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Friday, November 30, 2012

China defends South China Sea policy


Big News Network (UPI) 
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea is an integral part of Chinese territory, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in Cambodia.
Speaking at the East Asia Summit in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, Wen said China’s sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal is indisputable, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The claim over the Shoal, called the Huangyan Island in China, remains in dispute with the Philippines.
The summit, also attended by U.S. President Barack Obama as part of his three-nation Asia tour, was held in the backdrop of China’s growing claims in the South China Sea, a vital navigation route for global commerce, and have become a source of major concern among China’s smaller neighbors, some of whom also have counter claims in the Sea.
China has insisted on bilateral negotiations with related parties to resolve the issue, while the United States, with its Asia-Pacific pivot, prefers a multilateral approach. Critics of the bilateral approach say it would allow China to influence those with whom it has economic ties.
Last July, the Chinese military set up a garrison in its newly created Sansha City in south Hainan province, which is seen as being designed to strengthen its claims on the resource-rich Spratlys, the Paracels and the Macclesfield Bank islands group in the South China Sea. Among others, Vietnam also has claims on some of these islands.
Wen was quoted by Xinhua as saying at the summit that East Asia has generally remained peaceful and stable and created favorable conditions for economic development in the region.
Xinhua quoted Wen as saying “China disapproves of any attempt at the summit to highlight territorial and maritime disputes and exaggerate tense atmosphere.”
He said China’s stance on the South China Sea issue is clear and consistent, and that China, as a continental and maritime country, attaches importance to the peace, stability, free navigation and security in the South China Sea.
At a media briefing in Phnom Penh, Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said the United States is not a claimant in the South China Sea, but has significant interest there given its role in the global economy.
He said the United States believes there needs to be a process to discuss issues associated with maritime security in the South China Sea such as at the East Asia Summit.
“Because these need to be discussed in a multilateral context so that we can reaffirm the principles of maritime security that can guide the resolution to something like the South China Sea,” he said, adding any solution “has to be consistent with international law, has to preserve the free flow of commerce that is important not just to the countries in this region but to the world.”
He noted the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been talking to China about a code of conduct to avoid misunderstandings or escalations within the South China Sea.
“We believe that’s the type of diplomatic effort that needs to maintain momentum going forward,” Rhodes said.
The BBC reported the Summit had an acrimonious end as the Southeast Asian nations failed to reach consensus among themselves over how to resolve the various territorial disputes with China.

Fire all ineffective cops to curb illegal drugs

AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR 
By William M. Esposo 
The Philippine Star 
The tragic killing of UST (University of Santo Tomas) cum laude graduate Cyrish Magalang had outraged both young and old. Young people of her age naturally felt angry over how vulnerable they’ve become in our society. Those of parental age felt the loss of so many years of love and dedication that her parents have given Cyrish to enable her to graduate cum laude.
Cyrish was homeward bound last November 1 when she boarded the tricycle that was operated by brothers Rolin and Roel Galita, 27 and 24 years old, respectively. Instead of bringing Cyrish home, the Galita brothers allegedly brought her to a shack where they first robbed her and then tried to rape her. The brutality of the killing shocked many folks. She had an unusually high number of stab wounds and her head was smashed with a hollow block. Witnesses have testified that Cyrish did board the tricycle of the Galita brothers. What clinched the case was the admission by the brothers of their guilt.
Even if the culprits are now in police custody and will soon face the bar of justice, we shouldn’t feel relieved. We all have good reasons to demand from our police forces better protection and that such incidents won’t ever happen again. We all have good reasons to demand that heads should roll — like the heads of policemen assigned to the area where Cyrish was killed. Were they sleeping on the job like some Pasay City cops that were caught on camera?
Notable in the Cyrish Magalang killing is that the Galita brothers had expressed remorse and admitted that they were only able to do the gruesome act because they were under the influence of illegal drugs. Yes, it’s very possible that the effects of illegal drugs drove the Galita brothers to brutally kill Cyrish. If we want to prevent any further victims of brutal killings like Cyrish — the solution is to wage an all-out war against illegal drugs and the people protecting the drug trade.
The war on drugs fails because corrupt cops turn a blind eye and allow it. The wallets of these cops get fatter when more illegal drugs are peddled in our communities. The bribery chain reportedly goes all the way to the top of the police organization. Considering the volume of money that’s generated by illegal drugs, it’s very possible that drug lords have bought not just cops but politicians, prosecutors and judges as well.
Per the US State Department 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the illegal drug trade in the Philippines is anywhere from $6 billion to $8 billion and is fast growing. That’s P255 billion or more and with that kind of money drug lords could easily allocate 10 percent, or P25.5 billion, for acquiring the best cops, politicians and judges that their money could buy. No administration had really made a serious dent in curbing the distribution of illegal drugs. To do that they have to catch dirty cops at the top and dirty cops on the ground. These are the protectors that allow the distribution to operate unhampered.
It’s bad enough that the dirty cops on the ground are allowing the illegal drug trade but they also make money from those whom they have caught — usually ground level small time distributors. Instead of booking these small time sellers, the cops milk them. This accounts for the dismally low ratio between drug arrests and resultant court convictions.
If that’s not bad enough, there are cops who would plant drugs and then threaten to arrest an innocent person with the aim of milking the poor victim. This reflects a culture that must be eradicated. Nothing less than outright dismissal from the service must be done if this culture is to be erased.
If we cannot curb the illegal drug trade because of dirty cops on the highest echelons of the police organization and on the ground — then the administration should make them all accountable for crime output. This means that for every three incidents of crime committed by people under the influence of illegal drugs — the local or area commander is sacked. This means that for failing to reduce illegal drugs by 20 percent every year, the top echelons of the PNP (Philippine National Police) will be revamped.
The cops are in the frontline of the war against illegal drugs. If on the top and ground, the cops are accepting bribes from drug lords, we are helpless in preventing incidents like that of Cyrish Magalang. In many drug busts, it was even reported that cops were operating the distribution.
Keep firing the ineffective cops until we finally end up with a PNP that’s committed and dedicated to ending the illegal drug trade.
All we get these days are token arrests but these hardly reduce the amount of illegal drugs that are distributed nationwide. These illegal drugs bring out the Mr. Hyde in users. Fire the dirty cops who protect the drug trade! When they feel that their jobs are threatened, then they might finally start to act like real cops and protect our communities.
* * *
Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”
Chair Wrecker website: www.chairwrecker.com

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Institutionalized corruption

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz
President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III’s administration has been touting the government’s success in fighting corruption.   However, the numbers aren’t there.  Except for the small fries, a big fish has yet to be caught in P-Noy’s much heralded anti-corruption campaign, which was the linchpin of his crusade to eradicate poverty.  Indeed, his campaign slogan of “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (No corruption, no poverty) has lost its purpose and meaning.  Corruption is still around, more than 10 million households rated themselves as “poor,” almost eight million families claimed to be hungry, and joblessness is almost 30 percent.
Nobody would dispute that P-Noy is “honest and incorruptible,” which he is, without a shadow of a doubt.  He is the epitome of honesty in government.  If only his subordinates would follow his policy of “daang matuwid” – straight path – his government would be the envy of the world.  But, alas, it isn’t t so.  The Philippines still ranks high – or should I say, low – in the Corruption Perceptions Index where she ranked 129 out of 182 last year.  However, bad as it is, the country improved a little bit from previous years – 134 in 2010 when P-Noy assumed the presidency and 139 in 2009 during Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s time.
Nonetheless, the slow pace in ridding the Philippines of corruption still puts the country behind 11 Asian countries — Singapore (5), South Korea (43), Brunei (44), Malaysia (60), China (75), Thailand (80), Sri Lanka (86), India (95), Indonesia (100), Vietnam (112), and Bangladesh (120); and ahead of only four — Pakistan (134), Laos (154), Cambodia (164), and Myanmar (180).  By the looks of it, the Philippines is in bad company of third-world countries.  Ideally, it should be in the company of tiger economies like Malaysia, China, and Thailand, not to mention Singapore, which would be wishful thinking – that is, beyond our reach.  Sad to say, the Philippines still has a long way to go in eradicating corruption.
So, why can’t the Aquino administration make real stride in fighting corruption and prosecuting corrupt government officials?  There are thousands of cases gathering dust in the Office of the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court.  It seems like searching for evidence is like looking into a bottomless pit – you know it’s there but you can’t reach it.
A case in point was the celebrated impeachment case against former Chief Justice Renato Corona.  He was convicted based on his admission that he had secret dollar accounts that he did not disclose in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN).  But the prosecution failed to present evidence on the charges of corruption and ill-gotten wealth, which forced the prosecution to drop them.
Another case was former President Gloria Arroyo who was charged with five plunder cases.  However, due to insufficient evidence, the Ombudsman was forced to drop three of them.  Although Gloria was arraigned on the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) plunder case, the wheels of justice are not turning fast enough.  I would not be surprised if the case was dismissed.
Why?
Is it because no crime was committed that the charges were dropped?  There was prima facie evidence to file the charges but not enough to prosecute and convict them.
Follow the money
Corruption is all about money.   So, as Deep Throat had told Watergate investigators, “Follow the money,” four decades ago, it is still good advice today in tracking corrupt officials’ ill-gotten wealth.  If you can follow where they hide their ill-gotten money, gotcha!
In many countries, like the United States, people with ill-gotten wealth deposit their money in banks in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands, where bank secrecy laws protect the identity of depositors.  But in the Philippines, a corrupt official, a drug lord or a jueteng operator doesn’t need to go abroad to hide their dirty money.  Yep, they can go straight to their local bank and open a foreign currency deposit account and nobody can see it, not even government investigators.
Known as “Foreign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippines,” Republic Act (RA) 6426 was signed into law by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1974 during the martial law era. The law states that any information can only be disclosed “upon written permission of the depositor.”   Many believe that it was enacted for the purpose of hiding the ill-gotten wealth of Marcos and his cronies.
But RA 6426 survived when the people power revolution toppled the Marcos dictatorship.  Oddly, it remains in the books to this day.  Perhaps, the lawmakers find it useful.
After Corona was impeached and removed from office, there was a move by a few lawmakers to amend or repeal RA 6426.  But P-Noy didn’t warm up to the idea and it ended up in limbo, never to see the light of day again.
Conspiracy?
Another bill that has been tossed around like a ping-pong ball was the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.  FOI has been debated in Congress for many years.  When P-Noy ran for President in 2010, he promised to sign an FOI bill into law if he won the election.  But after he was sworn in as President, he showed reluctance in supporting it.
Last week, after Rep. Ben Evardone, Chairman of the House Public Information Committee, refused to put the FOI bill to a vote in his committee, FOI advocates claimed that there was a conspiracy to kill the bill and blamed P-Noy for his “flaccid support” for the bill.
But why would Evardone block the bill when he seemed to be supportive of it before?  Makes one wonder if he was just following orders from higher up?  Which reminds me of what he told the media said a few months ago.
In my article, “FOI: P-Noy’s foible” (August 29, 2012), I wrote: “In a recent televised interview with Failon Ngayon, he [Evardone] said that the Liberal Party doesn’t have a stand on the FOI bill and that it was not on P-Noy’s legislative priority agenda.  Likewise, the bill’s authors, who include Deputy Speaker Lorenzo ‘Erin’ Tañada III and Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, are helpless in getting the bill moving in the committee.  And where is Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. in this moro-moro?  Well, he was more like the team’s coach. But the team’s owner was P-Noy.  And what P-Noy says is what they do.”
If P-Noy were really serious in fighting – nay, dismantling — institutionalized corruption, there are a few things that he could do: (1) Pass the FOI bill; (2) Remove the secrecy lid of RA 6426; (3) Comply fully with international anti-money laundering law requirements; and (4) decriminalize libel.
It’s a tall order, but if P-Noy wants to stand tall and leave a legacy, then no order is too tall that he cannot achieve.  It’s not easy but it certainly is worth the effort.

The more things change: Xi Jinping’s rise won’t alter much for Australia and the region

Source: The Conversation
www.TheConversation.edu.au

New president Xi Jinping (centre) flanked by He Guoqiang (left) and Jia Qinglin (right) at the closing ceremony of the 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing. (AAP/How Hwee Young)
CHINA IN TRANSITION: As China goes through its secretive but widely anticipated leadership transition, the rest of the world is watching. This week, The Conversation takes an in depth look at the National Congress of the Communist Party of China.
The new leadership of China has finally been revealed, following the arcane decision-making process of the 18th People’s Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.
As widely expected, Xi Jinping is to be General-Secretary and President of the People’s Republic of China, with Li Keqiang as Premier. Five other members were chosen for the reduced seven-member Standing Committee of the Politburo: Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan, and Zhang Gaoli. This demonstrates overall continuity, leaving party hardliners, concerned with continuing China’s economic growth, in control, rather than promoting any reforms advocating political liberalisation.
It will take some time before the relative strengths of the various factions and sub-factions of the party become clear in the 25-member full Politburo, and the 204-member Central Committee. The main rival factions have been termed the “princelings”, from the families of revolutionary veterans, and the “populists”, arising from the Chinese Communist Youth League.
There should be continuity in China’s relations with Australia. The Chinese economy appears to be overcoming its recent slower period, with likely prospects for continued strong growth, emphasising domestic investment and consumption.
China should therefore seek to maintain good trade relations with Australia to secure ongoing access to imports of Australian commodities, and to education and tourism services for its growing middle class. Xi Jinping is familiar with the West, having visited Australia in 2010, and undertaken a week-long visit to the USA with Vice-President Joe Biden in 2011. Former PM Kevin Rudd is one “China expert” confident that Xi Jinping’s leadership will be generally favourable towards Australia.
Virulent nationalism
Unfortunately, the new leadership is likely to continue to appeal to virulent nationalism in order to distract from entrenched problems of corruption and income inequality. This reflects the belief that China is a rising great power, deserving international respect when compared to the economically fragile US and EU.
Mob attacks on Japanese-owned businesses and Japanese nationals in China over the disputed Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands this year shows the danger of the party allowing confrontational nationalism to erupt.
Trade and investment between Japan and China has already been severely curtailed, as nervous Japanese companies are shifting investment towards more welcoming states in ASEAN.
The farewell speech of outgoing leader Hu Jintao emphasised the need for China to become a major maritime power, and this ambition is sure to keep on being pursued. The naval arm of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched China’s first aircraft carrier this year, with more being planned, although they will not be fully operational for some years.
The PLA Navy will still remain numerically and operationally inferior to the US Pacific Command well into the foreseeable future.
China’s territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and other ASEAN states over the South China Sea seem set to continue, and border disputes also remain with India.
Chinese maritime security vessels are being regularly sent into Japanese-claimed territorial waters around the Senkakus. A big test of China’s attitudes towards regional stability will be the East Asia Summit meeting later this month. Another attempt is likely to be made by the US, Japan and the ASEAN states to have some sort of regional diplomatic dispute settlement mechanism established, in order to prevent the present maritime territorial disputes escalating into more serious confrontations.
But after the experience of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Cambodia earlier this year, where China obstinately refused to discuss the South China Sea issue, it appears unlikely any progress will be made.
What next for Australia?
The “pivot” of US forces in greater strength into the Pacific region, is also set to be another lingering tension, despite Australia and the USA’s diplomatic attempts at reassuring China over these developments.
This week’s AUSMIN meetings in Perth, with visits by outgoing US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, have emphasised closer defence cooperation within the ANZUS alliance as Australia’s core security relationship. On the agenda was the prospect of greater use of Australian airbases by US aircraft, and more visits by US warships, which could potentially include a carrier battle group, to HMAS Stirling naval base in Western Australia.
While bilateral foreign relations between China and Australia are likely to remain fairly cordial, mainly due to shared economic interests, the danger remains of security relations deteriorating in the region.
It will be intriguing to see whether the Defence White Paper due next year will repeat the concerns of the 2009 White Paper, of a rising China as a potential long-term security threat.
Paul Keating’s critique of Australian foreign policy, calling for greater independence from the US, seems a timely reminder of the need to reconsider Australia’s best course in responding to this uncertain regional security environment.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Junk the VFA: Right song, wrong time


AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR 
By William M. Esposo 
The Philippine Star 
Several years ago, your Chair Wrecker lauded Senator Miriam D. Santiago for raising valid questions about the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement). Truly, the VFA is overly advantageous for the US and it also increases the number of US-Philippine pacts that bring shame to our country.
Young Filipinos may not even be aware that Filipino Quislings gave the US the disgraceful 1947 Parity Rights Agreement. Parity rights gave Americans the right to tap and utilize our natural resources. Philippine natural resources should be in Filipino hands and tapped for the benefit of Filipinos alone. All that wealth that the US had extracted from our natural resources would have gone a long way in upgrading the capability of our armed forces or rendering improved national health care.
Two months before the Parity Rights Agreement was signed, there was the Philippine ‑ US Bases Agreement of March 1947. When we signed the Bases Agreement, we opened our country to attacks by US enemies. It was already known during the closing days of World War II, that the victors would soon find themselves at war with each other. Shortly after the Bases Agreement was signed, the Korean War broke out, to be followed by the even more vicious Cold War. Filipinos are mostly unaware how we became victims of American duplicity during the Cold War when martial law was imposed here as part of the US geopolitical strategy to prevent the spread of communism.
Composed of two agreements, VFA-1 and VFA-2 became effective on May 27, 1999. The VFA immediately came under attack. The refusal of the US allow its erring personnel who will be assigned here during the course of the VFA to be subjected to our justice system rekindled Filipino memories when we felt Yankee spit on our faces. True enough, the Daniel Smith affair caused a lot of tension and frayed nerves.
Another objectionable feature of the VFA is how the US avoided having it ratified by their Senate the way our Senate ratified it. The US justifies this by claiming that the VFA is classified as an executive agreement that doesn’t require US Senate ratification.
Sen. Santiago renewed her singing of the “junk the VFA” song when this non-existent dumping of toxic waste became the recent national hysteria. As exposed in my November 17 column ‑ The truth about the Subic waste brouhaha ‑ there was no toxic waste that was dumped. It was organic waste and it was dumped in the high seas, not in the waters of Subic Bay.
Alas, Sen. Santiago lost her media peg for the VFA review when the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) released the findings of its investigation that there was no toxic waste that was dumped in Subic waters. The PCG investigation has to be given due cognizance because it was done with the right protocol as well as equipment.
After the end of the Cold War, the US was obligated to leave their bases in Clark and Subic. Sorry to offend the sensibilities of some of our nationalists but we didn’t kick out the Yanks from Clark and Subic. The Yanks were really in the process of leaving as part of their commitment in ending the Cold War. We don’t have the clout to be able kick out the Yanks.
Unable to shake off our damaged culture, which makes us believe that our rapist is our lover, we have placed ourselves in this pathetic state of perpetual dependence. While our other neighbors spent a great deal of effort to be self-reliant and free from external interference, we were parading like idiots proudly announcing that we’re Uncle Sam’s Little Brown Brothers.
If Sen. Santiago wants to sing the “junk the VFA” song again, she’s doing it at the worst possible time. There’s mighty China that has manifested its determination to grab part of our territory in the West Philippine Sea. If Sen. Santiago wants to junk the VFA now, she better come up with very convincing plans on how we can repel Chinese aggression sans US support.
Indeed, Sen. Santiago cannot propose an alternative Philippine position at this time in dealing with the Chinese threat without the backing of the US. Without the US, we’re practically primed for grabbing by China. The only rational proposal that Sen. Santiago can offer is how to negotiate surrender to China. In other words, how does Sen. Santiago propose to get commensurate benefits from the rich financial reserves of China ‑ to at least save face for ceding our oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea to China? How does Sen. Santiago valuate what could be considered as commensurate to ceding part of our territory? Is there a price for national dignity?
President Benigno S. Aquino III recently made another pitch at the ASEAN Summit, forcing himself to make the meeting despite nursing a bout with the flu, in order to seek a common position among claimants to specific areas in the South China Sea. While our president is trying to strengthen our position and protecting our interests in the South China Sea ‑ here is a Philippine Senator trying to erode US-Philippine relations by attacking the VFA at the worst possible time.
* * *
Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”
Chair Wrecker e-mail and website: macesposo@yahoo.com and www.chairwrecker.com

PNoy earns new tag: ‘Amalayer’


By Christine F. Herrera 
Manila Standard Today
The youth group Anakbayan on Friday adopted the word “Amalayer” or “I’m a liar” to describe President Benigno Aquino III’s supposed inaction on the Hacienda Luisita Massacre eight years ago in which seven farmers were killed.
Anakbayan and other groups commemorated the 8th anniversary of the massacre in Tarlac and demanded that President Aquino bring the culprits to justice even if it means running after the members of his family.
“A crime claimed the lives of seven farmers, yet it’s as if there were no criminals and the crime did not take place in the land supposedly owned by the President’s family but rightfully belongs to the farmers,” Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes said.
Farmers at the hacienda demonstrated peacefully in at least eight villages within the vicinity of the sprawling sugar estate to dramatize their demand for justice and the quick distribution of the hacienda to farmers.
Felix Nacpil Jr., chairman of the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita, said eight years had passed since the massacre took place, but justice remained elusive.
“It has been eight years, but we still have to get justice for the massacre victims,” Nacpil said by phone.
The President, then a congressman, was at the scene of the crime when the massacre took place on Nov. 16, 2004. His bodyguards were accused of pulling the trigger but Mr. Aquino defended them saying they did not fire a single shot.
“Amalayer, Amakiller is who he is,” Anakbayan chairman Vencer Crisostomo said.
“We can never forget the sight of Noynoy eight years ago going on live TV trying to justify the massacre of seven unarmed farmers,” Crisostomo said.
“Thus we are no longer surprised that two years into his rule and almost a decade since the Massacre, not a single person has been charged or arrested for the killings.”
The seven farmers were killed when soldiers opened fire on the striking farm workers.
Six other supporters of the strike, including church and local government leaders, were assassinated by suspected soldiers in the succeeding months, Crisostomo said.
Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano joined thousands of farmers in the hacienda in Tarlac to honor the seven farmers.
“We call President Noynoy Aquino an ‘Amalayer’ and ‘Amakiller’ for the lack of land and justice for the farm workers of the 6,000-hectare estate owned by presidential relatives,” Crisostomo said.
“After promising to give Luisita to the farmers in the 2010 elections, Aquino has shown himself to be nothing but the worst kind of ‘layer’ [liar] who puts the interests of his relatives and fellow members of the elite above the welfare of the ordinary Filipino.”
“On the eighth anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita Massacre, not one perpetrator has been brought to justice. Not one has been charged in court,” Reyes said.
Mariano, along with thousands of farmers and farm workers of Hacienda Luisita, held ceremonies to remember the killings that took place in front of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac sugar mill owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos.
“We remember and demand justice for Luisita martyrs Juancho Sanchez, Jhayvie Basilio, Jesus Laza, Jhune David, Jaime Fastidio, Jessie Valdez and Adrian Caballero,” Mariano said.
“They lived and died for the farmers’ struggle for genuine land reform in Luisita and in the country.” With Jess Malabanan

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Welcome to the Xi Jinping Era


By BILL BISHOP
New York Times
A newspaper in China featured the new general secretary of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping, left, with his predecessor, Hu Jintao. (Lee Jin-Man/Associated Press)
China has entered the Xi Jinping era. The transition to Mr. Xi from Hu Jintao appears to have been messy, given both the Bo Xilai scandal and the machinations of former leader Jiang Zemin, but Mr. Hu no longer has any formal party positions and the handover was, at least on paper, the cleanest in the history of the People’s Republic of China. It was also the first to occur in the Internet age, so we may have just been more aware of the plotting, scheming and infighting.
Mr. Xi has a different style from his predecessors, as you can see (Chinese, with English translation) from his remarks last Thursday when the new Politburo Standing Committee met domestic and international media. The first impression he gave is that he is a much more likable, almost retail, politician than his predecessor.
There has been much speculation about who is a reformer, conservative or hard-liner and what the policy preferences of the new leadership will be. In “China Reveals Its New Leaders: Habemus Papam,” the Economist reminds readers how little we actually know about these men, while Scott Kennedy of Indiana University provides important perspective in “China’s New Leadership: Economic Reform Yes, Political Reform No.”
Some of the disappointment about the new group is that the two most likely advocates of serious political reform, Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang, didn’t make it to the PBSC. But you’d have to be beyond optimistic to believe the Chinese Communist Party’s top leadership is at all serious about democratization. That is not on the cards no matter who is in the Politburo. There’s not a Gorbachev among them. We’ll see a range of reforms to improve how this system works…If you’re skeptical they can make this system work better, they’re going to try and prove everyone wrong. Either they’ll succeed, or there will be a political meltdown.
One senior banker told a conference on Friday that Mr. Xi may unveil an economic reform plan in late 2013. Wang Xiangwei, editor in chief of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post and someone with strong connections to Beijing, believes Westerners underestimate Mr. Xi’s plans for reforms, saying that he might be the strong reformer that China needs. I expect that Mr. Xi will be a hard-line, nationalist reformer.
Xi Jinping (Vincent Yu/Associated Press)
MR. XI APPEARS TO BE STARTING HIS RULE by signaling a possible crackdown on corruption. Chinese officials have made lots of anti-corruption noise over the last few years, even as graft has spread like a cancer through society, but Mr. Xi’s anti-corruption rhetoric is more dire and aggressive. By making such a big deal of it so early in his term, he risks quickly destroying any good will and credibility if he does not show results, though more high-profile corruption cases could be equally damaging. There are some who would argue that any crackdown might be too late as the system may now be so rotten that a serious crackdown on venality would destroy it.
Mr. Xi inherits a challenging foreign policy environment. The Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute with Japan continues and the risks of a bad outcome are not insignificant, as Taylor Fravel of M.I.T.explained in an informative podcast last week. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations displayed an usual amount of cohesiveness on Sunday, when it called for talks with China on the South China Sea disputes even as an arms race is starting in the region as several of those countries try to counter China. China is also not happy about President Obama’s visit to Burma, to the point that censors ordered Chinese media to play down any news of the visit.
THE ECONOMY IS STILL IN A DIFFICULT SITUATION, though there are signs of stabilization and some bullishness for 2013, at least in Sunday’s $2.5 billion of upfront advertising sales for CCTV, China’s state TV network. The Shanghai Composite index did not welcome Mr. Xi’s ascension as it has dropped nearly 5 percent from the start of the 18th Party Congress and on Monday broke below 2,000 briefly before sharply rebounding to close up slightly.
At least when it comes to stock market reactions to their elections, Mr. Xi and Mr. Obama have something in common.
Bill Bishop publishes the daily Sinocism China Newsletter from Beijing. You can follow him on Twitter @niubi and Sina Weibo @billbishop.

China reveals its new leaders: Habemus Papam!


Source: Economist
Nov 15th 2012, 5:13 by T.P. | BEIJING
(Picture credit: AFP)
WITH ITS UNIQUE and mystifying blend of pageantry, ritual and secrecy, China’s ruling Communist Party Thursday morning revealed the identities of the seven officials it has chosen to lead the nation in the coming years.
Ending the tremendous suspense it has generated over the course of a politically tumultuous year, the party made public its newly selected Politburo Standing Committee by sending them striding, in order of seniority, across a red carpet and into the view of journalists and television cameras crowded into Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
Leading the pack was Xi Jinping, 59, the party’s new general secretary. This much was no surprise. Since 2007, Mr Xi has been assiduously groomed and unambiguously tipped for the top job. The selection of the second-ranking figure, Li Keqiang, 57, was also widely expected.
But the makeup of the rest of this core group, and even its size, was the focus of intense factional infighting by contenders for top-level power, and the subject of fevered speculation by observers in China and around the world.
The other members of the standing committee are Zhang Dejiang, 65, a vice premier who this year also took on the job of Chongqing party boss (replacing the disgraced Bo Xilai, who fell in a spectacular political scandal); Yu Zhengsheng, 67, party boss of Shanghai; Liu Yunshan, 65, director of the party’s propaganda department; Wang Qishan, 64, a vice premier and former mayor of Beijing; and Zhang Gaoli, 65, party chief of the northern port city of Tianjin.
All the new members are men. The only woman in contention for a spot, Liu Yandong, was all along considered a dark-horse candidate and did not make the cut. The reduction from nine members to seven was expected, but far from certain until the announcement.
The new members are also heavily weighted towards the so-called “elitist” or “princeling” faction of the party. Only two of the seven members, Li Keqiang and Liu Yunshan, are identified with the party’s other main faction, which is seen as having a more populist bent.
These designations, however, are somewhat fuzzy and can only be taken as a rough guideline to the real contours of China’s top-level political landscape, and to the question of whether the new leadership tilts more towards conservatives or reformers. Factional lines are drawn not only over policy differences, but also on personal, regional, and patronage networks about which outsiders have only incomplete knowledge. But it does seem clear that Jiang Zemin, who left the top party job a decade ago, has managed to place many of his own protégés on the standing committee, and that the newly departed general secretary, Hu Jintao, came up with the shorter end of the stick.
What this new leadership group inherits is a country facing vast and daunting new challenges. Social and economic pressures are growing hand in hand. The global economic slowdown has been matched by declining growth in China. Public sentiment is ever more soured by growing inequality, persistent corruption, environmental degradation, and a sense that the party has lost touch with the lives of ordinary people.
In his speech introducing the new leadership, Mr Xi addressed these concerns directly, but with much the same sort of rhetoric the party has been using for years. In one important departure from recent practice, however Mr Xi was also named as head of the party’s powerful central military commission, also on November 15th. In the last leadership transition, Mr Jiang kept things a bit more muddled by waiting two years before relinquishing that job.
The announcement of new leaders came a day after the close of the party’s 18th National Congress, at which the outgoing Mr Hu gave his swansong address to the nation (in the form of a stultifying, jargon-laced 64-page speech). This autumn’s change of party leaders will be followed next March by the shifting of government positions. Mr Hu will retain his title as Chinese president until then, when Mr Xi is expected to take it over. At the same time, Li Keqiang is expected to take over from Wen Jiabao as premier.


The U.S. military pivot to Asia: when bases are not bases


By John O’Callaghan and Manuel Mogato
Reuters
The USS Emory S. Land, a submarine support vessel that is part of a U.S. military buildup, is being serviced by workers while it is docked in Subic Bay north of Manila (CHERYL RAVELO, Reuters / November 14, 2012)
SUBIC BAY, Philippines | Wed Nov 14, 2012 4:54am EST
(Reuters) – From his office window, Roberto Garcia watches workers repair the USS Emory S. Land, a submarine support vessel that is part of a U.S. military buildup as Washington turns its attention to fast-growing Asia and a newly assertive China.
The Philippines, Australia and other parts of the region have seen a resurgence of U.S. warships, planes and personnel since President Barack Obama announced a “pivot” in foreign, economic and security policy towards Asia late last year.
Washington insists the shift is not about containing China or a permanent return to military bases of the past. But it is sometimes tough to tell the difference at Subic Bay, a deepwater port near vital sea lanes and border disputes in the South China Sea that have raised tensions between China and Southeast Asian nations.
“Every month we have ships coming. A few weeks ago, we had the submarines, we’ve had the aircraft carriers,” said Garcia, chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, which oversees an economic zone built on the former U.S. base. “They cannot find this kind of facility anywhere else in Asia.”
The territorial tensions and the U.S. shift towards the region will be high on the agenda when Obama visits Southeast Asia in coming days.
The Pentagon says the United States has “no intention of re-establishing bases in the Philippines.”
But activity in Subic, a breezy coastal city about 80 km (50 miles) north of Manila that has the feel of a tidy American suburb with shopping malls, fast-food outlets and well-lit streets, resembles a buildup.
As of October, 70 U.S. Navy ships had passed through Subic, more than the 55 in 2011 and the 51 in 2010. The Pentagon says more than 100 U.S. planes stop over each month at Clark, another former U.S. base located between Manila and Subic.
“It’s like leasing a car as opposed to buying it – all the advantages of ownership with a reduced risk,” said James Hardy, Asia-Pacific editor of IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly.
“If you look at Subic, the U.S. will be leveraging Philippine bases and assets, privately owned assets, and all at a fraction of the monetary and political price of taking back ownership of the base. It gives the U.S. the same strategic reach that basing would have done but without all the hassle.”
U.S. forces were evicted from Subic and Clark, the last and largest of their bases in the Philippines, in 1992. They revived close ties from 2000 with war games, frequent visits and by helping against communist and Muslim insurgents.
Emphasising Subic’s renewed role, South Korea’s Hanjin Heavy Industries, which has invested $2 billion in the port’s shipyards, signed an agreement this spring with AMSEC, a unit of Pentagon contractor Huntington Ingalls Industries, to set up a maintenance and logistics hub to serve U.S. warships.
As a Pacific power, the United States has an interest in freedom of navigation, stability, respect for international law and unimpeded, lawful commerce across sea lanes, said Major Catherine Wilkinson, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
“Our military presence in the region helps to maintain peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific,” she told Reuters.
CHINA IS NOT CONVINCED
Obama’s trip for the East Asia summit in Cambodia, along with visits to Thailand and Myanmar, comes just two weeks after his re-election. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta – together and separately – are visiting Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia this week.
“There is a very clear determination to underscore that this is a significant feature of American foreign policy,” a senior State Department official said on Clinton’s plane. “We want to work with China. We recognize that the Asia-Pacific region is big enough for the both of us.”
Wary of Washington’s intentions, China is building up its own military and pushing its sovereignty claims in the region. China, in the midst of a once-a-decade leadership change, views the U.S. pivot as emboldening Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and others in territorial disputes.
“Unsurprisingly, the hawks in the Chinese military have the full attention of the leadership and have received a funding boost,” Lanxin Xiang, a history and politics professor at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, wrote in the latest issue of Survival: Global Politics and Strategy.
By 2020, the Pentagon expects to have 60 percent of its naval assets in Asia, up from about 50 percent now. Analysts say they have no details yet of troop numbers but there will be some realignment from bases in Japan and from the war in Afghanistan.
As part of the shift, the U.S. military is now rotating the first of up to 2,500 Marines through northern Australia for training and will have up to four Littoral Combat Ships calling in and out of Singapore from next year.
“There is no basing. Let’s underline that,” Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr said this month. “The Americans don’t seek it and we wouldn’t agree to it.”
The United States already has strategic joint operations in Australia, built and funded by Washington, that include signals intelligence and satellite communications facilities. U.S. ships and planes visit Australian bases on the western and northern coasts to resupply.
The Pentagon also has its eye on Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay, an important deepwater port for French, Japanese, American and Soviet forces during the last century. In June, Panetta became the first U.S. defense secretary to visit Cam Ranh since the end of the Vietnam War and said access for U.S. ships was “a key component” of relations with Hanoi.
Despite being at odds with China over the South China Sea, Vietnam shows little sign of going further than the maintenance and cargo operations it now allows U.S. ships at the facility.
“Vietnam does not cooperate with foreign countries to use Cam Ranh port for military purposes,” Luong Thanh Nghi, the foreign ministry spokesman, told Reuters.
BALANCE OF POWER
Hardy said there was no real need for the United States to have conventional forces in Europe now, so it made sense to look to the Asia-Pacific region as a major area of operations, along with the Middle East.
“The U.S. is rebalancing for very clear reasons – the 21st century is going to be the Asian century – and it has a lot to gain from being engaged and more to lose by not being engaged,” he said. “Chinese missteps in the past two years have opened the door for the U.S.”
For the Philippines, the greater U.S. presence gives its woefully equipped air force and navy implied cover as tensions simmer with China and other rivals in the South China Sea, along with time for the military to modernize maritime capabilities and coastal radar systems – with U.S. help.
It is also good for the economy. More visits by U.S. sailors and pilots mean more jobs and money for shops, restaurants, bars, suppliers and contractors around Clark and Subic.
“It’s a very welcome thing,” said Vic Vizcocho, publisher of the Subic Bay News. “If there’s going to be opposition, it will be very small and more from outside the area.”
The last three U.S. ships to visit brought in $5 million in business, said Garcia, whose office and desk were used by the U.S. admiral who ran the 7th Fleet when it was based at Subic.
Still, the influx is a mixed blessing.
The U.S. Navy pays no docking fees and Garcia’s plans to convert Subic’s seaside airport into a resort and casino complex – modeled on Singapore’s Sentosa island – may be dashed as the Philippine air force wants it for a base.
If that happens, the U.S. air force would have staging and servicing spots in the northern Philippines at Clark and Subic. It has also used the small airport on Batanes island, one of the most northerly points in the Philippines, to refuel between Japan and the Diego Garcia base in the Indian Ocean.
Philippine diplomats say Washington is seeking access to an even wider range of ports and airports, including Laoag in the far northwest, which looks across the South China Sea and is only about 800 km (500 miles) from the Chinese coast.
Garcia said he expects the situation in the South China Sea to be resolved but the United States to play an ever bigger role in the Philippines and the region.
“The tensions will lessen because the world cannot afford to get into a dispute over territories,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean the presence will reduce. Always you have to talk about a balance of power.”
(Additional reporting by David Alexander and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON, Rob Taylor in SYDNEY and Ho Binh Minh in HANOI: Editing by Neil Fullick)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hypocrisy and duplicity on ‘daang matuwid’?


ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas
The credibility of President Aquino’s campaign to curb corruption came into serious doubt last week with the continued delay of the passage of the Freedom of Information bill in the House of Representatives. The inaction of the House committee on public information, headed ironically by a former news reporter, Rep. Ben Evardonne of Eastern Samar, exposed a serious flaw in Aquino’s own credibility and in his much-ballyhooed reform agenda.
While the House took just a few days to summon signatures from 188 congressmen on the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona and to bring the case to the Senate for trial, it has been more than two years since a new FOI bill was filed by Deputy Speaker Erin Tanada and it is still rotting in Evardonne’s committee.
Aquino moved mountains to make sure Corona is impeached and found guilty because he said it was crucial to his efforts to curb corruption, but wouldn’t lift a finger to certify the FOI measure as urgent although he promised during the campaign to pass a Freedom of Information Act that, more than the impeachment of a chief justice, would ensure government transparency and accountability.
One wonders why the Cybercrime Prevention Law that punishes libel in cyberspace with a 12-year imprisonment and P1 million fine, passed Congress smoothly and signed into law immediately by Aquino when the FOI bill has been pending for years.
The hypocrisy is matched only by the duplicity of some congressmen who have the power of life and death over the FOI bill. Evardonne, who was one of the most avid allies and defenders of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo while serving as Eastern Samar governor and head of the provincial governors league, is now Aquino’s ally and defender and is obviously acting on orders of the President to delay action on the measure.
How can one be a reporter for many years and not understand the importance of a bill that seeks to give access to the press and the public to vital government documents? How can one who unabashedly echoes Aquino’s fight against corruption not want a law that would ensure government transparency and accountability?
The way Evardonne is delaying action on the bill is even laughable. After sitting on the bill for more than a year, he says no room was available in the House for the committee meeting that would tackle the bill. And then, when the panel was finally able to meet, the members spent so much time discussing two other matters, and Evardonne allowed Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino to consume the remaining time to pursue the inclusion of his Right to Reply rider in the measure. When Tanada demanded that a vote be made, Evardonne protested that the bill had to be discussed some more and abruptly adjourned the meeting.
Malacanang, of course, denied it had anything to do with the delay in the passage of the bill. And yet, there are disturbing reports that Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa had personally asked House members to let the bill expire. The Palace said it has submitted to the House its own version of the measure. Whether or not the Malacanang bill is a watered-down version is still unknown, but judging on the deliberate delay on the Tanada bill, it is almost certain the Palace version is nothing close to the original.
Aquino’s aversion to the FOI bill is understandable considering that since he took office in 2010, he has been blaming media each time his approval rating slips. He raised the bar on government officials when he vowed to fight corruption and to follow a “daang matuwid,” and yet he cannot tolerate the media’s exposing venalities in government. If he truly believes his Cabinet and his agencies are following the straight path, why is Aquino so afraid of a Freedom of Information Act?
He didn’t mind bashing the sitting Chief Justice, the former Vice President, and a ranking government official in public, and yet cries foul each time his actions are criticized. Aquino wants a different standard for himself, and another one for media?
Congress needs to pass the FOI bill because the Constitution’s Bill of Rights explicitly recognizes the people’s right to matters of public concern. The Philippines, which boasts of one of the freest press in the world, remains one of the few countries still without a Freedom of Information law. That such a measure has been stalled under an administration that boasts of transparency and the “daang matuwid” is simply unacceptable.
(valabelgas@aol.com)