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Gibson: Waste Not, Want Not

Book Review of Neuromancer by William Gibson

Since late last year, I’ve been on a mission to read and reread top Sci-Fi books. This reading has to be sifted into my daily news intake and non-fiction obligations. Some days, dystopian themes in fiction seem more tame than the headlines, given the current political climate. After finishing Neuromancer, I have to say William Gibson is my new favorite author.

 

I was already a fan of the cyberpunk genre. What early millennial kid doesn’t intimately know the ‘high tech, low life’ juxtaposition? It sums up our adolescence and early adulthood. Gibson perfectly captures the feelings of obsession and burnout that define our technology-addicted generation.

 

Neuromancer strips away sensationalism in character development the way a competitive marathon runner burns fat, and it won a triple gold: the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award. His writing style leaves no waste and no want. Deliciously lean. It has been awhile since I found myself smiling at sentence structure, but I couldn’t help myself while reading Gibson.

 

The setting is its own person. The story nearly needs no characters. They were icing on the motherboard as the reader navigates the circuitry of Gibson’s futurescape. It is a place that could only have been written by a Japanophile. This article in Wired confirms it. Gibson’s Tokyo is a writer’s creative playground, offering layers upon layers of inspiration. He visits regularly.

 

“Something about dreams, about the interface between the private and the consensual. You can do that here, in Tokyo […] You can dream in public. And the reason you can do it is that this is one of the safest cities in the world, and a special zone […] has already been set aside for you.”

-William Gibson

 

It has always been hard for me to articulate why I love Japan, but I think Gibson’s characterization must be an important part of it:”You can dream in public.” Whether wandering empty paths through the mountain forests or being blinded by throbbing neon in Shibuya, Japan conjures and inspires dreams. Everything exists there somewhere — perhaps its down an unlabeled flight of stairs behind a konbini, or on the top floor of Bic Camera, or three kilometers on foot from the nearest town into the woods — if you can think of it, you can be sure Japan has it. It is both a delightful and disturbing aspect of Japanese culture. Connecting with Gibson in Neuromancer through this cultural lens added to my appreciation of his work.

 

Here’s my list of Top Sci-fi Books to read:

Dune, Herbert — READ
Neuromancer, Gibson — READ
Hyperion, D. Simmons
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlen
Foundation Trilogy, Asimov
2001: A Space Odyssey, Clarke
The Forever War, Haldeman
The Man in the High Castle, Dick
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Dick
Ready Player One, E. Cline
The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury
The Dispossessed, Ursula Le Guin
The Book of the New Sun, Wolfe
Solaris, Stanislaw Lem
A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge
The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson
Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson

 

Do you agree? Are there any books that I should add? Which Sci-fi book is your favorite?

Koyo Observations

 

Koyo is the Japanese tradition of watching the leaves change color in autumn. In late October, I took a solitary trek through the Kiso Valley portion of the Kumano Kodo, one of Japan’s three main pilgrimage routes. The Kiso Valley straddles Gifu and Nagano prefectures and contains some of Japan’s more beautifully preserved traditional architecture in the tiny post towns that line the mountain path.

While I had chosen my route in part because I expected the way to be well-traveled, I found myself walking completely on my own through the 1-2 hour stretches of path between the post towns. The profound silence, the crisp air, and the otherworldly natural beauty became my companions. The path varied from plush trampled leaves on peat to well-maintained stone walkways. The delicate ringing of my tiny bear-bell* added to the mystique. It was a surreal experience for me.

I was a few weeks too early to experience proper koyo in the Kiso Valley. The leaves had barely begun to take on a golden cast. So, I journeyed north to Iwate and Aomori, where the temperatures were cooler and the leaves had really started to change. Strolling through Tenshochi, Hirosaki, and along the Oirase stream, I could observe the brilliant red, gold, and orange colors that makes Japanese foliage so famous. It is an experience I highly recommend.

*Japanese people believe that the bears that live in the mountains are less likely to be aggressive if you don’t surprise them. People walking in the mountains attach a small bell to their backpack or belt, and it makes a small ring with every step. 

Step Up for International Women’s Day!

Today is International Women’s Day! Celebrations took place all over the world, from posts on Facebook and messages shared between friends to marches and addresses by organizations to support women’s rights and empowerment. Google paid tribute to the day with an inspirational Google Doodle. UN Women released a breathtaking photo essay highlighting the diversity of lifestyles for women around the world. In an article by The Telegraph, we can learn about the history and context for IWD, as well as pointers on where to find celebrations. Here is a slideshow of IWD celebrations around the world.

 

Not everyone is celebrating.

 

“The International Women’s Day schedule is almost all career-enhancing, work-centric conferences and events for the benefit and advancement of Western women. Suspiciously absent are charitable causes which would really empower oppressed and abused women in the rest of the world that do not have any voice at all,” says Ellen Grace Jones in an article by the Independent UK. (Here is the rest of the article.) Ellen, along with the four other women mentioned in the article, chose not to celebrate IWD because of her belief that the day is part of a misplaced feminist agenda.

 

Ellen is not alone in opting out. A number of educated women from the Western world perceive feminism as divisive in nature, accentuating and perhaps even worsening the division between men and women. Proponents of this line of thinking would champion egalitarianism, which emphasizes that men and women are equal rather than focusing on women’s role in society.

 

I doubt Ellen’s pious distain for a less than perfect movement will make much of a difference to those women who are oppressed and abused. Her choice not to celebrate all that has been accomplished in the name of gender equality (yes, primarily in the Western world) will not make the movement more effective either.

 

But it is Ellen’s choice that proves how effective the feminist movement has been for her. Not only does she exist in a society where abuse and oppression seem so distant a threat that she does not see the need to stand up for herself, but she has also decided that it isn’t worth her effort to support organizations that try to help women who live in daily peril. Had Ellen lived during a time when she felt personally oppressed, perhaps she would have had more reason to stand up for women’s empowerment. Ellen is an example of a troubling undercurrent within society: women against women.

 

Women criticize each other for choosing to get married and choosing to remain single; for having children and not having children; for indulging in vanity and for letting themselves go; for devoting themselves to a career and for not having a career; for being a feminist and for not being one. Women can’t win under such scrutiny. There are as many views on what a woman should be as there are women in the world. The same could be said of men. No one — not man, nor woman — should have the right to control or coerce another person into believing that he or she has value only as a predetermined list of attributes they did not choose.

 

There is no ‘right way’ to be a woman. Each of us is a unique combination of attributes that we are born to by circumstance or choose for ourselves. That right to choose who we are and what we do is one of the primary reasons feminism exists. International Women’s Day is a celebration of how far we’ve come and a reminder of how far we still need to go.

 

“Each one of us is needed—in our countries, communities, organizations, governments and in the United Nations—to ensure decisive, visible and measurable actions are taken under the banner: Planet 50-50: Step It Up for Gender Equality,” says UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. (See the rest of her 2016 address here.)

 

I stand with the organizations that try. I support the people who step up and participate, who speak words of encouragement and inspiration to others, and who care enough to risk ridicule and failure. Which side are you on?

The Frozen Expat Hourglass

Recently, I was skyping with a family member in Texas. As usual, I was sharing some anecdotes about life in Singapore. And as usual, most of what I said was met with polite smiles and glazed eyes. It is difficult to describe life abroad so that people with no frame of reference can relate. Your story can be funny, shocking, or interesting, but it is nearly impossible to actually be understood.

My husband and I skype with his parents around 4 hours a month. I try to skype with my family for a little more time. There is never enough time to share everything we are doing. In fact, I often find that I hesitate to share new developments because it will take too long to explain. The gulf between us seems to get wider and wider each year. How can they really feel like they know us? So much changes for us all the time: we travel, take new classes, attend fun events, take on leadership roles, etc.

Who we have become will never fully replace the image of who we were in our parents’ eyes. 

 

In my case and my husband’s case, this is especially frustrating because we were fresh college graduates when we moved on abroad and we still had a lot to learn. Quite a lot has happened since then. The lifestyle we’ve chosen and worked so hard to create from scratch is very different from the one our families lead. It is hard not to wonder what on earth they think of us, since it is clear that they do not understand us.

For expats, perhaps it is best to strike a balance. We can share as much as we desire, but shouldn’t expect understanding. The most we can hope for is acceptance. Is that what anyone can hope for from their families?

Reflections on My PPWR Scholar Experience

When Jo Parfitt told me that I had been selected as one of the recipients of the ParfittPascoe Writing Residency (PPWR) Scholarship for 2015, I was thrilled! My friend Sue had been a PPWR Scholar in 2014 and spoke volumes about the good it did both her and her writing career. I gleefully anticipated the strategic networking I’d gain, the publishing opportunities I’d receive, and the exclusive secrets I’d be told from the formidable matriarchs of expat writing.

The PPWR Scholarship offers so much more than that.

I first met Jo through her collaboration with Eva Laszlo-Herbert to create The Worlds Within TCK Anthology, a book in which a piece of my poetry is published. While I know that my status as an Adult Third Culture Kid (ATCK) — simply put, someone who lives between cultures — is a big part of who I am and how I relate to others, I did not know just how crucial this aspect of myself would be to my experience as a PPWR Scholar.

The PPWR Program is the brainchild of Jo Parfitt and Robin Pascoe, two friends with a passion for writing and a desire to help new writers on their way to realizing their potential. Jo and Robin have years of experience as both writers and expats, along with extensive networks all over the world, which can benefit budding writers and make all the difference in building a publications portfolio. They also have years of experience living between cultures and guiding others to find their own sense of home and self through creative expression.

That is why the PPWR Scholarship is linked so closely with the Families in Global Transition Conference (FIGT), which was held in Washington DC in March 2015. This year’s conference focused on “Finding Home,” which is a complicated issue for TCKs and ATCKs. From the keynote speakers to the casual conversations participants had over coffee, the programming at FIGT helped me open up and unpack my usually padlocked box of feelings. It was a safe and creative environment where personal stories would be embraced and tears could be shed. While I personally did not cry (and have carefully bolted down my box of ATCK feelings and set it back in its place), I felt very much at home and at peace at FIGT.

Among those relationships I most appreciate coming out of FIGT, are the ones I made with my fellow PPWR Scholars. For 2015, four women were chosen from around the world, and we all have stories of crossing cultures. Beth Hoban operates out of Washington DC, USA. Lauren Owen is based in Massachusetts, USA. Taylor Murray lives with her family in Hiroshima, Japan. I am living in Singapore. Yet, we all share a love of writing and the determination to make our voices heard.

Read the bios of the 2015 PPWR Scholars in the December 2014 FIGT newsletter.

These fabulous ladies are doing so much to leverage their unique perspectives as TCKs to create positive change. I am inspired by all of them in different ways. As PPWR Scholars, we have a three-part challenge:

  1. To complete Jo Parfitt’s writing course and all assignments before the FIGT Conference
  2. To attend the 2015 FIGT Conference, cover our designated events, and conduct interviews with keynote speakers and VIPs
  3. To write meaningful articles about the events and speakers at the conference for publication in the 2015 FIGT Yearbook, which will be available in 2016

While we have completed the first two stages of our task, we are still in the middle of the third and final part. For me, crafting my articles about the conference gives me the feeling of reliving those conversations and experiences, which is very pleasant indeed.

To keep in touch with what my fellow PPWR Scholars are doing, I recommend that you do the following:

 

 

How to Build a Bridge for Mental Migration

Between different cultures, there is always a divide. The more similar the cultures, the easier it is to make the leap to understanding. When the distance between cultures seems too vast for a single person to traverse alone, then it becomes necessary to build a bridge to understanding.

Our world is becoming more interconnected through global supply chains and the exchange of capital, but we are also encountering an increase in conflict across many regions. Interdependence, arguably, is the key to maintaining peace. But interdependence cannot thrive when it is predicated upon the dominance of one set of cultural values over another. It requires trust, mutual respect, and understanding. True understanding requires mental migration, and there is no shortcut to achieve that. You have to cross the bridge.

So, what exactly do I mean by mental migration? I mean achieving a profound shift of perspective to the degree that you cannot return to the point before the shift. A professor and friend of mine once equated mental migration to “getting” a joke — once you “get” the punchline of a joke, you can’t “unget” it.

Returning to the metaphor of the cultural divide, when the average person stands on one side of the divide, with her feet firmly planted within a particular culture, we can say two things about her perspective: First, all other cultures, no matter how different or similar they are to her own, are seen as “other” and apart, on the other side of the divide. Second, it is impossible for her to fully perceive her own culture and her place within it while still standing in the middle of it.

Mental migration means that we have not only crossed the divide between cultures, but we have also had the strength to look back and regard our origin from a different point of view. This can be deeply destabilizing for some people because true mental migration shakes the foundations of what we believe to be true about our values and worldview, but this experience is incredibly valuable. It helps individuals cultivate a broader and richer understanding of the world, while also revealing what personal qualities and values remain constant for them amidst the change.

 

Generally speaking, it is difficult to achieve a profound shift of perspective when we travel on holiday. Most holiday itineraries are outfitted for relaxation, leisure, and maybe some planned adventure. It is when we have to relocate to a new place longterm that we are more likely to realize a mental migration into a new culture. The body can be transported in a matter of hours, but it takes months — sometimes years — for the mind to migrate fully. It is by grappling with the challenges of difference, more than appreciating the pleasantries of similarity, that we can come to understand new perspectives.

At the FIGT Conference this year, I met many people who had experienced mental migration, most of them more than once. Through navigating their own journeys of identity, Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) recognize both the interconnectedness of humanity and the impact of social constructs on different cultures. They had to learn to increase their communication skills, adaptability, creativity, and powers of perception quickly in order to relate to and thrive in their new environments. The skills gained in traversing the divide between cultures on a personal level can also be applied to constructing sound cultural bridges for others.

 

As the public sector (governments) and private sector (businesses) seek to strengthen ties across borders, both their policies and people must be well prepared to meet the demands of cultural difference if their ventures are to be both sustainable and ethical. Both sides require ongoing training and support while navigating the difficulties they will encounter as they interact with one another. They need an architect to build a cultural bridge, and it needs to be constructed to fit their specific situation.

Too often efforts to build this cultural bridge are constructed for one-way traffic. People who may never have lived or visited the destination are advising public and private sector people on how to relocate or how to modify their foreign investment strategy or policies to maximize gains. What about the local people whose lives will be affected by the arrival of a new government partnership or new business venture? Do they not also need to be prepared to meet the cultural differences they will encounter? What kind of preliminary research was done to ensure that the structural reforms required to make the foreign investments and policies will be sustainable in the new cultural environment? There may be no better individuals spearhead an effort to provide insight into these issues than TCKs and ATCKs, people who have undergone mental migration.

 

Holistic consultation of both sides of the cultural divide is needed before construction of the bridge can begin. TCKs and ATCKs that have navigated this process before, on a personal level, will be able to anticipate the kinds of barriers and difficulties that can occur for public and private sector individuals seeking to cross the same divide. Having this added perspective is not superfluous. It is necessary. Without understanding the cultural divide from both sides and taking into account the complex set of factors that will affect the sustainability of the venture, the bridge will unravel and collapse, along with the investments and agreements. In the absence of a bridge to understanding, conflict is much more likely.

TCKs and ATCKs must be empowered to step into roles that need their particular expertise. They must feel confident about sharing their personal struggles and experiences of mental migration, knowing that by doing so they are helping others. The FIGT conference is one such epicenter of empowerment, and the collaborations that are forged and showcased there are an inspiration. I urge TCKs and ATCKs to recognize their value as architects of bridges to understanding, whether they be between people, between governments, or between foreign investors and markets.

Check out the work of TCK and founder of UYD Magazine, Tayo Rockson, as he encourages TCKs and ATCKs to use their difference to make a difference.

Global Nomad

The Families in Global Transition Conference (FIGT) was held in Washington DC this year. It attracted people from around the world that have lived and worked across countries and cultures. Whether the reason was family, business, military duty, or mission work, FIGT attendees truly embodied the complexity of global citizenship. I could not have predicted the personal impact this conference had on me and how happy I am that I attended.

Individuals that move often, especially during formative years, find themselves greatly affected by exposure to other cultures. They tend to be more open-minded, adaptable, creative, sociable, and quick to learn new skills. These positive qualities position these individuals to excel in any number of fields and vocations, especially in providing cultural bridges or critical thinking. However, they can also tend to have difficulty making deep commitments and strong judgements, and sometimes struggle with issues of identity.

For people who have not had to create a new home in a foreign culture, it can be difficult to understand the kind of personal crises that can occur. After all, to live abroad is still perceived by many as a privilege of the elite. When expats travel back to visit family or friends, no one really wants to hear about all the exciting things they get to experience in their exotic lifestyle. People certainly don’t want to hear expats complain about their difficulties. So, to become an expat means that a part of yourself will never truly be recognized or welcome in your origin country. Family and friends either can’t or won’t understand.

The expat will also always be an outsider in his or her new home country to some degree. Behaviors, language, and customs can be learned and adopted. Communities and friendships can be built. But a person carries his or her story forever, even if it is never fully shared with others. To be an expat means that a part of yourself can never fully enter the new home you create. Living with this feeling is isolating and can be deeply destabilizing for some people.

 


 

My path cannot be found.
It can only be walked.
My identity cannot be told.
It can only be created.
I am free. I am free.

I walk the edge of the knife
That parts each piece of myself.
Each step right is a home I make.
Each step left is a home I leave.
I am free. I am free.

Love tied your ribbon ’round my heart,
But how long can you spin the thread?
I will cry you tears of loss and joy,
When my shadow cuts ‘cross the horizon.
I am free. I am free.

I am a global nomad.
At last, I’ve found my tribe.

 


 

I wrote the poem above to describe the complex emotions I have about my experience as an adult third culture kid (ATCK), and how I feel about finally finding a group of people that live like I do. I am at once happy to have more than one home, more than one community of loved ones stitched together by precious memories, and I love my freedom and the adventure of creating a new home and better self with every new experience.

Yet, that freedom is also terrifying. Who am I if I am someone different in the eyes of each of my international communities? What is my identity if I cannot be fully recognized by others? How can I explain that my friendships cannot be measured by time or space, but by meaning. When speaking to someone who has only lived in a place where people enter through birth and leave through death, how can I make them understand the pain I feel because I’m torn between multiple homes in multiple cultures?

At FIGT, I found immediate and unspoken kinships with people. It was a singularly magical experience to be immersed in a community that understood my feelings because they had all experienced something similar. At FIGT, everyone wanted to hear each other’s stories, and every story was met with knowing smiles and empathetic eyes.

Many of the FIGT attendees have found ways to tap into their global citizenship to bring about positive change. Others, like myself, have harnessed their experiences as inspiration for creativity through writing and research. I found encouragement among my peers and am excited about the potential collaborations we fostered. For me, this conference was as cathartic as it was inspirational. At last, I’ve found my tribe.

For more information about FIGT, please click here to visit the conference homepage. The 2016 conference will be held in The Netherlands.

Japan as a More Active Contributor to Peace and Stability

Kuni Miyake delivered a seminar on “The Geopolitical Transformation of East Asia and the Abe Regime” at the National University of Singapore (NUS) on January 28, 2015.


Kuni Miyake served in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) from 1978 to 2005. His career includes postings to the Middle East, China, and as a Director of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty Division. He has substantial experience in the areas of security and foreign policy development. He has now retired from MOFA, but remains active in the fields of diplomacy and research through his roles as President of the Foreign Policy Institute, a private think tank in Japan, and Research Director for Foreign and National Security Affairs at the Canon Institute for Global Studies. In addition, he serves as a special advisor to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, under whose regime reform of the Japanese Constitution has been widely debated.

 

A Historical Look at the “Pacifist Clause” 

Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, often referred to as the “pacifist clause,” has been contested since its ratification on November 3, 1946 during the occupation after WWII. While historical record indicates that Prime Minister Kijuro Shidehara first suggested the idea, some believe it was Charles Kades, a confidante of Douglas MacArthur, that pushed the Government Section of Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ) to create Article 9. Kades, however, claimed that self-preservation was the right of any nation, and spoke in favor of Japan being able to use force for security purposes.

The unclear origin of the pacifist clause fuels the arguments of Japanese politicians and policy makers like Kuni Miyake even today. When asked about Article 9 during his seminar at NUS, Miyake compared the writing of the Japanese Constitution to the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution in 2005. He claimed that, during his MOFA posting to Iraq, he witnessed the United States writing and enforcing the Iraqi Constitution according to American ideals during its occupation. He said that there are many indications that lead him to believe that the same thing happened to Japan at the end of WWII. He believes that constitutional reform would give Japan a way to “make the constitution ours,” and one of the key areas that Miyake and Prime Minister Abe want to officially reinterpret is the pacifist clause. While the Abe Regime is the first to come this close to officially changing Article 9, there have been many historical interpretations and exceptions made to allow for the eventual creation of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF).

The official English translation of Article 9 is as follows:

“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

Concern over the complete absence of a Japanese military force post WWII was exacerbated by the Korean War (1950-1953), when the majority of the troops occupying Japan were deployed to Korea. Japan needed a force to enforce stability domestically and ensure security against threats from abroad. The Mutual Security Assistance Pact between Japan and the U.S. was passed in 1952 to fill this gap. It guaranteed that the United States would provide protection to Japan from outside threats, and granted Japan the right to create both land and maritime forces to deal with domestic threats and natural disasters. The Pact was expanded to include the development of an air force and a provision for defense against both direct and indirect aggression under the Self-Defense Forces Law of 1954. It is also worth noting that Japan has agreed never to develop nuclear weaponry by signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1976.

The Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) that exist today include ground, maritime, and air forces. They have been deployed to engage in peacekeeping missions under the United Nations (UN) and provide various forms of aid and assistance to allies abroad, excluding the use of force. The JSDF, in collaboration with Germany and the United States, have worked to develop the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System (ABM). Since 2003, ABM units are housed in four of Japan’s Kongo Class Aegis destroyers in the maritime force, and ABM Pac-3 land units are housed in 6 strategic locations near large Japanese cities.

AbeObama

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama after their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Feb. 22. (The Asahi Shimbun)

 

In addition to collaborations with Germany and the United States, Japan has played a key role in assisting other allies, such as Australia, with the development of defense capabilities. In accordance with the Mutual Security Assistance Pact between Japan and the U.S., the United States maintains a significant military presence at bases on Okinawa Island and at Yokosuka, near Tokyo. Although the JSDF maintains only defense capabilities, Japan’s military spending is expected to reach USD$40.9 billion for the 2015 fiscal year, according to Nikkei Asian Review.

In considering how much Japan has done while observing Article 9, it can be difficult to understand what Abe’s true aims are in revising it.

 

The Abe Regime’s Plan Sparks Debate

In July 2014, the Abe Regime announced its intention to reinterpret Article 9 and lift a constitutional ban on “collective security,” which would allow JSDF to take part in actions to aid allies. While allies such as the U.S. and Australia fully supported this shift, Prime Minister Abe’s approval ranking immediately fell from 57% to 48% in Japan. To keep Abe’s approval ranking from falling further, legislation on the “collective security” issue was temporarily stalled. Abe needed to protect his approval ranking in order to pass upcoming legislation for structural reform, the target of the third arrow of “Abenomics.” Abe’s quick change of focus to other domestic issues in Japan may have helped save him in the polls, but his intended constitutional reform remained the subject of speculation.

Media across the globe wanted to know what an increase in Japan’s military agency would mean for the world. Memories of Japanese imperialism still run strong in Southeast Asia, and many countries worried that Abe, an unusually charismatic and nationalistic leader, might intend to reclaim some of Japan’s former military might. The most negative and sensationalist reaction came from China.

Official flag of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF)

Official flag of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF)

 

China’s rise has been most intense in the South China Sea and Sea of Japan due to assertions of sovereignty that go against the Law of the Sea as outlined by the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China has been especially antagonistic toward Vietnam, The Philippines, and Japan in maritime disputes. Since Obama’s Pivot to Asia campaign began in 2010, the United States has been much more Asia-focused. Increased U.S. economic and military presence has provided somewhat effective deterrence to China, especially in maintaining open seas and safeguarding U.S. allies, partners, and friends. As long as the United States maintains a strong military presence in Japan and Japan remains a close ally, China will limit the risk of open conflict with Japan over Japanese territory.

Click here to read more about maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

“The Japanese Empire went against the U.S. hegemony motivated by an inferiority complex concerning the West and a superiority complex concerning the Chinese. We were motivated by an ugly nationalism back then. I can see the [People’s Liberation Army] PLA repeating the same mistake.”

Miyake sees signs that China may create cause for open conflict in the near future, and he argues that Japan must be ready to shoulder a greater role in maintaining the status quo. He links the start of China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea to a power vacuum left by the United States after it withdrew from Clark and Subic Bay Naval Bases in the Philippines in the early 1990s. Only two months after the U.S. vacated these bases, China issued the Law of the People’s Republic of China Concerning the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone of 1992, which stated China’s claim over nearly all of the South China Sea. He points out that subsequent aggressive Chinese actions against U.S. allies, partners, or friends were preceded by a United States assertion of power in the South China Sea. For example, after the United States signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in 2014 to allow U.S. military to be stationed in the Philippines, China moved an oil rig into Vietnam’s Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) and began extraction without permission. In Miyake’s opinion, this antagonistic power play between the Chinese and American giants will continue to escalate without a powerful and constant deterrence strategy to balance China.

The Abe Regime, like Miyake, wants to maintain Japan’s status as a strong economy with profitable investments in Asia. Japan is not interested in competing with China to exert the most influence over Asia. According to Miyake, Japan wants to “age gracefully” and continue to live out its pacifist ideals.

“[Japan] would welcome China to rise if they accept the status quo, but they may not. The Chinese people must decide.”

To safeguard Japan’s prosperity in the future, the Abe Regime believes JSDF must have more free agency to act as a deterrent to China and aid Japanese allies if a conflict arises. That is why Abe is interested in the concept of “collective security,” which hinges on the condition of collaboration and does not allow for unilateral belligerence on the part of Japan.

 

Japan’s Active Pacifism

Surprisingly, even an action such as sweeping for mines was traditionally considered as use of force, and therefore forbidden to JSDF. Under the reinterpretation of Article 9, however, Japan would be able to consider sweeping for mines if the situation met other conditions.

Although the specific conditions of when, why, and how Japan will come to the aid of allies are still being discussed, it was announced in November 2014 that the JSDF would be allowed to sweep for mines during times of ceasefire in the Middle East. By interpreting the ongoing and escalating conflict in the Persian Gulf as an indirect threat to the livelihood of Japanese people, the JSDF is allowed to protect supply route of crude oil by clearing essential Strategic Lines of Communication (SLOC).

“Japan would be allowed to use force if ‘the country’s existence is threatened, and there are clear dangers’ that the people’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is imperiled due to an armed attack on Japan or ‘countries with close ties.’ The other two conditions set forth in the Cabinet decision state there should be ‘no other appropriate means,’ and the use of force should be kept to the minimum.” said the Abe Regime in a statement to the Japan Times.

The right to self-defense belongs to every sovereign nation, but in the increasingly tense South China Sea region, good defense must be proactive. The tradition of pacifism is beloved by Japan and does not have to end with Abe’s provision for “collective security.” To maintain the status quo, Japan will continue to be a pacifist nation, but not passive. To balance China, the United States welcomes allies to take a more active role in maintaining SLOC lines and an open sea, protecting the Rule of Law and UNCLOS, and building “collective security” through a strong cohort of allies, partners, and friends.

Regional Outlook Forum 2015

The Regional Outlook Forum (ROF)

Session One

Thursday, January 8, 2015

 
This flagship event for the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies was held at Singapore’s Shangri-La Hotel. The ROF all-day conference attracted experts in Southeast Asia from across the region, and from the keynote speakers to the panelists, the research presented was both timely and in-depth.

Chief among the topics for discussion was the tension between the USA, China and Japan and its implications for Southeast Asia. The first panel session focused on the rivalry itself, bringing together experts representing American, Chinese, and Japanese perspectives. First to be addressed was China’s foreign policy and its “extraordinary assertiveness toward the United States and its associates in East Asia and the western Pacific region,” according to Professor Shi Yinhong.

Panelists for Session 1:


 
  1. Mr. Dan Blumenthal, Director of Asian Studies, American Enterprise Institute, USA
    USA Perspective
  2. Prof. Shi Yinhong, Counsellor, State Council of People’s Republic of China; and Director, Center on American Studies, School of International Studies, Renmin University of China, Beijing
    Chinese Perspective
  3. Prof. Satoshi Morimoto, National Security and Defense Policy Specialist; Professor, Takushoku University, Japan; and Former Minister of Defense (Noda Cabinet), Japan
    Japanese Perspective

Moderator

Mr. Daljit Singh, Senior Research Fellow and Coordinator, Regional Strategic and Political Studies Programme, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies


Like many China experts Professor Shi Yinhong pointed to the uncertainty of Chinese foreign policy having roots in the newness of it, and rightfully so. China’s rise has been swift economically, and it has come to the forefront of the global stage in the midst of significant domestic policy shifts. Leadership under Xi Jinping must pioneer new foreign policy strategies to fit a mercurial domestic and international context without the benefit of carrying over the ideals of their predecessors. Prof. Yinhong claims that China is seeking to balance its strategic military and economic goals, which are often at odds with domestic and international constraints, against its overall diplomatic strategy.

The potential for China to occupy a predominant role in Asia is significant, and China never ceases to remind the world of what it is capable of. China’s military assertiveness in the South China Sea, particularly against Vietnam and the Philippines, points to a “hard power” foreign policy that goes against international maritime law and is ultimately very damaging to China’s diplomatic standing. However, in contrast to this seemingly clumsy effort to push its influence over Southeast Asia, Xi Jinping’s “soft power” initiatives of the Eurasia Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road projects, and China’s Asia Infrastructure Development Bank and progress on FTA negotiations attest to a desire for regional collaboration. Prof. Yinhong sees these projects as being created to compete with a preponderant US presence in Asia, but I believe that China is choosing to embrace diplomacy and seek interconnectivity within the region.

“Among the uncertainties and self-contradictions, one major thing seems to be increasingly certain: Xi’s increasingly clear aspiration for China’s expanding power and influence (that of soft and hard power) or even a preponderant role in Asia and Western Pacific in the longer term at the expense of America’s current dominant advantages.” 

Indeed, Prof. Yinhong predicts that, as China has noticed that its recent actions in the South China Sea have “increas[ed] remarkably the risk of conflict… It is very likely that from now on, China will for a substantial period in the future focus on ‘strategic economic’ prong in its foreign policy.” He sees Beijing’s hosting of the 2014 APEC meeting and China’s agreement on “The Four Consensus,” an agreement between the USA, Japan, and China to safeguard military warships and airships, as indications of his prediction.


 

Image courtesy of Stephanie d'Otreppe, NPR

Image courtesy of Stephanie d’Otreppe, NPR

The map above highlights some of the areas of conflict in the South China Sea. Maritime law is quite complex, and being able to delineate who owns the seas is much more difficult than determining sovereignty on land. There are different regulations on how much sea a country owns in relation to how close it is to land. Also, “land” becomes complicated to define in maritime law: Is the island able to be inhabited? Or is it only a rock? Is it above sea level at high tide and low tide? How far out does the continental shelf extend? Basically, the larger and more like the inhabitable mainland the sea rock is, the further out into the sea the economic exclusion zone (EEZ) extends for that country. Conflicts over ownership of islands, islets, and rocks become very important when considering that a country’s EEZ could extend to encompass vast fishing areas or possible underwater oil or mineral deposits.


 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Japan does not see signs of a more peaceful China ahead. According to Professor Satoshi Morimoto, “China’s aggressive move to gain greater maritime power raises concerns among neighboring countries as an attempt to forcibly change the current order.” Prof. Morimoto highlighted the following events as evidence:

  • China first made claims over the Senkaku Islands in 1971. Since establishment in November 2013 of China’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) overlapping the Japanese and South Korean ADIZ, China has sent repeated military aircraft and mainly Chinese Coastguard vessels into Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands. The only reason the intrusion is not more egregious, Prof. Morimoto observes, is because of intense U.S. military deterrence from the base in Okinawa.
  • In May 2014, China unilaterally moved an oil rig into Vietnam’s EEZ, accompanied by fleets of Coast Guard and Naval vessels. Chinese retaliation against Vietnamese protests resulted in violent clashes at sea, sinking Vietnamese boats and injuring “dozens of Vietnamese fishermen.”
  • China sought to fill a military power gap when the U.S. reduced its presence in the Philippines by disrupting the Philippine’s access to one of its naval outposts to weaken its control over parts of the Spratly Islands in March 2014.

While these historical facts raise serious questions about China’s agenda, I think that the pivotal point for determining the likelihood of large scale conflict in the South China Sea (or East China Sea) lies in the future. China is fully aware that placing an oil rig within Vietnam’s EEZ is a violation of international laws, and it recognizes that its actions in the Spratly Islands and in the Senkaku Islands has been antagonistic. China chose to remove the oil rig from Vietnam’s EEZ after only 2 months, in July instead of in August, as scheduled. Why did China change its mind?

The Philippines has utilized the appropriate channel to file formal arbitration against China: the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) court. While it is hardly debatable that China is guilty, what should the verdict be? How can UNCLOS enforce compensation from China to the Philippines? International laws and conventions rely on the agreement and acquiescence of all countries in order to have power and authority. China has pushed the boundaries of tolerance within the South China Sea through these “hard power” strategic moves, but it has also increased efforts at collaboration through several new “soft power” initiatives. How can we define China’s true motives and its outlook on instigating a large scale conflict?

I believe China’s reaction to a guilty verdict following formal arbitration will be a more decisive indicator of China’s intentions than any action it has taken thus far. Should China reject a ruling and refuse to give due compensation, then China will have directly and publicly confirmed that it does not wish to participate in the current world order. And that is an alarming scenario. If I were UNCLOS or any court tasked with judging China, I would tie the case in bureaucratic red tape and keep it tabled for as long as possible.

“Although Japan is taking extreme care and adopting appropriate measures to maintain its territorial integrity without provoking China, it is concerned that China intends to change the status quo through coercive measures, which would not be acceptable.”

Prof. Morimoto speculated that China wants access to the mineral resources in the South China Sea and East China Sea. He also said, “China may be aiming to more proactively control the West Pacific to secure Chinese SLOC in the region and put greater pressure on Taiwan for unification.” The establishment of a comprehensive network of sea lines of communication (SLOC) has long been a key strategic necessity for global powers. In times of peace, SLOC are used for trade, logistics, and naval operations. In times of war, SLOC are closed, essentially creating a blockade. With China launching its second and third aircraft carriers soon, increasing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Amphibious Marines force, and completing its J-31 stealth jet, it is easy to why Japan is nervous about the expansion of Chinese SLOC.

Japan maintains what Prof. Morimoto calls a “hedging-oriented policy” on risk management for China, which means that Japan is constantly forward thinking in increasing deterrence and military reaction capabilities while still operation within the limits of the U.S.-Japan alliance and self-defense capability. Prof. Morimoto criticized the United States’ “engagement-oriented policy,” which operates more reactively and case-by-case to China’s actions. While “most Republicans and Department of Defense officials prefer a hedging-oriented approach to China,” according to Prof. Morimoto, the United States has not adapted its strategy in managing the China risk.

“Peace and Stability in the Asia-Pacific region is supported by the strong U.S. commitment to the region. It is evident that the Japan-U.S. alliance and resulting presence and commitment of U.S. military forces continues to play the most important role in the region’s peace and stability.”

I think that in avoiding a “hedging-oriented policy” toward China, the U.S. is attempting to defuse what many already see as a Cold War global environment. Furthermore, by having an “engagement-oriented policy,” the U.S. gives itself more latitude for adapting diplomatic and economic strategies with China. Unlike Japan, which can never escape the historical and deep cultural rifts that divide China-Japan relations, the U.S. has an opportunity to craft a unique and collaborative relationship with China.

While the U.S. must step up its military deterrence strategy to keep pace with recent China developments, I believe in the potential of “soft power” tactics in keeping the peace. When taking into account the explosive growth in militarization within the Southeast Asian region, especially in China, and with global value chains and FTAs contributing to an ever more interconnected global economy, I think that no single issue will be enough to warrant a large scale conflict. To assume a Cold War mentality in considering U.S.-China relations is an oversimplification of the issue, and no party, no matter its historical grievances, should desire a bilateral global power structure, as it is the most unstable. The rise of China signifies a shift out of the unilateral power structure of a U.S. hegemony, and I believe the South China Sea may be viewed a a testing ground for the larger world order. If the U.S., Japan, China, and ASEAN can establish a successful multilateral system within the region, then I think the world can follow suit, ushering in a more peaceful change than many seem to believe is possible.

Fullerton Lecture: A Conversation with H.E. Sihasak Phuangketkeow

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)
Fullerton Lecture Series

“Thailand’s Domestic Progress and Foreign Policy During the Political Transition”
H.E. Sihasak Phuangketkeow, Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Thailand


 

Dr. Tim Huxley, Executive Director of the IISS, lead the procession to the lighted stage, leaving hushed voices in his wake. The Guest of Honor, H.E. Sihasak Phuangketkeow, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand calmly regarded his audience as, with a small nod, he took his seat. Secretary Phuangketkeow had not been in Singapore since the high profile Shangri-La Dialogue. This event would be decidedly easier. Thailand’s latest coup, which occurred on May 22nd, was only days before Secretary Phuangketkeow was required at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

The military intervention on May 22nd disposed of the old government, replacing it with a military junta under the label “National Council for Peace and Order”. Prayut Chan-o-cha, a military commander of the Thai army, assumed the role of Prime Minister in August. Since then, a reformation intended to “break the cycle of conflict” has been underway, but observers wonder when it will provide political formality.

I don’t want to call it a coup,” said Secretary Phuangketkeow, “the EVENT on May 22nd was not unexpected and serves as a prevention of a worse consequence.”

The current reformation roadmap, as created by the National Council for Peace and Order, has a one-year timeline ending with the creation of a new constitution, but Secretary Phuangketkeow called that a “tall order”. Indeed, the USA and EU have not recognized the legitimacy of the current military regime and have applied pressure to Thailand to move back to a democratic government quickly.

Since 1982, the United States and Thailand have held the annual Cobra Gold bilateral military exercises in Thailand. When Huxley suggested that the USA’s decision to move the exercises elsewhere was a reflection of the regime change, Secretary Phuangketkeow insisted that nothing was out of the ordinary. He claimed that the exercises alternate between heavy years and light years normally. He said that this was just a light year and had nothing to do with the coup.

“Some of our Western colleagues have had judgements. Thai people are the ones that must settle their own issues.” Secretary Phuangketkeow emphasized. “The success of the reformation process depends on this being a democratic and inclusive process. Western friends, think about the long term.”

Thailand’s economy is one of the largest in ASEAN, but the change in government has had a marked effect on some markets. Despite this, Secretary Phuangketkeow pointed to recent contracts and investments that will overhaul Thailand’s infrastructure, saying, “Economically, I think we are on track to return to growth.”

Secretary Phuangketkeow’s confidence in Thailand’s growth could be rooted in what Huxley observes as a growing closeness with China. With a smile, Secretary Phuangketkeow said, “We want to be friends with everybody.”

“We have to consolidate ourselves. Political stability is important. Democracy is important. But we need to think about our neighbors.”

For Thailand, those neighbors are China and ASEAN. With the Mekong subregion on the rise, Thailand plans to play off the strength of its geographical location and focus on connectivity. The Chinese have invested in a higher speed railway from Bangkok to the Eastern seaboard and have signed onto an agreement that will allow for freer trade in the agrarian industry. China is championing the Asia Infrastructure Development Bank and the Maritime Silk Route Revival. Economic interdependence with China is a big development in the region.

Huxley highlighted a paradox: ASEAN views China as an important economic partner, but there is unease about Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. He asked Secretary Phuangketkeow if Thailand felt that it could influence China.

“We cannot influence Chinese foreign policy,” Secretary Phuangketkeow said, “but we have told them that South China Sea actions are viewed as a barometer for its rise overall and foreshadow what people see as Chinese identity.”

According to Secretary Phuangketkeow, China wants a peaceful rise. China must be recognized as a rising power by the international community in order for it to smoothly join the current world order. If China is ignored, then it may seek to create a new world order. Tensions within ASEAN against China are mounting as China strengthens it’s influence on the region.

photo (13)

Dr. Tim Huxley in conversation with Secretary Phuangketkeow

“In times of peace and stability, we have common concern. Conflict requires a bilateral position.” Secretary Phuangketkeow said, regarding Huxley’s question about conflict between China and ASEAN. “ASEAN’s united position is a boon to China in that it helps the region.”

Japan has long placed significant FDI in Thailand, especially in the automotive industry. To Secretary Phuangketkeow, however, an increased Chinese presence in Thailand will not jeopardize Japanese interests. “I think the pie is big enough for everyone,” he said.

Secretary Phuangketkeow’s conversation with Dr. Tim Huxley showed the audience an honest reflection on Thailand’s reformation. While the constitution may not be finalized by the end of one year, Secretary Phuangketkeow assured everyone that democracy was the true goal. For Thailand, the timeline is less important than getting it right this time. Thailand’s foreign policy is regional and China centric, and growing more bold against Western opposition. Thailand does not intend to “play the China card” and further damage relations with the USA and EU, but rather urges it’s Western friends to be patient and think about long term relationships.

Asia-Pacific Forum 2014

“Sharing Prosperity and Responsibility for Mega-Regionals”


 

A collaboration between the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) and the Japan Economic Forum (JEF) gathered together regional experts into two panels to address how to form a balance between nationalism and regional integration within Asia, and how to rethink trade under mega-regionals, or extra large Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

IMG_440237682

Professor Simon Tay, SIIA’s charismatic Chairman, offered opening remarks, and was followed by Mr. Kazumasa Kusaka, Chairman and CEO of JEF, setting the stage for Keynote Speaker Mr. Lee Yi Shyan, Senior Minister of State for Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry and National Development.

 

Commenting on the potential of TPP and RCEP, Lee cited an estimated $1.9 trillion income gain across participating countries, which account for 55% of the world’s population and the majority of global GDP.

Lee expressed a decidedly positive view of FTAs, comparing the effects of Singapore’s regional, multilateral FTAs to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as a successful example. Like NAFTA’s effect upon Canada, Mexico, and the United States, Singapore experienced reduced tariffs, improved regulations, and significant growth thanks to its FTAs. However, Lee acknowledged the caution and skepticism still held by many concerning FTAs, especially as they may affect domestic industries, employment, and national interest. Import barriers cannot be maintained to protect domestic industries without sacrificing exports when countries participate in FTAs, which forcibly facilitates deep regional collaboration. Still, he insisted that FTAs, as a linkage of global value chains, allow a freer flow of goods, and freer trade leads to more Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and GDP growth. Lee attributes Singapore’s tripled GDP between 1993 and 2013 to its participation in FTAs. More broadly, commenting on the potential of TPP and RCEP, Lee cited an estimated $1.9 trillion income gain across participating countries, which account for 55% of the world’s population and the majority of global GDP. When considering the economic gains FTAs have brought to Singapore, it is no wonder that Minister Lee supports the TPP and RCEP mega-regional FTAs. Indeed, the potential income gain seems enough to sell any nation on participation.

The geopolitical reality for most of the developed world is democracy, which requires public consensus. So, it is actually important for private sector industries to be convinced of the benefits of TPP and RCEP. The skepticism and concern over joining FTAs, especially the TPP and/or RCEP mega-regionals, is well-earned in many cases throughout Asia. Historically, the economic benefits of FDI and modernization have required developing countries to acquiesce to many cultural, societal, and environmental sacrifices. While the payoff of a boom in GDP has made these sacrifices worthwhile in many cases, the prospect of increasing these effects through a significant FTA like TPP or RCEP has contributed to a rise in protectionism and nationalism.

 

Growing economic interdependence VS Rising political conflict and security concerns

In Asia, there is a paradox: growing economic interdependence VS rising political conflict and security concerns. Nationalism is on the rise in Asia, and arguably worldwide, despite the increasing need to remove barriers. In the first panel discussion, experts explore ways in which this paradox can be navigated to safeguard the success of mega-regionals in practice.


 

Panel Session 1

  • Dr. Choong Yong AHN, Chairman, National Commission for Corporate Partnership, Republic of Korea
  • Dr. Thanh Tri VO, Vice President, Central Institute for Economic Management (CIEM) of Vietnam
  • Mr. Tadayuki NAGASHIMA, Executive Vice President, Japan External Trade Organization
  • Dr. Joseph T. YAP, Professorial Lecturer, School of Economics, University of the Philippines
  • Mr. Naoyuki HARAOKA, Executive Managing Director, Japan Economic Foundation (Moderator)

 


The hegemonic rivalry between China and Japan indicated by severe conflict in the South China Sea and an increase in militarization is a regressive trajectory when viewed from the perspective of geopolitical integration. Japan and Korea are also rivals over sovereignty of Dokdo – Takashima. The historical roots and nationalistic perpetuations of these conflicts are complex and deserve more of an explanation than will be addressed in this post. The clash of these economic giants reverberates throughout Asia, and has significantly inhibited the maximization of regional trade. Economic integration, according to the panel, is the best way to create peace between competitors in close proximity. The acceleration of the RCEP and TPP mega-regionals should become a priority not only for the great potential gains in GDP, but also to serve as platforms for diplomacy and conflict mitigation.

 

Economic integration, according to the panel, is the best way to create peace between competitors in close proximity.

 

Both mega-regionals push member countries toward a Free Trade Area of Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which is the ultimate long-term goal for regional economic integration. However, there are intentional differences between TPP and RCEP, which function as provisions for the vast diversity in development present in Asia. TPP, arguably the first true 21st century FTA, has had more than 20 rounds of negotiations since its inception in 1994 as the APEC Bogor Goal. Intended to be a high standard regional agreement, TPP has a high level of trade and FDI liberalization, and expects members to meet its rigorous capacity building requirements. Not all countries can meet the criteria, with China being perhaps the most notable non-qualifier. When the United States joined TPP in 2010 as part of Obama’s Pivot to Asia campaign, China’s conspicuous absence from TPP spurred a USA vs China sentiment. TPP was never intended as a taunt to China nor to any other country unable to meet its high standards. Rather, the standards were created for countries with more competitive developed economies to continue to build capacity.


 

Panel Session 2

  • Dr. Denis HEW, Director of Policy Support Unit, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
  • Mr. Jayashiri JAYASENA, Senior Director of Strategy and Monitoring, Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Malaysia
  • Dr. Chulsu KIM, Chairman, Institute for Trade and Investment, Republic of Korea
  • Professor Shujiro URATA, Professor of Economics, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University, Japan
  • Professor Simon TAY, Chairman, Singapore Institute of International Affairs (Moderator)

 

In May 2013, negotiations began on RCEP, and 6th round negotiations will take place in India this month, December 2014. RCEP has a lower level of trade and FDI liberalization, a more gradual road to membership, and deferential treatment toward lesser developed countries. RCEP’s objectives focus more on equitable economic development and general economic integration. China supplies the largest economy in RCEP, and the USA has chosen not to seek membership, furthering what some see as a rivalry on the Southeast Asian front. However, the panel argues that RCEP and TPP can easily coexist and compliment each other, and need not be perceived as rival FTAs lead by China and the USA respectively. RCEP’s collaborative and flexible characteristics seem well-suited to allow developing countries to first join RCEP to grow economically before later joining TPP. According to Professor Shujiro URATA, TPP may develop into FTAAP, but RCEP should remain as a pathway to entry.

Through participation in TPP and RCEP, ASEAN has the potential to be a good example of using mega-regionals to mitigate regional conflict. Of course, this potential hinges on building mutual trust between competing economies in close proximity and often with historial rivalries. The panelists champion sound practices, multilateral forums and frameworks, and cross-border trade as means to achieve this trust. Panelists also advocated better collaboration on non-traditional security issues such as natural disasters. Southeast Asia is prone to devastating weather, so having an ASEAN coordinated, regional response could save lives, while also building up good will and pushing geopolitical integration. The key to balancing nationalism, the panelists argue, is non-aggressive, non-coercive, non-assertive politics in developing inter-regionalism.

 

“…influence depends on the perceived value of the intellectual contribution to the discussion. So it will be important for Asian countries to be represented by respected technical experts, with the latitude to participate in discussions without being bound too restrictively to a ‘party line'”

-Andrew Crockett

 

Dr. Joseph T. Yap took the argument further, saying that to promote regional cooperation and Asian interests, “political color” must be removed and replaced by a focus on regional intellectualism. Dr. Yap called for an expansion of Track 2, or academic, organizations, citing the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) as an example. While this prescription for expediting the functionality of TPP and RCEP, and maximizing geopolitical integration through building mutual trust may seem oddly self-serving coming from an academic, Dr. Yap makes an interesting point.

What if Track 2 organizations were given the same level of authority as public political entities and top private corporates on decisions impacting geopolitical integration? Could the integrity of these organizations stand up to the bottom lines and profit margins that sway economic negotiations? Would processes automatically become more collaborative, and therefore an aid to conflict mitigation? Or would they merely become more bureaucratic and lumbering?

At the very least, perhaps the increased plurality of information provided through technical experts could give way to greater clarity. Creating mutual trust through an educated regard for regional neighbors is a necessary step in mitigating conflict and achieving regional geopolitical and economic integration in FTAAP. The TPP and RCEP mega-regionals can function best as complimentary pathways to this long-term goal, as well as platforms for improved diplomacy between rival countries.

Ubud State of Mind

 

My body woke up this morning expecting action. My legs craved a brisk walk through crisp grass slick with morning dew. My face wanted to bathe in golden sun until my cheeks were rosy. My ears longed to be tickled by the sound of playful streams in the terraced rice fields outside my door. My back, chest, and shoulders demanded the kind of dynamic stretches that only yoga can deliver.

It was so easy to slide into the yoga lifestyle of Ubud, Bali. I alternated raw vegetarian meals with fulfilling yoga classes in a flawless pastoral setting by day, and shared drinks with friends while listening to live music at night. The thatched roof of my hotel room was not altogether sealed, allowing insects and small lizards to come in. During my yoga classes, which were conducted on an outdoor pavilion, I perspired so profusely that my mat became slick, but then so did everyone else. I could quench my thirst by drinking 3 fresh young coconuts directly after class. I felt so cleansed and utterly exhausted after every day, and yet awoke energized and smiling every morning. It was the perfect vacation that I did not know I needed. Being back in Singapore left me feeling a little lost.

My 3rd story walk-up apartment feels sterile and lifeless. Acrid smells from old oil spills rise from the hot paved streets in the sun, and traffic rumbles ceaselessly. Unlike the warm Balinese people, who seemed ever ready to share a smile and salutation, the stony Singaporeans just plod by me, too busy with too many thoughts about too many things. It didn’t help that I returned to an empty apartment. My husband is still gone on a business trip. After retrieving my chihuahua, Bushi, from the pet hotel, all he wants to do is snuggle in my lap. There is laundry to do, correspondence to catch up on, and errands to run. Everything about my daily life seems to exist as an antithesis of all that had been fulfilling on my vacation. How can there be so little of Ubud in Singapore?

Learning to let life slow down in the cut-throat urban jungle may be impossible, but it is necessary. Taking the time to care for the body every day through thoughtful eating and mindful exercise seems like a luxury, but nothing could be more basic and practical for a healthy life. Getting enough rest, relaxation, and loving attention from friends and family should not have to be pushed to the bottom of an ever lengthening list of priorities. Sadly, in the eyes of those with a limited view of success, these are natural tradeoffs and are non-negotiable.

I want to dare to live more on the Ubud side of life: to maintain a balance between using my body and mind, and rewarding them. I believe that yoga practice is a path toward this balance, and my retreat has left me with a resolve to learn more.

Enoshima Glows

Only one hour by train outside the Tokyo metropolis, just west and slightly south of Kamakura, is a place that time forgot. Across Sagami Bay, a golden sun sets behind blue mountains as the tombe cry and dive to catch fish trapped in the tides. Twilight casts a purple nimbus over the island, and the wind whispers in the trees along the cliffs. Couples linger on the paths in the lamplight and make their way toward stalls lit with paper lanterns for local treats and drinks before the journey home.

Website launch

Website Logo

This website allows me to share my photographs, publications, and reflections as I attend various conferences, seminars, and events. It will also catalogue my travels, community involvement, and interests with the hopes that synergies can be formed with a growing readership, and conversations can take place.

So, welcome to my website!