A weekly compilation of events in Asia.
A weekly compilation of events in Asia.
By Ai-Shan Lu
Wukan—a small fishing village in Guangdong Province along the South China Sea—has been the darling of international media ever since an angry throng of villagers smashed several village office windows and even attacked the local police station on September 21, 2011. Following a five month long standoff between protestors and local police, on February 1, provincial authorities permitted Wukan to hold an election and select members to form an election committee. The eleven-member committee will organize and supervise the upcoming village chief election, scheduled for March 1. While the election committee has been the object of recent focus, a closer look at the political jockeying that has taken place between the local and provincial and local and central leadership may prove more instructive of the incident’s wider implications. So what can the “Wukan effect” tell us about the relationship between local, provincial and central officials?
In September 2011, villagers in Wukan first took to the streets to protest the low compensation for farmland requisition and then they established “Wukan Village Temporary Council Committee”, which was constituted to negotiate with the Lufeng municipal government. Scuffles broke out between local police and demonstrators, and the conflict quickly spiraled out of control when one of the board members of the temporary council committee, Xue Jinbo, died in custody owing to heart disease. A breakthrough came about when Guangdong’s Party Secretary Wang Yang, instead of brutally suppressing the strikes, allowed villagers to hold elections. People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) praised his moral authority. Secretary Wang, who is generally viewed as relatively more liberal among China’s political cast, described the Wukan Incident as both “accidental and inevitable.” Presumably, what Wang meant is that the incident was “inevitable” because China’s economic and social development left many problems unaddressed, particularly in the rural areas and “accidental” in the sense that the government’s social and economic policies were intended to reach urban and rural areas; coastal and inland peoples, and bring prosperity to all of China. Wang believed that the government should act “responsibly” [ed. emphasis added] and that the administration must deal with such conflicts directly. Consequently, he established a provincial-level working group under the leadership of Guangdong’s Vice-party Secretary Zhu Mingkuo. According to Wang, “the provincial working group in Wukan will not only ‘settle’ the incident, but it will also provide reference to improve village-level administrations in Guangdong.”
In sharp contrast to Wang’s handling of the dispute, local government officials in Shanwei and Lufeng first labeled the incident as a “riot incited by foreign subversives.” In line with this thinking, the Financial Times quoted an unnamed senior Chinese leader stating: “it would be better for a clear directive from the central authorities to over-react rather than to fall short.” According to a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, other provincial officials complained that Mr. Wang set a terrible precedent since other people in protests could demand a similar response.
Yet, most Chinese news reports extolled the peaceful resolution of the incident. Perhaps inspired by what happened in Wukan, villagers in Guangzhou (capital city of Guangdong) and Wenzhou in Zhejiang reportedly demonstrated against their respective villages’ party secretaries and accused them of corruption. A “Wukan Effect” appears to be materializing. Optimists argue that Wukan provides a democratic model for China because it allows villagers to organize local elections for new village leadership in a process that is not entirely controlled by the CCP. More importantly, the Wukan model could serve as a useful mechanism for the peaceful resolution of the growing number of disputes between local officials and citizens in rural areas. Interestingly, there are in fact very few pieces of news about village protests reported by Chinese official media and nor did provincial party secretaries make any comments.
During a visit to a village in Guangzhou on February 4, China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao proclaimed that “farmers’ rights must be protected,” and in response to widespread dissatisfaction with local officials Wen emphasized the importance of “maintaining direct elections at the village-level”. Prime Minister Wen’s statements were widely seen as an indication of high-level support for Wang’s practice in Wukan. So does the government’s handling of the Wukan incident indicate that the CCP’s top echelon is becoming more open-minded toward democracy? Although protests against village officials occurred in several rural villages following the Wukan incident, none successfully appealed for direct elections to replace incumbent village chiefs (as in Wukan). So Wukan appears to be more of an exception rather than the rule thus far. In fact, most uprisings were suppressed by local governments except any provincial intervention. Yet as China continues to economically develop, the concomitant growing political pressure on the political leadership raises the interesting question of whether the central government will grant provincial governments permission to handle protests against village officials’ corruption by holding direct and impartial elections.
Image: Ballot boxes in Wukan
Source: China Youth Daily
A weekly compilation of events in Asia.
By Randall Schriver and Isabella Mroczkowski
In June of last year President Obama announced that he would withdraw the 33,000 surge troops from Afghanistan by the end of this summer, setting in motion a series of timelines underscored by Secretary Panetta’s recent statement that the United States military would seek to end combat operations at some point next year. The pace and the scope of this withdrawal and end to the U.S. combat role has been a subject of intense debate. In contrast, experts across the ideological spectrum have agreed that developing the capacity, capability and competence of Afghan security forces is key for a successful transition and sustainable peace in Afghanistan.
Therefore, it is especially troubling to hear that the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A), which is the military command responsible for training and advising Afghan security forces, may be targeted for deep cuts beginning in Fiscal Year 2013. By all accounts, the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Police (ANP) are not prepared to meet internal security challenges alone. Such a decision, if put into effect, would by all appearances be counter-intuitive.
As outlined in a recent Project 2049 Report entitled The Police Challenge: Advancing Afghan National Police Training , the mission has been difficult, the challenges numerous and the results mixed. However, the NATO training command, working with its Afghan partners, has demonstrated an ability to adapt and move forward making slow and steady progress in recent years. Given pressing budget demands, we must be careful not to be penny-wise and pound-foolish by unnecessarily putting these gains at risk.
In addition to providing an overview of the existing training methodologies and identifying areas of concern, the Project 2049 report contained a series of specific recommendations that highlighted the need to not only maintain current activities, but in fact to intensify and increase the overall training effort. In tracking training activities since the report was issued, the working group has noted that the command has tackled quantitative issues such as low recruitment numbers, but more importantly has also honed in on qualitative challenges related to institutional reforms and human capital.
While real progress has been made, there are still an insufficient number of mentors and trainers to meet the training requirements. In interviews with the Project 2049 Working Group, government officials consistently cited the presence of qualified mentors as a key factor in improving individual and unit level performance. Force or funding reductions in the training program would require eliminating existing mentor positions and further exacerbate the challenge of developing professional, capable and respected security forces.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in his January 31, 2012 testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence regarding the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community noted: “ISAF partnering and mentoring have begun to show signs of sustainable progress at the tactical and ministerial levels; however, corruption as well as poor leadership and management will threaten Afghan National Security Force’s operational effectiveness.”
As we debate the pace and shape of the drawdown we should agree that a robust training program of the Afghan forces must continue for several years beyond the currently discussed timelines. Furthermore, NATO will need to provide the necessary manpower and financial resources to sustain these activities.Well-trained and trusted security forces will reaffirm the legitimacy of the Afghan government and provide for the security and stability Afghanistan will need long after the combat role of international forces draws to a close.
Image: ANP instructors stand alongside NATO Training Mission
A weekly compilation of events in Asia.
By Isabella Mroczkowski
The United States is shifting its focus from the Atlantic across to the Pacific. However, if an Arctic century is on the horizon, then China is at the forefront of it. While Washington enhances its relationships across the Asia-Pacific basin, Beijing is busy engaging Arctic Ocean coastal states en masse. The Middle Kingdom is apparently interested in the commercial viability of new shipping lanes and developing the resources that lie underneath and along the Arctic seabed. Ostensibly to achieve its objectives, China is engaging the region at an unprecedented pace. Beijing’s comprehensive engagement of Arctic states demonstrates that China’s ambition is not just to be a Pacific power, but a global one. Questions that remain are: what is Beijing’s intention in the Arctic, and by extension what type of global power will China be?
China has been in the Arctic since the early 1990s,but only recently began seeking to enhance its engagement there as a permanent observer in the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses issues such as the management of resources, climate change, and Arctic environment maintenance.The Council has eight voting member states—Canada, United States, Russia, Denmark (Faroe Islands and Greenland), Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and Finland—all of which share a border with the Arctic Ocean. There are six permanent observer states—all of which are European—and multiple ad-hoc observer members, among them: Japan, South Korea, and China. While permanent observer status would grant China unrestricted access to Arctic Council meetings (as an ad-hoc member it must apply for admission each time), under the current system, China’s accession would serve more as a symbolic gesture than one that grants China tangible authority.
One example that demonstrates a Chinese approach to the Arctic is Chinese tycoon Huang Nubo’s bid to purchase 300 sq km of land in northeast Iceland (roughly .3% of the country) for an eco-resort.While his efforts are ‘allegedly’ unaffiliated with the Chinese government, the deal would grant China a significant foothold in the Arctic. The land in question is strategically located near one of Iceland’s largest glacial rivers and several potential deepwater ports.As Arctic ice recedes this area is destined to become an important port center on a new maritime transport route between East and West. The government of Iceland ultimately rejected Mr. Nubo’s resort proposal, but not first without stirring a heated debate between Icelanders about China’s growing influence.
In contrast, Copenhagen and Beijing elevated their relationship to that of a “strategic partnership” in 2008 to include cooperation in technology, science, and trade. Denmark made the tactical decision to prioritize its economic relationship with China while turning a blind eye to issues such as human rights.To be sure, this burgeoning bilateral relationship holds enormous economic benefits, not only for Denmark, but also for Greenland, which remains under Denmark’s jurisdiction.
Greenland is endowed with substantial deposits of minerals including rare earths, uranium, iron ore, lead, zinc, petroleum, and gemstones. Currently 80 percent of Greenland is covered by an ice sheet. However rising temperatures have exposed numerous mineral belts. One such area, the Kvanefjeld deposit, is estimated to produce 20 percent of the global rare earth supply, making it the world's second-largest deposit of rare earths.With limited fiscal resources, Greenland depends on outside investment to develop its mineral reserves. While the Australian-based Greenland Minerals and Energy Limited has been operating in Greenland since 2007, new entities seek to tap into Greenland’s emerging minerals industry. China’s Sichuan Xinye Mining Investment Co. recently held preliminary discussions on investing in an iron ore deposit site and Jiangxi Union Mining has explored for copper in central Greenland.While the two entities are in the first stages of negotiation, a cooperative agreement is on the horizon.
Unlike the transitory eco-resort proposal and emerging investments in Greenland’s mineral reserves, China’s Yellow River Research Center in Ny- Ålesund, Norway represents a different type of Chinese footprint in the Arctic. For almost a decade, the station has been collecting environmental, oceanic, and scientific data for research primarily on climate change. However, while Norway hosts China’s Yellow River research station, it has not bought into China’s Arctic courtship. Ever since the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, diplomatic and trade ties have stagnated. Today, Norway remains one of the most vocal Arctic Council members against Chinese membership on the Council.
Another important player in China’s future position in the Arctic is Canada. In 2013, Canada will take over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council and thus set the Council’s agenda for the following two years—including which members to admit. Thus far, China – Canada relations appear to be on an upswing. In early February, PetroChina China’s largest oil and gas producer and distributor, purchased a 20 percent stake in Royal Dutch Shell’s Groundbirch shale-gas asset in Canada, granting it vast access to Arctic fossil fuels. While Groundbirch will continue to supply customers in North America, in the future, (perhaps as Arctic ice recedes and sea lanes open up) PetroChina seeks to export the fuel to Asia in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG).China’s value to Canada has increased, especially with the U.S. – Canada Keystone stall. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has reaffirmed his intentions to pursue potential energy partners in Asia and notably, energy has been the focal point in Prime Minister Harper’s February visit to China.
China’s approach to the Arctic is comprehensive. While Beijing continues to seek a role in the region’s governance with membership in the Arctic Council, it is also engaging with Arctic stakeholders bilaterally on a gamut of issues that includes: trade, culture, investment, tourism, and technology. This begs the questions, what are Chinese intentions in the Arctic and what does Beijing’s approach suggest about the strategy toward the Arctic?
In the preliminary analysis, Chinese interests and strategy in the Arctic appear at odds. Ruan Zongze, a research fellow with the China Institute for International Studies—a Ministry of Foreign Affairs think tank—asserts that as a country outside the Arctic, China has no “special interests” in the Arctic.
On the other hand, retired Rear PLA Navy Admiral Yin Zhuo believes that the Arctic belongs to all people and that China must have a share in the region’s resources.While China’s intentions remain at odds, that fact remains: Arctic ice cover is vanishing with astonishing speed; ice melt will open up valuable shipping lanes, possibilities for hydrocarbon extraction, and economic opportunities ranging from fishing to tourism. Meanwhile, Beijing’s ambitious plans for three Arctic expeditions and a second polar ice-breaker ship by 2015,confirm that China is in the Arctic to stay. The economic giant’s reach into the Arctic suggests that China is not just a Pacific Power but a global one.
Image 1: China's Arctic research expedition arrives at North Pole, Xinhua
Image 2: Chinese View of Arctic Sea Routes, Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration
Isabella Mroczkowski is a Research Assistant at the Project 2049 Institute.
A weekly compilation of events in Asia.