transparent reaction. Undoubtedly Fonterra did not want a repeat of 2008. Fonterra in the short term must deal with economic losses and potential brand damage; however the global recall and communication efforts may be perceived as beneficial for public health concerns especially when compared to Sanlu’s experiences.


[1] Ragnar Lofstedt and Asa Boholm, “The Study of Risk in the 21st Century,” in The Earthscan Reader on Risk, ed. Rangar Lofstedt and Asa Boholm (London: Earthscan, 2009), 11.

[2] Charlotte Brink, Measuring Political Risk: Risks to Foreign Investment (UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2004), 1.

[3] Paul Slovic, “Perceptions of Risk,” in The Perception of Risk, ed.  Paul Slovic (London: Earthscan, 2000).

[4] Slovic, Paul, Melissa L. Finucane, Ellen Peters and Donald G. MacGregor. “Risk as Analysis and Risk as Feelings: Some Thoughts about Affect, Reason, Risk, and Rationality.” Risk Analysis, Vol. 24, 2 (2004). 312.

[5] Slovic, “Perceptions of Risk,” 222.

[6] Regina Lundgren and Andrea McMakin, Risk Communication: A Handbook for Communicating Environmental, Safety, and Health Risks (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009).

[7] Duoqi Xu, “Tax Planning and Tax Policy in China: Case Study of the Tainted Milk Scandal.” Frontiers of Law in China. June, Vol. 6, 2 (2011): 192-218.

[8] Castellino and Green, “Media freedom in China.”

[9] Danielle Castellino and Lelia Green, “Media freedom in China as reflected in the development of the Sanlu milk scandal, 2008,” Australian Journal of Communication, Vol. 37, 3 (2010): 88-102.

[10] Castellino and Green, “Media freedom in China.”

[11] Castellino and Green, “Media freedom in China,” 96.

[12] E.Y.Y. Chan, S.M. Griffiths and C.W. Chan, “Public-health risks of melamine in milk products.” The Lancet; October 25, 372 (2008): 1444.

[13] Castellino and Green, “Media freedom in China,” 92.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Xu, “Tax Planning and Tax Policy in China,” 194.

[16] Xu,“Tax Planning and Tax Policy in China,” 194.

[17] Elizabeth Wishnick, “Of Milk and Spacemen: The Paradox of Chinese Power in an Era of Risk.” The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Spring, 15, 2 (2009): 213-214.

[18] Maggie Zhang, “New Zealand Minister to Rebuild Trust in Kiwi Quality.” Shanghai Daily. (11/12/13)

[19] “Report of WPC80 Independent Inquiry for Fonterra Board.” (10/23/13), 147-149.

[20] “Report of WPC80 Independent Inquiry,” 147.

[21] Christopher Marquis, “China State Broadcaster’s Attack on Foreign Brands Fuels Citizens’ Skepticism of Government.” Forbes. (12/17/13) [http://www.forbes.com/sites/christophermarquis/2013/12/17/how-much-do-the-chinese-people-believe-their-government/]

[22]  Reuters. “Fonterra’s milk products chief resigns after botulism scare.” (8/14/13)[http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/14/ us-fonterra-romano-idUSBRE97D04C20130814?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&dlvrit=992637]

[23] Christopher Adams. “China milk scare ‘needs – big PR drive’” (9/23/13) New Zealand Herald. [http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11128539]

[24]Adam Brockett and Lapeyre, Morgane. “Danone Seeks Compensation from Fonterra Over Botulism.” (1/9/14) Bloomberg News. [http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-09/danone-seeks-compensation-from-fonterra-over-recall.html]

[25] Ibid.

[26] Adam Bennett. “Botulism scare report calls for better tracking of products.” (12/12/2013) New Zealand Herald.  [http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11171048]

[27] Xinhua News Agency Economic News. “Interview: Minister assures Chinese consumers of New Zealand food safety.” (12/11/2013) Xinhua Economic News.