Myanmar’s Way Forward: Land, Labor and Capital Reforms

While economic reforms in Myanmar arrived more slowly than political reforms, foreign governments and investors are nipping at the government’s heals to gain access to the newest market in Asia. However, the Myanmar government must consider the implications of a more liberalized economy for the wellbeing of its vulnerable population.  Political reforms were necessary in order to gain legitimacy from the international community, stimulate foreign investment and have sanctions eased or removed.  Myanmar’s recent transformation from an almost pariah state that relied heavily on China’s financial support and backing in international arenas such as the United Nations to a state that the US now sees as a pet project for a democratic, market movement has affected more than the top government officials, military brass and opposition leaders.  Economic, labor and land reform will significantly alter processes of production and consumption in Myanmar given the country’s reliance on agriculture, lack of infrastructure and new foreign influences.   

Since military rule began in 1962, Myanmar (then Burma) has become one of the most impoverished and closed states in Asia.  Myanmar has had historical economic ties with several of its neighbors. But, to enable a wider field of influence and investment the government has begun implementing reforms on foreign investment. They have set the goal of reducing state control over education, energy, forestry, health care, finance and telecommunications sectors.

Over the past year, Myanmar has experienced an economic and political reemergence, with only (and it’s a big only) ethnic violence and abuses by the army in several regions still plaguing the government.  Additionally, strides have been made in correcting the problem of forced labor in Myanmar, leading to removal of trade barriers by the European Union.  The EU also reinstated the Generalised System of Preferences halted in 1997 due to national labor standards.  Over the summer American companies were allowed to start investing in the country. In step with President Obama’s visit to the region, the US government just last week began allowing the importation of products made in Myanmar excluding jadeite and rubies.  The removal of Western sanctions and continuous visits by business delegations to Myanmar over the past year gave Naypyidaw a renewed spirit toward achieving economic security.

Land reform in Myanmar will, according to Center for Strategic and International Studies Deputy Director Murray Hiebert “determine the role of farmers in the country’s reform process and lay the foundation for new realities between the government and the rural poor.” (2012)  With more than two-thirds of the population relying directly or indirectly on agriculture, how the government handles new legal frameworks (through Farmland Law and the Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Management Law) will either give confidence to locals or to foreign investors seeking security for land use.  Currently the government of Myanmar is the “ultimate owner of all land,” and so is able to dictate land usage.  During military rule, the state confiscated land with meager or no compensation to farmers; new laws may now facilitate this expulsion of farmers and those who rely on subsistence agriculture, creating a landless working class simultaneously privatizing land and creating an easily exploitable labor force.

The US and other Western states see Myanmar as a country they can help build and shape in their image, while taking advantage of both lack of domestic private competition and the presence of government officials with ties to industries.  With foreign funding, new industry in Myanmar will create new consumers as well as producers.  The way people in Myanmar produce and exchange goods will change; and some industries will no longer be competitive due to cheaper imports and foreign-owned factories.  If Myanmar’s majority rural population is driven away from rural areas and subsistence agriculture, then it is likely that they will have to quickly convert to other sectors, for example, manufacturing textiles and finished goods.  We are yet to see if Myanmar will find a niche in particular industries.

The inability to freely sell precious gems, purchase weapons and halt the opium trade still haunt the leaders of Myanmar during the reform process.  Furthermore, human rights violations by the military, ethnic clashes and minority rights and concerns continue to hamper economic advancement.  Before Myanmar can become a fledgling capitalist economy – or even a controlled capitalist economy like several of its neighbors – there will likely be a protracted period of painful reforms.  The privatization of land and resources is not likely to be any more equitable than it has been under military rule over the past five decades. In their public appearance on November 19 in Rangoon, US President Barack Obama and Myanmar President Thein Sein warned against lingering in the past; rather, “We need to look forward to the future.” Hopefully the people of Myanmar will be able to define their own sense of progress and avoid some of the problems faced by their neighbors and eager business partners.   

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With Panetta’s Visit, US – NZ Defense Relationship Evolving Amid Pacific Rebalancing

Last Saturday, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta left for his third trip to the Asia-Pacific this year, scheduling stops in Japan, China and New Zealand.  Panetta’s visits to Japan and China are attempts to smooth relations between the states, and the trip to New Zealand is a follow-up from the visit earlier this year to Washington, DC by NZ Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman.  The trip will be the first time in 30 years that a US Defense Secretary has visited New Zealand, and marks a change in regional strategic dynamics.  A critical part of the Obama Administration’s rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific includes repairing and deepening strategic relationships with New Zealand (among other smaller and medium-sized states) and to sustain opportunities for regular, high-level dialogue.  While New Zealand does not have a sizeable defense force to contribute to US-led operations, the small democracy is a valuable ally that can serve as an ‘honest broker’ and voice of legitimacy in the Asia-Pacific.

 Pivoting for the Pacific’s Sake? Not Likely.

Recently, New Zealand has received undue attention from American diplomats and cabinet secretaries because the US has much to gain politically and economically (if not militarily) from the bilateral relationship.  Whether the National or Labour Party is in government, New Zealand has a reputation both regionally and internationally as a state with a strong pacifist orientation that advocates for its values and the wellbeing of its Pacific neighbors.  As a founding member of and voice within the Pacific Islands Forum, New Zealand can be a significant agent for American interests during the leaders’ meetings.  Moreover, New Zealand’s promotion of US naval patrols, development assistance, trade relations, diplomatic connections and so forth would enable the US to exercise greater power projection in the region.

 The 1984 Labour government’s nuclear-free announcement reflected in part New Zealand’s continuous desire for an independent foreign policy based on “conflict avoidance and resolution, humanitarian assistance, human rights, and environmental defense.”  The declaration prohibiting American nuclear ships from their ports was a policy move that was necessitated by public opinion and new Labour supporters and representatives.  Since its proclamation, the nuclear-free policy has been largely nonpartisan. 

 While the strategic dimension of US-NZ relations faltered from the 1980’s, it never disappeared, and was supplemented by intelligence collaboration.  In addition to a strong commitment to special forces training and deployment (particularly the New Zealand Special Air Services), the intelligence-sharing between the US and New Zealand has remained significant since 1946. Despite disagreement with the US government over the invasion of Iraq, intelligence sharing remained consistent.  In fact, after 2001, New Zealand increased its intelligence budget by 30 percent while decreasing its overall defense budget.

 Maritime defense, domain awareness, and disaster rescue operations are essential areas of mutual concern for New Zealand and the US in the Pacific, particularly given the Christchurch earthquake, China’s soft loans to Pacific island nations, and overfishing.  For the first time in 28 years, the New Zealand Defence Force participated in the Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in July-August, the largest international maritime exercise.  Interoperability is a key component of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy in the Pacific, and as Nathan Smith writes, the exercises served both diplomatic and more practical purposes for New Zealand and Australia.  Security concerns for New Zealand focus on the sea lines of communication due to heavy reliance on maritime trade; the country’s small blue-water navy is primarily geared for search and rescue and maritime interdiction.  Despite not being allowed to berth ships in Pearl Harbor due to the nuclear-free policy (in contrast to former foes Japan and Russia), Kiwi sailors did not seemed fussed, and took advantage of the nightlife offered by Honolulu.

 As we have seen through the signing of the Wellington and Washington Declarations, the current National Government is in agreement with the Obama Administration’s Pacific rebalancing.  Moreover, the close relationship between US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and NZ Ambassador to the US Michael Moore, and the work US Ambassador to NZ David Huebner has done in Wellington are examples of peoples and governments that seek mutual benefits and understanding.

 Improving understanding rather than compromising on ideals

A question that NZ Defence Minister Coleman will face in meeting with Secretary Panetta is how much more New Zealand will be able to commit to the bilateral relationship without sacrificing its ideals.  There will almost surely be a small demonstration in Wellington during Secretary Panetta’s visit about the TPP, or anti-US policies led by local anarchists from Aro Valley, as there is during most high profile visits.  However, in most cases it seems that the New Zealand government knows when and when not to compromise on foreign policy issues, with bipartisan support for free trade agreements.

 New Zealand can leverage an improved defense relationship with the US to secure better terms for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and other future trade agreements (including a potential US-NZ FTA as sought by New Zealand).  The latest negotiation terms for the TPP are not public; however controversial public issues being debated concern intellectual property rights and copyright law, both of which have been met by public protests and contestation from New Zealand and Australia.  If the US gets what it wants in terms of defense initiatives, it may soften some of the demands of the TTP and open a path to a US-NZ FTA.

 Setting the nuclear-free policy aside, both National and Labour governments have been fairly amicable to US defense relations.  So what more could New Zealand gain from a “stronger and deeper bilateral defense relationship” as set out in the Washington Declaration?  With both sides facilitating the establishment of “regular, senior-level, strategic policy dialogues between the US DoD and NZ Ministry of Defence and NZDF,” New Zealand can not only legitimate the US strategic involvement in the region but can continue to bolster its own authority.  Welcoming perhaps the strongest ally with shared values and democratic ideals can serve to boost Kiwi clout and spur domestic confidence.

 Development assistance in the Pacific is another area of mutual interest with opportunity for growth.  Australia provides half of all official development assistance to Papua New Guinea and Pacific island countries (AUD$1.17 billion) and New Zealand spends more than half of its country programs budget on Pacific island countries. At the latest Pacific Islands Forum, the US showed that it is ready to lift a portion of the development aid load in the Pacific; US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced $32M in new aid programs 18 years after ending such programs in the Pacific.

 As former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Secretary Panetta should be attuned to the value that New Zealand provides as a voice and ear in the Asia-Pacific.  One Kiwi commentator wrote that New Zealand should be weary of his arrival in the country, and that the US will ask too much from Kiwis.  However, the RIMPAC ship porting issue notwithstanding, strategic and diplomatic relations between the US and New Zealand have moved forward since 2007.  Leadership of both states are keen to return to an era of stronger defense ties to help guarantee their security and to enhance stability in the Pacific.  Having met already this year in Washington, DC, the meeting this week between defense bosses is likely more of a touch point to ensure regular high-level dialogue occurs.  With the Washington Declaration in place and successes to build on from the past year, the additional avenues for deepening defense cooperation may be limited but may be milestones nonetheless.

Comparing the Economic, Political and Strategic Rise of China and India

As modern states, China and India should not be examined in isolation, but rather placed within the context of an international system dominated by unequal and competing states.  The rise of two developing nations – which together comprise one-third of the global population – in economic, political and strategic realms of international relations provides ample content for scholars and strategists.  Factors enabling and perpetuating the rise of China and India are dissimilar; the differences in the two states’ strengths and weaknesses emphasize the power disparity between them.  First, China has a larger economy and is experiencing faster economic growth than India; this economic prowess, when combine with China’s status as a major power within the United Nations and other international institutions enables Beijing to minimize India’s international political capabilities despite its period of ‘shining’.  Finally, Beijing’s comprehensive grand strategy and increasing military planning and spending compared to India’s muddled strategy and slower spending have given China a strategic advantage.

The end of the twentieth century was tumultuous for China and India.  Since economic reforms in 1978 and 1991, respectively, China and India focused on state-building to perpetuate regime legitimacy.  The arrival of the United States as the global hegemon at the end of the Cold War caught the attention of both China and India; India aspired to limit its vulnerabilities by improving relations with the United States while encouraging the construction of a multipolar order, and finding its own place in the international system.  Asia was transitioning to a regionally unipolar order, however, dominated by China. (Mohan, 2007)  This essay examines the economic, political and strategic differences between the rise of China and the rise of India. 

The contrasting economic growth models of both China and India underlie their emergence as rising powers.  Whereas China achieved growth through blue-collar, manufacturing-driven growth, India’s development has included white-collar, service labor. Interestingly, Brahma Chellaney notes, “in India the private sector continues to fuel economic growth while China’s economic growth is largely state-driven.  India performs poorly wherever the state is involved, while the strength of the Chinese state as the primary catalyst of accumulating power carries significant strategic ramifications.” (Chellaney, 2008, p. 34) 

Since the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, China’s ultimate national goal has been to create a ‘relatively well off society’. (Lieberthal, 2007, p. 31)  Over the past three decades, China has established average real growth in excess of 9% annually, and in peak years had growth rates around 13% and 14%.  China now has the world’s second largest economy, and is projected to overtake the United States in size of GDP during the first half of this century. (Tellis, 2011, p. 3) China’s economy relies largely on foreign investment and export markets; because of the global recession, China has relied increasingly on the domestic market. Rapid growth must continue to avoid massive domestic instability. The “leadership’s mentality, Beijing’s resulting grand strategy and the actual spillover effects of the dynamics of China’s domestic system…are shaping the international consequences of China’s rise.” (Lieberthal, 2007)

India meanwhile grew its economy on the back of internal sources, leading to a potentially more stable level of trade. (Lieberthal, 2007, p. 4)  India’s economic rise has coupled with its security interests in its relations with the United States and how others think of the state.  The Indian economy has grown at a rate of about 7.5% over the past decade; however economic reforms to continue this growth have been hampered by political contestation over reforms and lack of domestic political consensus.  (Tellis, 2011, p. 4)  By being inward-oriented India’s economy has weathered the global financial crisis, and enabled it to work on creating an international agenda.  However, when viewed in the bilateral context, India “is not a rising power in material terms compared to China.”  In 2010, China’s GDP ($5.88 trillion) was more than three times as large as India’s ($1.73 trillion). (Fravel, 2011, p. 78)  The economic gap between China and India continues to widen, causing China to see India as a non-competitor in this realm.

In the contemporary political sphere, China and India face competing priorities within their region and internationally.  Because of China’s ability and desire to enter new markets in search of energy security, trade relations and strategic partnerships, China’s rise poses a potential threat to the stability of India, whereas India’s rise has left Beijing relatively unaffected.  In fact, China’s major power status has helped it to minimize the role and capabilities of India.  Chinese leaders believe it is in the national interest to become a major power, and that China should be treated as such when participating in international institutions. Although for China being a major power does not undermine its status as a developing nation when it comes to shrinking its carbon footprint.  China’s status as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council is a clear advantage over India; not only can Beijing impede efforts by India to gain a permanent seat, but it can offer political protection to rogue regimes such as Iran and now historically Myanmar through its veto power.  Thus China’s rising political clout has enabled it to hold India back within the United Nations while also getting an advantage in gaining energy resources: “Beijing’s ability to provide political cover is a fundamental element of China’s thriving commercial ties with a host of problem states.” (Chellaney, 2008, p. 26) Diplomatically, China has closer relations with its East Asian neighbors than India has with its South Asian neighbors.  In border disputes and relations with Pakistan, China also has the upper hand.  Moreover, China has been constructing trade and transportation links with India’s neighbors in order to benefit China’s greater interests, bringing India under strategic pressure.

In part because India is a democracy and has a history of nonalignment, contemporary United States foreign policy is more trusting of India than of China; “that China remains governed by an authoritarian regime, has a long history of subordination in East Asia, and nurtures a troublesome streak of nationalism domestically only accentuates” American anxieties about “what China’s rise implies for regional security.” (Tellis, 2011, p. 16, 32)  Therefore the potential for a significant India-United States partnership has increased with the rise of China.  The George W. Bush Administration’s decision in 2005 to sign a major atomic energy pact with India underscores the importance that Washington attaches to the partnership in countering China’s influence in the region. (Er and Wei, 2009, p. 2)  Increasingly US-China and India-China relations are plagued by mistrust.  It is India’s ‘culture of strategic restraint’ and democratic values that perpetuate the United States-India partnership. (Sinha and Dorschner, 2010)

In terms of strategic capabilities, planning and military spending, China yet again has a profound advantage over India.  While both the rise of China and India led to goals for military modernization, the difference in scale and type of funding has been notable.  In April 2012, India launched its first inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), joining an elite group of states; China, meanwhile, developed its first ICBM in the 1970s.  Washington was notably silent when India launched the ICBM, whereas Beijing reacted with caution. (Times of India, 2012)   Based on percentage of GDP, military spending in China has risen the fastest in the world: for two continuous decades, Beijing had persistent double-digit increases in military spending.  During the same period, defense spending in India declined as a percentage of the country’s GDP.  In addition to the scale disparity between the two states, “China apportions 28% of the country’s military budget for defense-related research and development, India apportions just 6% for research and development.” (Chellaney, 2008, p. 35)  During its rise, China has become one of the largest arms exporters globally, while India relies on arms imports for primary defense needs.  China’s top arms clients (Pakistan, Burma and Bangladesh) neighbor India and have been a cause of concern for New Delhi. (Chellaney, 2008, p. 35)

Pursuing an “omnidirectional diplomacy combined with military modernization,” China and India have in different ways come to terms with the implications of their rising power for their national and international interests.  (Fravel, 2011, p. 70) To the dismay of scholars and strategists, India has not proclaimed a consistent strategic vision of its goals within the international arena.  Aseema Sinha and Jon P. Dorschner (2010, p. 77) argue that “India’s strategic vision and behavior at the international level are marked both by change and remarkable continuity.”  In contrast, China seeks “a peaceful and stable external environment,” “peaceful development,” and “aims to maximize its autonomy in the international system to limit the constraints of unipolarity.” (Fravel, 2011, p. 69)  The difference in preparedness between China and India is evident in their plans for naval power projection in the Indo-Pacific region.

In the economic, political and strategic realms of international relations, China has been the more aggressive and dominant player during its rise when compared to India.  (Chellaney, 2008, p. 31)  Although the rise of China and India are often mentioned together, there are substantial differences between them.  India, overall, presents a potential force, “while China is active in the here and now.” (Sinha and Dorschner, 2010, p. 77) China’s rapid pace of perpetual development has placed it well ahead of India in terms of domestic infrastructure and development, military and economic strength, and hence political clout.  Each of the numerous factors and implications surrounding the rise of China and India are significant topics of discussion in their own right. 

Works Cited

“Agni-V launch: India demonstrates ICBM capability; China reacts cautiously, says India not rival.” (4/19/2012)  [http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-04-19/india/31367133_1_agni-v-k-saraswat-wheeler-island] (6/24/2012)

Er, L.P. and Wei, L.T. (2009) The Rise of China and India: A New Asian Drama. Singapore: World Scientific Press.

 Fravel, M.T. (2011) “China Views India’s Rise: Deepening Cooperation, Managing Differences,” in Ashley J. Tellis, Travis Tanner, and Jessica Keough, eds., Strategic Asia 2011-12: Asia Responds to Its Rising Powers, China and India. Seattle: The National Bureau of Asian Research.

 Lieberthal, K. (2007) “How Domestic Forces Shape the PRC’s Grand Strategy & International Impact,” in Ashley J. Tellis and Michael Wills, eds. Strategic Asia 2007-08: Domestic Political Change and Grand Strategy. Seattle: The National Bureau of Asian Research.

 Mohan, C.R. (2007) “Poised for Power: The Domestic Roots of India’s Slow Rise,” in Ashley J. Tellis and Michael Wills, eds. Strategic Asia 2007-08: Domestic Political Change and Grand Strategy. Seattle: The National Bureau of Asian Research.

 Schweller, R. and Pu, X. (Summer 2011) “After Unipolarity: China’s Visions of International Order in an Era of U.S. Decline.” International Security, 36/1, pp. 41-72.

 Sinha, A. and Dorschner, J. (January 2010) “India: Rising Power or a Meer Revolution of Rising Expectations?” Polity, 42/1, pp. 74-99.

 Tellis, A. (2011) “The United States and Asia’s Rising Giants,” in Ashley J. Tellis, Travis Tanner, and Jessica Keough, eds. Strategic Asia 2011-12: Asia Responds to Its Rising Powers, China and India. Seattle: The National Bureau of Asian Research.

 

Partners in the Pacific: Reflecting on a History of Internationalism

During my latest visit to Wellington in February of this year, I had hoped to find some interesting and unique local or regional books that I could not acquire in Washington, DC.  On my last day, I decided to stop in Arty Bees Books on Manners Street.  To my surprise, I found the first ever study of New Zealand’s defense system, Defending New Zealand: A Study of Structures, Processes and Relationships (1993), by one of my former professors at Victoria University, Dr. James Rolfe.  While some of the empirical information is no longer current, the book provides a snapshot of New Zealand defense environment and policymaking. In parts it tells a tale similar to (and is almost as witty as) the 2012 Australia New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) Lecture at Georgetown University given by New Zealand Ambassador to the US, Honorable Mike Moore.  Ambassador Moore’s speech was more sentimental and as you would expect did not focus on the thrills of policymaking, but drew on the experience of the ANZACs in WWI to reflect on contemporary international affairs. Both Dr. Rolfe and Ambassador Moore contend that New Zealand is internationalist at heart, never impartial, and prefers an institutions-based environment to level the field. 

As we commemorate ANZAC Day, with services held across the globe, we gain insight into the sacrifices of small states in defense of their allies and outside of their homeland.  American exceptionalism has taken US troops around the world in what seems to be perpetual conflicts, emergencies and wars both in support of others and defense of American ideals.  In New Zealand and Australia, however, defense takes on a different meaning.  My instant favorite excerpt from Rolfe’s classic text is as follows:

 Undoubtedly politicians do not believe that there are votes to be gained in pushing for increased defense expenditure, especially at the expense of housing, health or education.  But it is not likely that responsible politicians believe that the armed forces, with the resources allowed, could not achieve the tasks set for them. More likely there is a belief, unspoken or even unacknowledged, that there is no real need for armed force in the modern international order.  But just in case we are wrong, we will have a token organization which can be produced to work in conjunction with a larger state or group of states.  In the meantime, we will make unverifiable statements about our willingness and capability to operate as necessary in the region. (Rolfe, 1993: 167)

While September 11 changed the patterns of much of the West, defense is not necessarily a vote-winning topic for New Zealand politicians.  In New Zealand “when attention is focused on the activities of the armed forces, the question of cost is inevitably raised and from this follows the question of need.” (Rolfe, 168)  With few enemies (other than people bringing quarantined items through airport security), relatively small populations and a unique geography in the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia focus much of their regional energy into trade partnerships, maintain an ever closer security relationship with each other and rely heavily on the US. 

That being said, as Ambassador Moore pointed out, New Zealand has been a keen participator in international events and conflicts, as ANZAC Day reminds us. “During the First World War, 42 percent of New Zealand males between the ages of 19 and 45 fought, with a casualty rate of 58 percent. 40 percent of Australian males fought with a casualty rate of 68.5 percent.  Similar figures were true of the Second World War.”  In conflicts and in peacekeeping operations from Afghanistan to Bougainville to the former Yugoslavia, “you will find New Zealanders and Australians.”

In Defending New Zealand, Rolfe’s interpretation of New Zealand defense policy still rings true to Ambassador Moore’s explanation: the state’s defense interests are mainly concerned with the external environment.  On the one hand, this focus is “a reflection of the truism that a military threat, to the extent that one is perceived, could only come from overseas.”  On the other hand, New Zealand believes, as does the US, that using military force in neighboring regions “to assist in stability and security will in turn reinforce stability and security in the immediate region to the benefit of New Zealand’s ultimate security”. Because of the sacrifices made throughout history and its focus on international engagement, New Zealand policymakers understand that the country’s security cannot be solely determined within Oceania. (Rolfe, 1993: 3)

While New Zealand diplomats have historically punched above their weight and have been a strong progressive voice that at times caused tensions (especially with the issue of being nuclear-free), all democratic states should be keen to have New Zealand; the state is stable, outspoken and an active regional player of the Asia-Pacific.  Furthermore, the justifications for such outward foreign and defense policies should be lauded.  According to Rolfe, the internationalist outlook of New Zealand is recognition that, as a small state, if it wants to influence the world it must participate in the world.  “It argues that there are greater benefits to participation than there are costs, and what costs there are, are costs which any member of the international system should bear.” (Rolfe, 1993: 5)  For Ambassador Moore, “War is not inevitable but neither is peace….Patient, prudent, principled, predictable engagement at every level is the only golden rule.”

 

A Review of Water: Asia’s Next Battleground

In much of Asia, the growing middle class is driving up demand for freshwater supplies, water-intensive crops and resource-intensive goods that have been taken for granted  in the West. With only one-third of global water resources for three-fifths of the world’s population, efficient use and management of water is critical to social, political and economic stability in Asia. Climate change and increased demand are putting strain on the global water supply, and uncertainty of future reserves and access to existing stores are making water a disputed commodity.

In Water: Asia’s Next Battleground, Dr. Brahma Chellaney explores the geopolitical consequences of water management policies in Asia set against the landscape of a water-stressed continent. A fantastically detailed look into the domestic and international issues of several key states in Asia, the book demonstrates that the management of the increasingly scarce and necessary resource is invariably complex and can create tensions among neighbors. As potential solutions to an impending crisis, Chellaney calls for the establishment of Asian norms for transboundary water resources, inclusive and coherent basin organizations, and a holistic approach to planning, conservation and water quality. China is at the heart of the problems and solutions of the impending water crisis in Asia, with its reluctance to be a leader for multilateral arrangements, its focus on dam-building and neglect of the environment.

Poised to become the scarcest essential resource in the world, water scarcity affects internal and external security of states. Compared to all other regions, Asia has the least amount of freshwater per capita and one of the lowest levels of water productivity and efficiency. Chellaney defines water shortage as “an absolute deficiency where the level of available water cannot meet basic societal and economic needs”, and water stress as having “less than 1,000 cubic meters of water per capita”. The goal of water security is for every person to have dependable access to sufficient, safe and affordable water, while keeping the ecological systems intact and thriving. Asia is, according to Chellaney, negligent in its use and management of natural resources, and water is no exception. Inadequate supply, increasing pollution and diminishing natural wetlands are critical issues faced by the rapidly-developing states at a time when demand continues to rise.

Improvements in irrigation technologies and better widespread use of drip irrigation may improve Asia’s water security. While the rest of the world uses rainwater as its primary source for agriculture, Asia has a much higher percentage of cultivated land using irrigation than any other continent. Chellaney calls Asia “the global irrigation hub” and notes that the Asian method of irrigation is making the land less productive than rainwater-fed land. Throughout the book, Chellaney reiterates the need for more investment in drip irrigation, particularly in India, and steadily criticizes China’s South-North Water Diversion Project as another troubled megaproject. Large-scale irrigated farming has helped to reduce rural poverty and enabled greater agricultural self-sufficiency in many Asian countries. As top water-intensive crops, rice and cotton continue to be critical to Asian livelihoods. Despite food security underpinning the rise of Asian economies, the increasing population and their desire for water-intensive products are fueling rivalries and tensions.

The Tibetan Plateau and Brahmaputra River are examples of significant areas where access to water is being controversially modified. With control of the Tibetan Plateau, China has attempted to tap resources from each international river originating in the area; Chellaney suspects that a central part of the Great South-North Water Diversion Project in China is the diversion of the Brahmaputra River. As the essential river for Bangladesh and a critical basin for India, any plans to modify the flow or affect the ecosystem of the Brahmaputra River will impact millions of people. The increasing number of Chinese-led megaprojects exploiting rivers flowing from the Tibetan Plateau are worrying their neighbors and making water a divisive issue. Chellaney lambasts the Chinese government, run by individuals with engineering backgrounds, for perpetuating Mao’s idea of controlling nature rather than bending to it (ignoring potential environmental damage and disruption to wildlife) and for resettling entire villages and towns to make way for megaprojects. China has more dams in operation than all other countries combined, and has over 100 dam projects in dozens of countries. However China continues to publicly claim that is has no plans to divert the Brahmaputra River, and Indian suspicion of this claim is growing. Despite its unique position supplying river waters to the most individual countries, China does not have a water-sharing agreement with its neighbors or co-riparians and is instead embroiled in disputes with riparian neighbors; rather than joining the Mekong River Commission or other multilateral solutions, China’s preference for bilateral arrangements somewhat undermine the Commission and future efforts.

Much of the conflict – current and potential – over water access seems to be on racial and ethnic lines. Tensions among different ethnic groups within Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka and India are made worse by water disputes. Chellaney’s case studies demonstrate limited ability of a purely supply-side strategy to meet the challenges brought on by water distribution. In each of these states, governance is poor and water disputes are associated with “deeper socioeconomic discontent, fueling a cycle of unending unrest and sporadic violence”. When citizens lose confidence in the ability of their government to be fair and impartial, new threats arise from an erosion of the rule of law. Chellaney offers a direction for relevant states in Asia to mitigate their water-sharing disputes and challenges, but the book would benefit from a more detailed prescription and less repetition of his outwardly anti-China rhetoric.

For both domestic and international disputes, Chellaney prescribes a holistic approach that is long-term, adequately integrates both demand management and supply-side approaches, focuses on quality as much as quantity of water, and utilizes input from diverse stakeholders and management at different levels. Cooperative relations are necessary to solving water disputes and protecting resources for the future; these relations can then broaden to include additional areas of cooperation. There must be trust among co-riparians, with competition for resources minimized to enable a foundation for a contemporary water-sharing agreement. While Asia could use another green revolution to institute more practices for efficient water use, another significant need is to build institutions to facilitate a water-sharing framework in transboundary basins. Strategic planning and resource management are key to supervising stocks of Asia’s water supply; however without unified norms and institutions accountability and structure will be lacking.

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.                       

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.