By Kishore Mahbubani
Editor’s note: Kishore Mahbubani is Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on China. This essay is adapted from WEF’s new report, Outlook on the Global Agenda. The views expressed are his own.
The explosion of Asia’s middle class, which was named this week by the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Councils as one of the ten most significant trends for 2014, is stunning. The size of this group currently stands at 500 million and will mushroom to 1.75 billion by 2020 – more than a threefold increase in just seven years. The world has never seen anything like this before; it’s probably one of the biggest seismic shifts in history. It’s little wonder that people all across Asia expect a bright future for their children – according to Pew data, a massive 82 percent of Chinese respondents expect today’s children to grow up to be better off financially than their parents.
The reason these Asian societies are now succeeding in this way is because they have finally begun to understand, absorb and implement important reforms: free-market economics; mastery of science and technology; a culture of pragmatism; meritocracy; a culture of peace; the rule of law; plus, of course, education.
By Mong Palatino, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mong Palatino is a Philippines-based writer and former lawmaker. The views expressed are his own.
The images of the devastation wrought by super typhoon Haiyan as it hit the Philippines the past two days have shocked people across the globe. But be prepared for even more heartbreaking images and stories of the storm’s aftermath once reporters and rescuers are finally able to reach remote coastal towns here like Samar and Leyte Provinces.
Haiyan, the strongest typhoon this year, caused a tsunami-like storm surge that almost completely wiped out facilities in Leyte Province, killing thousands in the process. Indeed, early police reports are already suggesting the number of dead could top 10,000.
The scenes in Tacloban City alone are heart-wrenching. Dead bodies are everywhere, dazed survivors are walking the streets, and parents are desperately looking for food and water. Some sought refuge in the airport, but this was also destroyed during the storm. Evacuation centers and public markets have been flooded. Even the mayor of Tacloban reportedly had to be rescued from his home. Power lines are down and could take a month to be restored. It seems particularly cruel that the already powerless here literally now don’t have power.
By James Pach, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: James Pach is the Tokyo-based editor of The Diplomat, an online magazine focusing on the Asia-Pacific. The views expressed are his own.
“Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” That Churchillian quote is a useful one to trot out as Washington fumbles in its uniquely Washingtonian way towards what those of us in the rest of the free world (yes...we’re still here) would consider common sense.
It’s also quite patronizing. With his stature and his American mother, Churchill could probably get away with it. For everyone else though, it presupposes that political dysfunction only happens in America. And for all the Schadenfreude-tinged harrumphing in foreign capitals, that’s clearly not true.
Take Japan, with seven prime ministers in seven years, public debt climbing past 230 percent of GDP, and a sizeable chunk of one prefecture uninhabitable for the foreseeable future. Too easy? Then try China, where despite runaway, credit-fueled growth, an estimated 500 mass protests take place each day as the population grapples with rampant corruption, choking pollution, food safety scandals and a diabetes epidemic. Or look at Australia, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s star performer. After six years of Labor government, Canberra has earned a reputation as the world’s coup capital. America’s post-racial moment may not have made it out of Grant Park, but Australia’s post-misogyny moment never happened at all. Europe? Euro.
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By Global Public Square staff
Last week’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit saw the presidents of China, Mexico, Russia and many others in Bali, Indonesia. In the video, tucked away on the far right, you see John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State. And where is President Obama? Well, he was stuck in Washington, of course, dealing with the government shutdown and threats of default. Obama missed not only APEC, but also ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations summit, as well as planned visits to Malaysia and the Philippines.
For Asians, the symbolism was clear. The United States was struggling to get its house in order. And perhaps to highlight a contrast, China was present in full force, putting on an exhibition of power and diplomacy. President Xi Jinping attended the APEC meeting and then made special trips to Malaysia and Indonesia. The Premier, Li Keqiang, attended the ASEAN meeting and traveled to Thailand.
Consider the deals that were struck last week. President Xi promised to triple his country's trade with Malaysia within four years. In Indonesia, he promised tens of billions of dollars in investment. And he courted Australia's new prime minister, Tony Abbott, to whom he promised more trade and more cooperation in technology and energy.
By Jim Della-Giacoma, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jim Della-Giacoma is the Asia Program Director of the International Crisis Group. Its report ‘The Dark Side of Transition: Violence against Muslims in Myanmar’ was published on October 1. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Myanmar’s transition has been remarkable, but it has also been tarnished by violence against its Muslim community. Indeed, these deadly attacks pose a threat to Myanmar’s nascent democracy, as well as its image regionally and internationally.
Visiting Rakhine state, where violence took place this past week, President Thein Sein said: “It is important not to have more riots while we are working very hard to recover the losses we had because of previous incidents. The Rakhine state government needs to cooperate with the people to avoid more conflict by learning from the lessons of previous riots.”
More needs to be done. Improving police capacity with better training and equipment is one important element, and outside expertise and assistance can accelerate the necessary changes.
But the answer to resolving this difficult issue can also be found in each and every town in Myanmar. The country’s Muslim community is diverse and found in all cities, most towns and many villages. In addition, Myanmar’s Muslims have long been intimately entwined with the country’s commercial life, and there is a high and lingering financial cost to violence when part of the commercial district of a town is destroyed. For example, attacks on the Muslim community left Meiktila's markets depleted, kept visitors away and cut access to the informal financial system.
By Jason Miks
GPS digital producer Jason Miks recently sat down with Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson to talk about his decision to launch the Arctic Circle, the new great game in the Arctic, and why the region matters for U.S. national security.
What’s behind the growing international interest in the Arctic?
First of all, the Arctic is America’s backyard. Just by looking at a map you can see Alaska, the northern part of Canada, Greenland – the region is of crucial strategic, economic and political interest to the United States.
In the Cold War, you didn’t have to explain to U.S. audiences why this backyard was important, because you had the so-called Soviet threat of missiles, submarines. So you had a vast network of military installations throughout the Arctic region. But with the end of the Cold War, the eight Arctic countries, including the U.S., succeeded in creating through the Arctic Council a venue for different organizations and institutions, a very constructive network to discuss how to evolve an area that during the Cold War was one of the most militarized areas into an area of constructive cooperation.
This is important because the Arctic region as a whole is one of the world’s richest in terms of natural resources – minerals, rare metals, clean energy, gas, hydro. With the melting of the Arctic sea ice, it is opening up for at least three or four months of the year a new global sea route which, to some extent, will replace the Suez Canal as a formidable linkage between Asia on the one hand and the U.S. and Europe on the other.
If this isn’t enough for America to be interested, the wake-up call should be that this neighborhood is now becoming crowded, because countries like China, Japan, India, South Korea, Germany, France, the United Kingdom have all in one way or another entered the Arctic and declared their intention of becoming involved in this new economic, political and scientific playing field.
By Phelim Kine, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Phelim Kine is deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch and was formerly a foreign correspondent based in Indonesia. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
My preparation for a news conference in February launching a Human Rights Watch report on Indonesia's rising religious intolerance included an emergency escape drill. We weren't concerned about fire. Instead, we had been warned that an Islamist militant group might try to disrupt our event in Jakarta.
So we made sure we could exit the premises quickly if the group showed up. One of our speakers, a member of the Ahmadiyah religious community who has needed extensive facial reconstruction surgery following an attack by Islamists in western Java two years earlier, needed no convincing. Thankfully, the group stayed away.
Fast forward to August 22, and Indonesia's religious affairs minister, Suryadharma Ali, had an encounter with one of the country's most violent Islamist organizations, the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, or FPI). But rather than confiscating the FPI’s weaponry-of-choice – machetes and spears – or serving its members with arrest warrants, Ali opted to make the keynote speech at the FPI's annual congress in Jakarta.
By Joseph Singh, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Joseph Singh is a research assistant at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) North America. The views expressed are his own.
Amid emerging chaos in Egypt, daily bloodshed in Syria and uncertainty over how Iran’s new president will handle nuclear negotiations with the West, the increasingly complex security environment in the Middle East has complicated U.S. efforts to undertake the fabled pivot to Asia. At the same time, fiscal woes dictate that the Pentagon prepare to do more with less, even in an environment where U.S. adversaries are finding increasingly cheap means of challenging the conventional instruments of American power projection.
These realities make it all the more perplexing that many defense analysts have dubbed the Pentagon’s new operational concept – called “AirSea Battle” – a plan to fight a war with China. In fact, AirSea Battle may very well be more about the Middle East than the Pacific.
According to the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, a publicly released report by the U.S. Defense Department analyzing military objectives and potential threats, AirSea Battle seeks to “address how air and naval forces will integrate capabilities across all operational domains – air, sea, land, space, and cyberspace – to counter growing challenges to U.S. freedom of action.” To be sure, these challenges to U.S. freedom of action are certainly most pronounced in China. But they’re present in the Middle East, too.
By Jeffrey W. Hornung, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jeffrey W. Hornung is an associate professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu and an Adjunct Fellow with the Office of the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The views expressed in this article are his alone.
The anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, which falls today, has increased the focus on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with many wondering how he will commemorate the event. Such attention is not new. Since becoming premier in December, the dominate narrative is that Abe, a nationalist who is jerking Japan dangerously to the right, is pursuing an agenda that will result in relaxed rules on Japan’s military, thereby destroying the pacifist principles embedded in its constitution and angering those countries Japan invaded or colonized during World War II. Now that Abe’s party and his allies control both houses of parliament, Abe is free to reveal his true self and unleash this agenda.
But this is a simplistic caricature of Abe and his policy agenda.
Whether it is Abe’s desire to revise and reinterpret Japan’s constitution or make changes to Japan’s military, his actions are consistently interpreted as leading Japan away from its postwar pacifism. In fact, while Abe is pursuing several significant changes in Japan, the truth of his agenda is often distorted or completely lost by the nationalist narrative. While Abe’s personal views on Japan’s role in World War II are questionable, the policies he is pursuing do not lead to the militaristic slippery slope his critics fear.
By Howard Cohen
CNN Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson was granted rare access to North Korea last month to attend the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War. GPS intern Howard Cohen spoke with Watson about what he saw.
What kinds of restrictions were placed on journalists during your five day visit to North Korea?
The restrictions were onerous. We weren’t allowed to leave our hotel unless we were on a government organized bus trip. Our three-man crew was assigned two very polite minders who accompanied us everywhere outside of the hotel and made no secret about the fact that they had veto rights if we were to take pictures of something that they didn’t approve of. So they would basically tell us what we could and could not take pictures of.
Was there anything that you saw that really surprised you?
I was surprised by the size and choreography of the military parades and government organized spectacles that we saw. I was also blown away by the scale of the cult of personality of the dynasty that have ruled North Korea for 60 years, the size of the monuments dedicated to the grandfather and the father that ruled the country, and the amount of iconography that was everywhere that we visited. I was also amazed by the spectacles of devotion for the current leader, the grandson of the founder of the country, Kim Jong Un. Just the explosions of cheers at the moment he steps out into the public arena – the devotion that comes from the crowd – I’ve not quite seen anything on that scale before. Then again, I’ve never visited the Korean Peninsula.
By Rupert Abbott, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Rupert Abbott is Amnesty International’s researcher on Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The views expressed are his own.
The scenes in Phnom Penh last week were astonishing. Hundreds of thousands of people, including many young people, welcomed opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who had just returned to Cambodia after four years effectively in exile. Not to be outdone, the very next day, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) staged a huge youth rally and concert in Phnom Penh for more than 10,000 supporters. Amid the election fever that has gripped Cambodia ahead of the national polls on Sunday, one thing is clear – people seem less afraid than ever to voice their opinion.
Anyone in the capital or provincial centers will have seen activists and supporters of the main political parties campaigning peacefully. And no one can have missed the “moto-rallies,” in which hundreds of young people ride around the streets on their motorcycles, loudly promoting their parties and policies. The atmosphere has often been electric, and generally peaceful.
Yet this eagerness to speak out and openly call for “change” may seem surprising, given that Cambodia’s government has not generally looked kindly on critics.
By Scott Flipse and Nguyen Dinh Thang, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Scott Flipse is deputy director for policy at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Nguyen Dinh Thang is executive director of Boat People SOS, a Vietnamese-American community organizing association. The views expressed are their own.
Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang visits the White House on Thursday, and when he does, President Barack Obama should take the opportunity to deliver a clear message: If Vietnam wants expanded trade and security cooperation, then Hanoi will have to demonstrate concrete and substantial improvements in human rights. Prioritizing these rights may prompt some grumbling, but will be overwhelmingly welcomed by the Vietnamese people, the large majority of whom are pro-American and want more freedom.
There is a recent precedent for this approach. In Burma, the administration prioritized human rights improvements as a condition for improved relations. Indeed, given Burma’s recent openness to reform, Vietnam has now been left with the worst human rights record in the Association of Southeast Asian Nation region.
By setting clear human rights benchmarks for Vietnam in exchange for new trade and security benefits from the administration, the U.S. can achieve similar results in Vietnam. In fact, such an approach worked for Vietnam nearly a decade ago, particularly in the arena of freedom of religion.