Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Watch Out! By Erick San Juan

Watch Out! By Erick San Juan

When is a military exercise tend to be a tool for provocation that might lead to a regional conflict in the process? Take for example this year’s Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat) to be held from June 27 to July 2 by the United States (US) and Philippine navies. It’s a five year planned exercise from 2011 to 2015, and because of the tensions brewing in the contested areas in the South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea) recently, such naval exercise might create a situation that can lead to something else if not handled with utmost caution.

The mere fact that this year’s CARAT will be held some 60 nautical miles from the disputed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) using live fire where Chinese ships are stationed, the said exercise’s timing is still suspect, whether we like it or not.

And to make matters worst, Danny Russel who will be the next assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (replacing Kurt Campbell) said that: “I certainly will do everything in my power to try to lower the temperature, push claimants, including China, into a diplomatic track and continue to warn them that the region in which China will flourish is a region of law, a region of order and a region of respect for neighbors, not one in which there is space for coercion and bullying.”

Is there a planned scenario that we are not aware of which can put the whole country back into the enemy’s crosshairs? Was the meeting in California, USA by the two leaders, Obama and Xi have something to do with the strong words coming from the American diplomat? Just asking.

Although we noticed the rhetoric (or doublespeak) of the good diplomat when he said that “the United States supports the rise of China that is stable, prosperous and abides by international rules and norms. He said the United States seeks ‘practical cooperation’ that benefits both countries and the region.” (From the Associated Press)

It is quite obvious that somehow Uncle Sam needed the help of Beijing to reign in North Korea about the development of its nuclear weapons which is considered to be a threat, not just in the region but particularly against the US.

So, which is which?

If there will be any confrontation at all during the military naval exercise near the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal with the Chinese stationed there, due to miscalculation or ‘mere stupidity’, will the ‘big brother’ stand by its ally’s side? Or we will be too confident to start the confrontation because we know that the ‘big brother’ is there to defend us?

Now is the time for a reality check confronting the leaders of this country, as well as its citizenry, like I have been saying for years already that “walang tutulong sa mga Pilipino kungdi kapwa Pilipino”.

We must be ever vigilant and always rally behind our country and defend our sovereignty, we can never tell how far our so-called ally will help us and defend our sovereignty against a perceived enemy if worse comes to worst.

There is always a possibility that an invented war will occur in the region due to the economic factor that the G2 is experiencing at the moment coupled with the possible unrest among its citizenry. Let us help our leaders realize this and pray harder that such scenario will not materialize.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

China Dream or Nightmare?

China Dream or Nightmare?
By Erick San Juan

"We must make persistent efforts, press ahead with indomitable will, continue to push forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and strive to achieve the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. To realize the Chinese road, we must spread the Chinese spirit, which combines the spirit of the nation with patriotism as the core and the spirit of the time with reform and innovation as the core.”  - Chinese President Xi Jinping

This is how President Xi Jinping described his China Dream and he made his first reference to it in November 2012, when he was promoted to the top Communist Party post.

The propaganda storm began in earnest after he became president in 2013. He used the term numerous times in his first address to the nation as head of state on March 17, 2013. (From the Economist online 5/4/2013)

There is nothing wrong to have a dream especially if it’s for the good of one’s country. But it is very important to have some sort of a roadmap to achieve such dream or goal. In the case of China dream, some observers believed that Mr. Xi has been short on specifics and on how to put the dream into practice.

“Others are not so optimistic about the China Dream. They see it as a propaganda campaign by the ruling Communist Party to win public affection. It certainly comes as problems mount for China's leaders.

The economy is slowing and more university graduates are now struggling to find jobs. There is also growing anger over official corruption and pollution.” (Ibid)

Sounds familiar? Any government leader dreaming of a better life for its countrymen will be frustrated if there will be no effort in addressing the perennial problems confronting the daily lives of the populace.

Some analysts are quick to notice the decline in China’s economy, and where else does this significant decline will go but the collapse of a dream that in the process may turn into a nightmare.

From the Wealth Daily’s Special Report (June 12, 2013 | Opinion page) stated that - China has the world’s largest population and second largest economy. In the last few years, it’s seen an outstanding economic growth rate, averaging 9 to 10%. The fact that China is now the world’s largest trading country makes this pretty significant.

But in the second half of 2012, this fell short… Growth was 7.6%, a three-year low.

Another red flag appeared towards the end of the summer when the Purchasing Managers’ Index, which measures manufacturing activity, fell to a nine-month low — dropping from 53.1 to 52.0. The 50-point mark separates expansion from contraction, and though China’s number was still above that line, it was hovering dangerously close.

One thing after another has had analysts turning a suspicious eye to China, a quickly-developing nation that, until now, had inspiring economic growth. And one after another, these analysts are all asking the same question: Is China’s economy on the brink of decline?

One factor that has contributed to its decline could be the “government corruption has been the link behind all of the slowing sectors in China. High-ranking officials and their self-interest have perpetuated the economic bubbles and pushed many sectors to the current point of instability. And it’s these officials that will continue to push them past the point of no return.

Past Chinese leaders did not address this perennial problem of corruption that it snowballed into something really big that is pushing the Chinese economy down the slope. Scandal after scandal has been the talk of the town, so to speak.

One of the biggest scandals that lit up the news recently was that of former Chinese politician Bo Xilai’s wife, Gu Kailai, who was tried and convicted for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. The murder took place after an alleged dispute between Heywood and Gu Kailai, during which Heywood was said to have threatened the woman’s son.

But this trial, which repeatedly made international headlines, is just the tip of the iceberg for Chinese government corruption…

Other instances are much less public, lack hard evidence, and are therefore all the more treacherous to the economy.

In March the son of senior party official Ling Jihua was killed in a car accident. It wasn’t the tragic death that struck suspicion, but the circumstances surrounding the event: Ling Jihua’s son was driving a Ferrari when he crashed, a car worth $270,000. His father, meanwhile, makes a reported annual salary of $15,000. The car was worth 18x his father’s annual pay. (Ibid)

There are other cases of corruption among the high-ranking Chinese officials that tops the list of the Chinese populace long list of grievances. Other problems that besets China are - strong production, weak demand, housing bubble, bad loans, precarious balance, among others.

Li Zuojun, deputy director at the Development Research Center of the State Council, wrote in a paper detailing the specific ways China must overcome its economic challenges:

    “If the government uses a superb macro-control technique, lets the air out of the bubbles little by little without triggering an economic crisis or social unrest, and timely cultivates new economic growth and new competitive advantages so that businesses are restructured and upgraded…the bubbles would not burst. However, in 2013 there will be unprecedented pressure, which will warrant a high degree of vigilance and attention.

But if government corruption continues to overshadow this “vigilance and attention” to economic growth, China’s situation will get worse… to the point that thirty years of growth will implode.” (Ibid)

Such situation is not farfetched and could it be that the China Dream that President Xi Jinping wanted to happen will become a nightmare? Or the China Dream is the prelude to hard times ahead?

 Let's hope that the pattern of world wars will not happen this time....

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

NFU Policy Rhetoric by Erick San Juan

NFU Policy Rhetoric by Erick San Juan

Over the weekend, the world has witnessed the meeting of the leaders of G2 – US and China in California. But the real crucial issues like the growing tensions in the South and East China Sea were not leaked to the public if both big powers talked about it.

China’s leader Xi Jinping told the media that he and Obama were meeting “to chart the future of China-US relations and draw a blueprint for this relationship.” Then he added: “The vast Pacific Ocean has enough space for two large countries like the United States and China.”( Translation- US wants to pivot in Asia through South China Sea. We can do better in the Pacific.)
This is how Xi views the region as a vast area that the G2 could divide between themselves and to hell with the other sovereign countries occupying the region. And, it seems that 'big brother’ deliberately forgotten to discuss the nagging issue on ‘freedom of navigation’ in the SCS that covers Washington’s interest that is why they ‘returned’ to the Asia-Pacific region in a rebalancing act in the first place.

The mere fact that it was and will be Uncle Sam’s interest in the region that will prevail in the long run, allied countries should be wary in dealing with the big brother.

We never learned from history, our past leaders did everything to satisfy the whims of Uncle Sam and yet we were shortchanged in the process. Even to date, our war veterans are still in the wait and see mode as to when they will get their pensions as WW2 veterans.

Presently, the whole country is like a virtual US military base (doormat) in the region and with the growing tension in the SCS and the continuous ‘bullying’ of China, we are like a big magnet attracting the enemy of USA. When in fact it is Uncle Sam’s interest which is at stake here and not ours. So why do we have to kowtow every time to their whims up to the point that we are putting the whole populace in danger?

It is about time that the present leadership must rethink and re-assess our relationship with the US. We just cannot afford to be their cannon fodder anymore because the stakes and risks are getting high as the drums of war are getting louder in the region. The possibility of our country (or Vietnam) to be the epicenter of the regional conflict is not farfetched that is why we have to be always vigilant.

As Washington is being indirectly threatened and reminded by the release of China’s 8th defense white paper as what it stated – “More interesting, while also somewhat conventional, is the description of the external security environment. The white paper condemns “some country” that has strengthened its military alliances in the Asia Pacific region, “expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation there tenser. The United States is not identified by name, but it is the only country that fits the bill. It is not clear which is more revealing of Chinese thinking: the description of U.S. policy or the reluctance to name Washington.” (Editorial - Window on China’s defense policy, The Japan Times online, May 21, 2013)

And with too much rhetoric (and doublespeak) that dominated the so-called G2 summit, the bottom line is still - the fear of countries in the Asia-Pacific region (and the world) which is the first strike nuclear policy that might be employed by either of the G2.

As if reading our mind, China’s white paper did not mention the “no first use” (NFU) of nuclear weapons, the mainstay of the country’s strategic policies.

In the discussion of the paper, foreign security specialists ask whether this omission signals a shift in Chinese policy; officialdom in Beijing adamantly denied any change, noting that the white paper is written thematically and the NFU policy did not fit this structure.

But there is a debate in China about nuclear doctrine. The white paper could do a long way toward its intended purpose by acknowledging that fact and identifying the contours of that discussion. That would shed light onto Chinese strategic thinking and provide the transparency that can then provide a foundation for discussions with other nations and build the mutual trust that China professes to cherish.” (Ibid)

Having this in mind, Uncle Sam will not allow any country that challenges its supremacy to be caught flat-footed when this thing happen. Washington always wants to be the first in everything even to the detriment of humanity. God forbid.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Man-made Crisis by Design

Man-made Crisis by Design
Erick San Juan

This year’s IISS Asia Security Summit: Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) in Singapore which I attended could be summed up in one word – ......... Plenty of it especially by the G2 - China and the US.

Actually, Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) is an inter-governmental security forum held annually by an independent think tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) which is attended by defense ministers, permanent heads of ministries and military chiefs of 28 Asia-Pacific states. The forum gets its name from the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore where it has been held since 2002.

The summit serves to cultivate a sense of community among the most important policymakers in the defense and security community in the region. Government delegations have made the best out of the meeting by holding bilateral meetings with other delegations on the sidelines of the conference. While primarily an inter-governmental meeting, the summit is also attended by legislators, academic experts, distinguished journalists and business delegates.

But as what the expert, John Chipman, the Director General and Chief Executive of the IISS said "Every year seems to produce an awful lot of tension in the Asia-Pacific."

"Certainly in the last four or five years, we have been confronted by North Korean missile tests or launches and all sorts of controversy over the South China Sea - the East China Sea this year has been particularly busy," he notes.

"So the Shangri-La Dialogue offers an opportunity," he argues, "to pause the button for a moment and have all the defense ministers of the region and those who have a stake in Asia-Pacific security to discuss what the problems are and how they might begin to address them more effectively. (Source: Jonathan Marcus BBC defense correspondent)

But how can the defense ministers tackle the issues and problems when they are hiding under the veil of rhetoric?  Or maybe such doublespeak is intended to cover up the real scenario that the G2 (US and China) wanted to happen.

In truth, not everything that happens in this world is by accident. Most of them are crisis by design and programmed scenarios. Just like the South China Sea flashpoints where the Philippines, China and Vietnam could be the epicenter of conflict.

The mere fact that as a country we are striving to modernize our armed forces (with museum-grade war materiel) in the midst of the growing tension in the region by engaging with more provocations than diplomacy in territorial disputes with China, and recently with Taiwan.

Unfortunately we are helpless and just could not depend on the ‘big brother’ for assistance if ever there will be an attack from the outside.

Although some pundits say that Vietnam and China could spark the conflict in the region.  Actually the most recent one was two months ago when Vietnam accused a Chinese vessel of firing on their fishing boat near the Paracel islands, setting it alight. But China’s foreign ministry said that it was  a ‘legitimate’ action.

Confrontations like this will take place in a regular basis in the contested areas in the SCS among the claimants and China if there will be no clear discussions on the matter. And, a regional conflict is in the offing between China and Vietnam as what I have written in the Customsweek several years ago (in the 90's) because this is a long time studied scenario that I learned from the Heritage Foundation.

And like any crisis by design, the question will always be – who will benefit?

Remember that two important ‘meetings’ will happen this month – one, between US President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China which will take place in an ‘informal manner’ in California (June 7 and 8) and two, the 61st annual Bilderberg conference that will take place in The Grove Hotel, United Kingdom (June 6 to 9).

Is it possible that  the planned SCS regional war where the epicenter could be between China and Vietnam will serve as a leverage for the Obama – Xi meeting or with the Bilderberg conference? Just asking.