Plastic Battle in the Pacific: Is it too late to win the bin war?

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There’s no time like the present to reduce consumption of plastics, and at minimum reuse and recycle. In the Pacific, we are facing questions on what to do with our own rubbish and imports that continue to float onto our shores. Recent reporting about the well-known “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” estimates that there are more than 78,000 tonnes of plastic in an area of about 1.6 square kilometers. The rubbish patch has grown substantially, helped by extreme events like the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

This year, for better or for worse, certain trends are creating a momentum of impact on the plastic landscape. At the national level, some governments are refusing to take notice. Leaving recycling up to the market and local level to regulate has meant inconsistencies in costs and infrastructure across districts and states and impeded an effective national movement in many countries.

In addition to what is floating in the ocean, plastic and other recycling is piling up on land in Australia, the United Kingdom, Samoa, the European Union, and elsewhere as China’s restriction on imports of waste takes effect. According to the ABC, the ban will impact about 619,000 tonnes of materials worth $523 million in Australia alone.

But, when one recycling bin closes, sometimes, another one opens. This presents an opportunity to transform the industry and societal behaviours, take leadership, and call out harmful practices.

We’ve heard positive news from industry recently, who noticed rubbish piling up in the Pacific. Rather than leaving the Pacific islands with empty shipping containers after unloading exports, China Navigation wants to pick up rubbish and recyclable materials for free. It is still figuring out where and how to process the recyclables. Pacific Recycles in Samoa is the only major recycling operation in the Pacific islands, and is aiming to improve quality of materials so that New Zealand or other countries will accept the rubbish.

Unsurprisingly, Pacific island leaders are acting. Governments of Vanuatu, Palau, Marshall Islands, and American Samoa have signed on to banning single-use plastic bags. Some have also adopted levies on bags or bottles. In New Zealand, a petition to ban plastic bags was accepted at Parliament in February.

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In Australia, waste industry and environmental advocates are calling on the government to take action on regulations to encourage a circular economy or ensure purchasing of recycled products in government procurement. The federal government has signaled it is an issue for state and local governments; so for now at the lowest levels, local governments like the Hornsby Shire Council in the Sydney suburbs have it on their agenda to find new solutions for recycling and to consume less plastics.

While China has framed the ban on imports of recycling as a way to improve its environment, it could lead to an increase in new production of the same plastics. China’s demand for some plastics, particularly polyethylene, are forecast to rise to make up for the loss of recycled plastic.  Producers, then, should take more responsibility for managing the environmental impact of the full lifecycle of their products. Consumers can also refuse to create demand for certain plastics, recycle, and utilise the local resources available to understand lifestyle habits.

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Clean beaches don’t necessarily mean a clean ocean. Manly Beach, Australia.

It seems no beach or stream is free from pollution, but there are plenty of groups and individuals working to fix that. For example, the organisation Clean Up Australia has more than 7,000 registered clean up sites, empowering local communities with tools, networking, and knowledge. We know that commercial fishing gear make up a significant portion of ocean rubbish and have their own harmful impact on wildlife; recycling nets and other gear has turned into an effective business for more more than a few startups, converting them into carpets and other consumer products.  Bringing government, industry, and community groups together is essential to not only creating projects like those funded by the Australian Packaging Covenant but also to understanding global needs and expanding possibilities.

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Asia-Pacific Profile: Myint Swe

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Photo credit: Taro Taylor; Creative Commons

 

Who is Myint Swe?

Born June 24, 1961, Myint Swe is a retired general and one of two newly-inaugurated Vice Presidents of Myanmar. His resume includes posts as the head of the military security department in the previous government (intelligence body) and more recently the chief minister of the Yangon region. In 2012, he was nominated to replace a Vice President who was against reforms, but was never confirmed for reasons that are disputed .

Why is he a newsmaker?

On March 30, Myanmar’s new civilian president, Htin Kyaw was sworn in along with his two Vice Presidents and 18 Cabinet Ministers, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Myint is in the news particularly because he is also a close ally of former junta leader Than Shwe. He took part in the crackdown of student protests last year and Buddhist monks in 2007. After his nomination was announced this month, social media websites became sites of significant criticism, citing the military’s continued influence over the country.

Because he has a son-in-law with Australian citizenship, there were questions originally surrounding his eligibility for the role. The constitution, written by the military, bans top government officials who have foreign relatives.

How does Myint Swe’s position impact Myanmar’s new government?

The military is still heavily entrenched in Myanmar’s political and economic systems. While the Parliament is dominated by Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, the military has a right to nominate a Vice President. The military maintains sufficient veto power as it is also guaranteed three ministries (Border Affairs, Home and Defense) and control a quarter of parliamentary seats.

New President Htin Kyaw, hand-picked by Suu Kyi, will lead Myanmar’s first civilian government after 54 years of military rule. Suu Kyi will meanwhile take on important portfolios in the ministries of education, foreign affairs, electric power and energy and the president’s office. Land confiscation, national reconciliation and a transition to a more open economy are just a few issues that the new government aims to tackle. The public has welcomed new government with open arms, and has high hopes for its civilian leadership. Leaders affiliated with the previous regime will have to adapt if the country is to move forward economically and politically.

How does Myint Swe impact US policy toward Myanmar?

The U.S. Government has welcomed reforms to Myanmar’s political and economic systems. Yet as a feature of the old regime, Myint Swe remains on a U.S. Treasury Department blacklist that prevents U.S. companies from doing business with certain businessmen and senior military figures. The military’s grip on power also still enables its control over release of political prisoners, a critical issue for relations with the U.S. to improve. At this stage, the U.S. State Department has not appeared to indicate whether Myint Swe’s role in the government would affect diplomatic relations.

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.

Don’t Go Overboard: China’s Naval Modernization & the US Response

With the impending launch of its first aircraft carrier, increasing out of area operations and territory disputes in the South China Sea, China’s naval modernization continues to be pertinent for Asia-Pacific security. On Monday March 12, I attended a book talk at Johns Hopkins University entitled “The PLA Navy: Expanding Capabilities, Evolving Roles”. The book can be downloaded here. The topics and perspectives given were strikingly similar to the February 2012 Congressional Research Service report on China Naval Modernization; however, the discussants were more optimistic about the future of US-China relations and the struggle for power in the Asia-Pacific. While the rise of China and its military capabilities may be inevitable, the decline of the US in the near term is not. This post will highlight several features of China’s naval modernization and its impact upon the American pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region.

The continued increase in naval spending by China (and India, for that matter) should be viewed as normal rather than a threat to regional stability. China’s naval modernization began in the 1990s and “encompasses a broad array of weapon acquisition programs, including programs for anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs), surface-to-air missiles, mines, manned aircraft, unmanned aircraft, submarines, aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates, patrol craft, amphibious ships, mine countermeasures (MCM) ships, hospital ships, and supporting C4ISR10 systems.” The effort also includes “improvements in maintenance and logistics, naval doctrine, personnel quality, education and training, and exercises.” (CRS, 3) A rising naval power does not always mean more conflict. At the time of its ascent, the US did not use its increased power with rivals the UK and Soviet Russia. It’s only fair that when a state develops economically that it should also be able to add new technologies to its capacity. China will be the last of the permanent UN Security Council members to obtain an aircraft carrier. A lot of fuss has been made about China reaching that level of naval strength, but it is not surprising that the state would seek out such capabilities. Even so, it will take the Chinese military time to learn to manage the carrier and to use it as an effective part of its defense.

According to panelists at the book discussion, a twenty-year long debate within the PLAN has shown that ‘there is no real strategy yet’. However, China is working to create a comprehensive strategy instead of relying on operational guides, and is likely to continue to expand its range and type of operations. Several of the emerging trends in China as noted by Christopher Yung have been submarine development, out of area operations (such as in the Gulf of Aden), operationalization of anti-ship missiles and the arrival of the aircraft carrier. New missions include naval diplomacy, the use of a hospital ship (great imagery with China’s flag in background assisting others), the PLAN being seen as the protector of the economy (vital to protect shipping lanes), and Hu Jintao’s ‘new historic missions’. The CRS report also noted that China’s naval modernization effort is increasingly directed in pursuit of the following goals unrelated to Taiwan:

  • asserting or defending territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea;
  • enforcing China’s view that is has legal right to regulate foreign military activities in its 200-mile maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ);
  • protecting China’s sea lines of communications;
  • protecting and evacuating Chinese nationals living and working in foreign countries;
  • displacing US influence in the Pacific; and
  • asserting China’s status as a major world power. (CRS, 4-5)

These goals are of course very realist in nature, as would be expected by American analysts and policy advisors. China’s naval modernization effort and pursuits of its interests are moving at a respectable pace, leading many eyes to watch developments in the Pacific as it develops a more comprehensive naval strategy.

Anti-access and area denial are American-introduced terms which are now used to describe attempts by China to prevent the US from intervening if China sought to attack Taiwan. The emerging maritime anti-access force is similar to the seadenial force developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War to deny American “use of the sea or counter US forces participating in a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict.” (CRS, 4) However, China’s force also includes anti-ship ballistic missiles (DF-21) with the ability to hit moving ships. “The basic idea is to prevent approaching US Navy aircraft carrier strike groups from getting within tactical aircraft operating ranges.” The US government views this as a method “to challenge US freedom of action within the region”. Observers herald the DF-21 a “game changing” weapon, because the US has not previously faced this threat from anti-ship ballistic missiles. China is somewhat conflicted in its desire to keep other states from intervening or being effective in the region (by utilizing its anti-access and area denial capabilities) and while also seeking to reach out to other regions. The potential for Chinese power-projection grows stronger as its naval power develops. A central tenet of the US policy of deterrence is believability, and so when it can the US tries to take a stern stance on China’s power projection in the region. The Obama administration’s tour of the Pacific last year including the harsh words sent to Chinese leadership and the stationing of US troops in Darwin, Australia contributed to the deterrence strategy. Moreover, the US already has Air Sea Battle plans to balance anti-access and area denial capabilities; the maritime strategy is apparently “not directed at any single country, but China is the only one with anti-access arms.” (CRS, 41)

Taiwan is only one security issue among many for China, and the probability for war between the two states is on the decline. To the PLAN event discussants, that meant there are more avenues and opportunities for cooperation between China and the US rather than armed conflict; it is difficult to imagine the two powers engaging in war over circumstances other than Taiwan’s safety. For example, freedom of navigation and the protection of shipping lanes would be of mutual benefit. For the CRS Report, even “in the absence of such a conflict…the US-Chinese military balance in the Pacific could nevertheless influence day-to-day choices made by other Pacific countries, including on choices whether to align their policies more closely with China or the US.” (CRS, 1) Once China’s aircraft carrier is fully functional, it will have a political as well as strategic impact on the region. Both the US and China are concerned about the ‘political evolution of the Pacific, which in turn could affect’ their abilities to pursue particular policies in the region and elsewhere. (CRS, 2) Budget cuts have affected other parts of the US Department of Defense, but the US government was clear that US Naval forces in the Pacific will remain strong.

With such different geostrategic environments the navies of the US and China have evolved and been used in different ways. The US Navy is not as concerned with protecting its coastline as the PLA Navy; not only are their perspectives different but their immediate security concerns vary. It is important for the US and China to maintain a dialogue of shared goals and concerns; as much as China’s military modernization has turned heads, so too has the US pivot to the Asia-Pacific.                       

Chinese Firm’s Investment Challenged – Crafar Farm Deal on Hold

Recently, the High Court of New Zealand overturned a decision by the Overseas Investment Office to allow Chinese company Shanghai Pengxin to purchase the Crafar Farms, sparking worries about the ability to attract future FDI, maintaining positive trade relations with China, and the situation’s implications for future partial sales of state owned assets. A new decision should be reached within days, with some foreseeing the inevitability of the sale due to the potential increased export business driven by Shanghai Pengxin’s connections. The court ruling in NZ and the frenzies surrounding the potential farm sale demonstrate our simultaneous fascination for and wariness of China. With significant experience in FDI and trade agreements, China can easily perceive the public relations issues and react with public diplomacy and economic incentives. This brief post is the first of a series examining the Crafar Farms case.

 China is NZ’s second-largest export market, and NZ is the only developed country with a free trade agreement with China. The Overseas Investment Office’s initial decision to approve Shanghai Pengxin’s purchase of Crafar Farms, then, according to some was swayed by Chinese lobbyists or an effort to keep trade relations blooming. In August 2011, Treasury and OIO officials met with the Chinese political consul to discuss foreign investment rules in NZ, but apparently did not discuss the Crafar Farms deal. In order for foreigners to gain ownership of ‘sensitive assets’, they must prove that their ownership will provide ‘substantial and identifiable benefits’ to NZ; Shanghai Pengxin attempted to display benefits, which were agreed to by locals and importantly, Fonterra. In the High Court ruling, however, Justice Miller stated that an overseas buyer not only has to prove such benefits to NZ, but they must “offer a deal more beneficial than any local sale”. In this case, he ruled that the OIO overstated the benefits which Shanghai Pengxin would offer to NZ. Tim Watkin illustrates:

“Like some robed bouncer, he’s told Shanghai Pengxin – and all potential foreign investors – that we have a dress code in this country and if they want to come in they’d better polish their shoes and put on their best suit. And given the value of productive farm land to our country’s wealth, our national identity and our great-grandchildren’s prosperity, that’s probably not a bad view to take.”

 In fact, the OIO decision originally established the following:

“The Chinese Government recently confirmed that it saw New Zealand as an attractive place for investment and was encouraging Chinese companies to invest in strategic assets such as dairy farms. If this Application is refused without convincing reasoning linked to non-compliance with the Act or the Regulations (which we submit is not the case), that decision will be widely reported both domestically and internationally and will be likely to send a negative message about New Zealand’s attitude towards Chinese investment and about whether the commitments made in the New Zealand-China FTA are being honoured.

“The transaction will also confirm New Zealand’s compliance with the New Zealand-China FTA and therefore enhance New Zealand’s strategic interests.”

 Strategic assets such as farm land will continue to be sold in NZ, and in fact much farm land has already been sold to foreigners as of late; over the past 18 months, 72 farms were sold to foreign buyers out of a total pool of 10,000 dairy farms and 35,000 sheep and beef farms. This statistic was noted by PM John Key in reaction to a new poll stating that 76 percent of voters want tougher restrictions on sales of land, including farms, to foreigners. With the media publicity, High Court ruling, trade relations with China being so critical and the significance of the dairy industry to the NZ economy, the Crafar Farm deal has struck a chord with New Zealanders that the Government is attempting to mask. Given that the potential New Zealand buyers are trying hard to win over the public and the courts, and that the Chinese government created a new fund to assist with financing international takeover bids, the public perception of the value of foreign direct investment will likely become a more consistent topic. The NZ Government, then should be transparent in its influence with foreign investors when they are in direct competition with locals for strategic assets.

New US Strategy to Modernize, Coordinate & Secure Global Supply Chain

“In an anarchic world with no central authority, the United States has the ability to either physically force other countries into compliance with violence, or the country can seek co-operative partnerships to reach its goals – partnerships in which it can wield significant influence because it is a great power. The United States has chosen the latter.” (Grillot, Cruise and D’Erman, VJ 2010)

International trade can provide stability in access to goods as well as acting as an engine for growth. As technology improves, the global supply chain becomes more advanced and more actors become involved. The threat of more frequent natural disasters and the potential for terrorism or transnational criminal activities facilitated by global transportation networks, there is an ever-greater need to ensure the security and efficiency of supply chains. This past week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, US Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano unveiled the latest National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security (the Strategy). The launch of this updated policy is timely given President Obama’s desire to boost American manufacturing, new bilateral trade pacts with Colombia and Korea and the impending Trans-Pacific Partnership. This post seeks to shed light on the policy and briefly demonstrate the importance of ensuring an operational global supply chain security regime.

Each year 12 million containers are shipped into the US alone. (US Dept. of Transportation, 2009) It is no wonder, then that the Strategy has two primary goals: promote the efficient and secure movement of goods, and foster a resilient supply chain. Security will be integrated as a key component of supply chain operations, but not in such as way as to slow down shipments. For this goal, the US seeks to:

  • Resolve threats early to expedite the flow of legitimate commerce.
  • Improve verification and detection capabilities.
  • Enhance security of infrastructure and conveyances in order to protect the supply chain and critical nodes, through limiting access to cargo, infrastructure, conveyances, and information to those with legitimate and relevant roles and responsibilities.
  • Maximize the flow of legitimate trade by modernizing supply chain infrastructure and pro­cesses to meet future market opportunities; developing new mechanisms to facilitate low risk cargo; simplifying our trade compliance processes; and refining incentives to encourage enhanced stakeholder collaboration.

Furthermore, disruptions to the global supply chain due to natural disasters or disease can have staggering consequences. Therefore to improve its sustainability, the government aims to:

  • Mitigate systemic vulnerability to a supply chain disruption prior to a potential event by using risk management principles to identify and protect key assets, infrastructure, and support sys­tems; and promoting the implementation of sustainable operational processes and appropriate redundancy for those assets.
  • Promote trade resumption policies and practices that will provide for a coordinated restoration of the movement of goods following a potential disruption by developing and implementing national and global guidelines, standards, policies, and programs.

 As with other public government strategies, the Strategy “provides strategic guidance to departments and agencies within the United States Government and identifies our priorities to stakeholders with whom we hope to collaborate going forward.” With the focus on the “worldwide network of transportation, postal, and shipping pathways; assets and infrastructure by which goods are moved from the point of manufacture until they reach an end consumer; and supporting communications infrastructure and systems,” the policy to “strengthen the global supply chain” naturally relies upon external actors (including other states, multinational corporations and multilateral bodies, to name a few) to be successful. As the opening quote suggests, the US does not plan to facilitate detailed actions on its own. Rather, the government is encouraging feedback and involvement “from host governments, industry partners and other stakeholders” to produce the best initiatives and actions to secure the global supply chain.

 There are already frameworks and initiatives in place to facilitate global supply chain security, affecting actors differently. The Container Security Initiative and the SAFE Frameworks of the World Customs Organization (WCO) have been critical to these efforts. However, needing to follow or fulfill requirements of different states can become costly and strenuous for businesses of different sizes. On 1 January 2012, a new version of the Harmonized System Nomenclature entered into force by the WCO as “the world’s global standard for classifying over 98% of goods in international trade”. The WCO is the ideal mechanism for dialogue and implementation of security concepts and standards; the SAFE Framework provides such standards to synchronize varying initiatives. Mutual recognition of security regimes, then, “could become a reality in the future”.

 Compliance with regulations falls on the responsibility of the stakeholders (at various levels in the international trade sector), who therefore they must bear much of the cost.* This increased financial burden can have several impacts upon actors and the economies in general. First, those with more financial resources will be in a more favorable position to comply with requirements over those with less experience or resources. Second, investors may turn away from those countries that are less integrated into the “international transport structures for supply chain security. Third, the lack of funding by the WCO and other international organizations for implementation may lead to marginalization or decreased competitiveness of those less able to incur the necessary costs. Keeping current with customs regulations, fees and security requirements can become burdensome; however the Strategy and its ultimate initiatives aim to speed up rather than slow down global trade, and is anything but inward-looking.

In May 2011, New Zealand and the United States signed a joint statement on global supplychain security cooperation. The Asia-Pacific region has a significant role in international commerce and within the supply chain. The two states saw the agreement as a way forward for further collaboration on similar issues. In fact, through Project Global Shield (launched in 2010), New Zealand, the US and close to 60 other countries “share information with each other to ensure that chemicals entering their countries are being used in safe and legal ways, leading to successful interdictions of a number of suspicious shipments and providing promising investigative leads on the smuggling of precursor chemicals into Afghanistan and Pakistan”.

Overall, “container transit is far from being completely ‘visible’ and safe”.* There will always be challenges to security, or threats to shipments from nature. That the US took its time in developing a cohesive Strategy and plans to continue collaboration and dialogue with stakeholders is a positive move. The Strategy acknowledges cooperation is needed, which is a good perspective for policymakers to have. The aim has been for containers to be inspected and cleared for dangerous and unlawful contents before they get close to US borders, so effective and secure networks will be essential.

For further reading:

Frank Altemöller. “Towards an international regime of supply chain security: an international relations perspective.” World Customs Journal. Volume 5, Number 2. [http://www.worldcustomsjournal.org/media/wcj/-2011/2/Altemoeller.pdf]

US and China Outline New Year Policies Affecting Home and Abroad

The New Year has started with immediate action in the Asia-Pacific region and Sino-US relations. On January 1, Chinese President Hu Jintao published a highly charged article in the Communist Party journal Seeking Truth about culture and the threats China faces. On January 6, President Barack Obama stood alongside military leaders to launch his administration’s new defense strategy “Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense”. Both events were media spectacles spurring speculation and hype among pundits. Across multiple fronts, the US and China are in a stage of ‘transition’, with the current administrations both facing potential (in US) and real (in China) leadership changes at the end of 2012. The contents of Hu’s essay and the Obama administration’s defense strategy demonstrate the leaders’ mutual need to shore up domestic support and enthusiasm.

For some in the US, Hu Jintao’s essay declared a new ‘culture war’ directed at America, harkening back to Mao Zedong. Hu wrote in the essay and speech: “We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of Westernizing and dividing China, and ideological and cultural fields are the focal areas of their long-term infiltration.” The Wall Street Journal argued that “Hu Jintao has launched another culture-rectification campaign with goals that Mao would recognize: step up ideological struggle and fight back against Western encroachments.” In a response to US reactions, the Chinese Culture Minister quickly replied by clarifying that 2012’s proposed ‘culture work’ does not mean it will “engage in so-called Great Leap Forward”. Instead, China’s plan is to perpetuate soft power and to promote internal and international stability.

I agree more with Damien Ma’s interpretation in The Atlantic that the ‘culture war’ is not meant as an implicit threat to the US. Rather, it is “part of a battle to sustain the confidence of its own people – via nationalist, Confucian tenets, wealth, cultural renaissance or whatever substitute that can be dreamed up — or risk the consequences. The war is, and has always been, about defining the soul of the modern Chinese nation.” Furthermore, the warnings are a call to the Communist Party to remain relevant to China’s populace. The forthcoming political transition at the end of this year and the Chinese population’s growing benefits from economic and technological development led to a fear of waning power and influence. Building on nationalist sentiments and stirring up the public by flexing its diplomatic muscle is one way for Hu’s Administration to calm its nerves.

Meanwhile in the US, the Budget Control Act of 2011 mandated that the Pentagon budget be trimmed by “by about $487 billion in the next decade, a roughly 8 percent decrease.”* The recent Defense Strategy Review is an attempt to redefine America’s strategic interests and goals, and to focus on priority areas for future funding. As the US reaches the last year of President Obama’s first term, withdraws military forces from Iraq and deals with a continuing government budget and wider economic crisis, the country faces a point of ‘transition’ which makes the time ripe for this discussion. By surrounding himself with top Pentagon officials, President Obama tried to strengthen his stance against an unwieldy Congress and direct an image of authority in an election year. The need to reduce the budget was evident on every page of the report, with the key being “Whenever possible, we willdevelop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our securityobjectives”. (p. 3)

Interestingly, at no point in President Obama’s defense policy launch did he mention China. The Defense Strategy Review, on the other hand, warned that China’s emergence could affect the economy and security of the US in a number of ways depending on the path taken. Additionally, China’s military power growth “must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions in order to avoid causing friction in the region.” In a menacing tone, the Review said the US would “continue to make the necessary investments to ensure that we maintain regional access and the ability to operate freely in keeping with our treaty obligations and with international law.” (p. 2)

As you can see, budget reductions are a priority, but they do not stand in the way of military readiness and competitiveness. In an effort to sound practical, the Review argued for a reduction in the “cost of doing business”, to which many Americans would agree. However military personnel have sacrificed much over the last decade and will bear the burden of budget cuts: “As DoD takes steps to reduce its manpower costs, to include reductions in the growth of compensation and health care costs, we will keep faith with those who serve.” (p. 7) Cutting health care benefits from veterans has not been as controversial as one may think in Congress however unpopular it may be to the American public; hopefully, this move is not foreshadowing irrational motives sparked by China’s emergence.

As Presidents Obama and Hu pit tough rhetoric against each other to hold or challenge the balance of power, they also seek to prove dominance to their domestic populations. Competing party and government politics have been the main driver of their warnings and stern tones. Economically, China and the US are so interdependent that the leaders’ domestic pandering should not affect their strategic relationship; the US in particular finished 2011 with a negative stance toward China, causing international headaches. But both powers share the mutual interest of stability, and while the US has less concern for other states’ sovereignty than China, the Obama Administration should prevent domestic issues and government in-fighting from leading to a dampened bilateral relationship.

Last year was, and no doubt 2012 will also be, a busy year for Sino-US relations and multilateral cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. On January 7, US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell arrived in Tokyo to discuss the situation on the Korean Peninsula and said “Even while the United States is making an adjustment in its global military posture, we are intent on maintaining a very strong, enduring military presence in the Asian-Pacific region”. China, likewise, intends to increase its diplomatic efforts this year and boost cooperation in the Asia-Pacific in issues of mutual interest; China’s government is anticipating high-level meetings such as the “Seoul Nuclear Summit, the BRICS Summit in India, the Asia-Europe Meeting in Laos, and the East Asia Summit in Cambodia”. During these meetings, China plans to “enhance strategic coordination and mutual understanding with Asian countries”. With both China and the US boosting diplomatic efforts in the Asia-Pacific, the hope is that eventually the two powers will forge a more cooperative and mutual partnership together instead of solely other neighbors.