Tag Archives: South China Sea

Column: ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘the real world’

Published on June 9, 2015.

THE hit HBO series is as real as fantasy gets. The world imagined by the novelist George R. R. Martin and translated into compelling television by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss is both celebrated and condemned for its controversial “realism”—conspiracies are hatched in brothels, money and beauty are traded as political capital, the well-meaning are put to death.

For a show that includes ice-treading zombies and fire-breathing dragons, “Game of Thrones” is widely seen as a brutally frank dramatization of life’s hard truths. The powerful and ambitious are Machiavellian in their scheming; the state is Orwellian in its dependence on spies and informers; life itself is Hobbesian: nasty, brutish, and (as in the story of the good, well-meaning Ned Stark) always at risk of being suddenly shortened.

Scholars of international politics have taken to the show. Leading journals such as Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy have mined the series (and sometimes the books on which the series is based) for lessons on international relations (IR) or political alliances or the nature of power itself. Continue reading

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Column: Shadow-boxing with China

Published on May 5, 2015.

EVEN IN Baku, Azerbaijan, China’s shadow looms large. At the ongoing annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the Asian Development Bank, held this year in this storied city of the Southern Caucasus, China’s ambitions are very much a topic of discussion.

Beijing’s new initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, serves as a focus for much of the talk. At the first news conference held by ADB president Takehiko Nakao, for instance, the main item in the agenda was the announcement of a new, creative arrangement that would significantly increase the multilateral development bank’s lending capacity.

But many, if not most of the questions raised at the conference, dealt with the AIIB and its relationship with the ADB. The day before the news conference, Nakao had met with Liqun Jin, a former ADB vice president now serving as secretary general of the AIIB’s “Multilateral Interim Secretariat.” At that meeting, the two agreed to collaborate. “ADB will cooperate and cofinance with AIIB on infrastructure financing across Asia by using our long experience and expertise in the region,” Nakao said after the meeting. Continue reading

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Column: A Chinese strategy: manipulating the record

Published on April 21, 2015.

ONE OF the leading scholars on the geopolitics of competing South China Sea claims is the French geographer Francois-Xavier Bonnet, a researcher with the French Institute for Research on Contemporary Southeast Asia or Irasec. The Friday before Holy Week, he read a provocative paper at the Southeast Asia Sea Conference, held at the Ateneo Law School in Makati City; I was not able to attend the forum, but he was kind enough to send me a copy of his paper.

It is a short but potent work of research, calling into question the “grand narrative” of the “archaeological campaigns” launched by Beijing in the 1970s. “Among the artifacts these expeditions found [in the Paracel islands] were porcelains from different periods, the remains of temples and several sovereignty markers,” Bonnet writes. “These markers were dated 1902, 1912 and 1921.” The campaigns served as the basis for extending the history of China’s “inspection tours” of the area, and thus of its rights to the Paracels, to 1902.

And then it gets really interesting. Allow me to quote from Bonnet at length:

“There is a simple reason why no scholar has been able to unearth any historical records of the 1902 expedition: it never happened. Instead evidence of a 1902 voyage was concocted at a much later date: 1937. Continue reading

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Column: Instructions in Singaporean pragmatism

Published on September 24, 2013.

I had a chance to join 14 other Asean journalists in a wide-ranging interview with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last week. ANC’s Coco Alcuaz, formerly of Bloomberg, has already written of Lee’s pragmatic approach to the territorial disputes between China and some Asean member-states.

It is worth repeating the most important quote from Lee. Asked by Siti Hajar of the Borneo Bulletin whether the territorial disputes between certain Asean states and China can be resolved sooner rather than later, he replied:

“It cannot be resolved. These are territorial disputes. I say it is mine, you say it is yours. Whose is it? So either I say sorry, I made a mistake, it is yours; or you must say sorry, you made a mistake, it is mine. And no government can say that. So therefore, I do not think that the overlapping claims can be cleared up. They will remain overlapping. But what you can do is manage the situation, avoid some escalation at sea, on the land or sea itself, and where possible, do joint development of the resources which are there, which I think is Brunei’s approach from what I can see.”
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Column: Can Manila influence Beijing?

As providence would have it, this is a good time to upload the following column, now that Senator Trillanes’ meddling in the issue is headline news. This tale of three papers was published on July 24, 2012.

It does not require any special access to realize that friends of China have already launched several attempts to try to moderate Malacañang’s position on South China Sea issues; we live, after all, in a famously porous polity. But the question is: Are there similar attempts, on Manila’s part, to influence the public agenda in China?

The paradox of the new China is that it is both a closed regime and an open system. Traditional readings of the Chinese political framework, Andrew Mertha writes in an important paper revisiting the concept of “fragmented authoritarianism,” neglect the reality that “although China remains authoritarian, it is nevertheless responsive to the increasingly diverse demands of Chinese society.” Continue reading

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Column: To China, with (tough) love

Written somewhat foolhardily in the middle of a seminar, and published on July 17, 2012. As it happens, this post is this blog’s 888th.

In the ongoing dispute with the new superpower over competing territorial claims, the Philippines finds itself between the devil and the South China Sea. No simple solution to the controversy appears on the horizon, and the country has recourse to only a few options.

But some options are better than others. I would like to make the case that, contrary to the usual speculative criticism, the Philippines has actually made the best of a bad situation. I remain worried that, in the end, and as a Chinese journalist I met last month on his way to New York argued persuasively, the current shape of the conflict would only strengthen the all-too-visible hand of the People’s Liberation Army. But what, really, can we do? The country’s options are limited. Continue reading

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