Asian Media this week, 24 September

Sep 24, 2022
The phrase
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In Asian media this week, Biden makes the Taiwan Strait more dangerous. Plus: Myanmar people flee tattered economy; political role key to Xi’s anti-corruption drive; regional grouping with global heft; AUKUS and longing for Western domination; Korea looks beyond K-pop’s success

Has Joe Biden, purposely or otherwise, increased the risk of war over Taiwan?

In a TV interview this week Biden gave the strongest signal he was breaking with the policy of strategic ambiguity over America’s willingness to defend Taiwan, saying the US would defend Taiwan with armed forces in the ground.

Singapore’s The Straits Times ran a news analysis piece under the heading: US shifts towards ‘strategic certainty’ would make for a more dangerous Taiwan Strait.

The article, by China Correspondent Danson Cheong, said it was becoming increasingly clear to Beijing the policy of strategic ambiguity had come to an end.

Cheong quoted Renmin University of China scholar Professor Jin Canrong, as saying Biden’s statement that the US would defend Taiwan was not a slip of the tongue.

“Biden has said this many times,” Professor Jin said. “It is how he thinks in his heart.”

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had warned Beijing might use its anti-secession law to force reunification with Taiwan. The law can be invoked to prevent Taiwan independence.

Experienced China reporter Shi Jiangtao said it was rare for Chinese officials to mention it.

Shi said Wang had raised the law in a New York meeting Henry Kissinger.

Wang had said: “There is an old saying in China – it is better to lose a thousand troops than an inch of land.

“This is the will and determination of the Chinese people. If the Anti-Secession Law is violated, China will take resolute action.”

Global Times, an official Chinese news outlet, said this was not the first time Biden had talked about defending Taiwan. And the White House had rushed to clarify his remarks.

“One mistake may be an accident,” Global Times said. “But if similar mistakes are repeated, it will surely become routinised and even normal.”

Myanmar people flee collapsing economy

At 5 o’clock on a recent morning, several hundred people were queuing outside Yangon’s central passport office. The line had begun to form at 4am. People from all walks of life are fleeing Myanmar as the post-coup economy falls apart.

Unemployment, a plummeting kyat (the local currency) and massive inflation are signs of the collapse.

Frontier Myanmar, a political and business news website, reports the exodus began after the military violently suppressed protests against last year’s coup. Now inflation is forcing more people to leave, in search of work in other countries, especially neighbouring Thailand.

“The cost of many basic goods, including rice, medicines and edible oils has ballooned in recent months on the back of a raft of disastrous policy choices by the junta-controlled Central Bank of Myanmar,” Frontier says.

The kyat has plunged from a pre-coup rate of K1,300-1,400 against the US dollar to a black-market price of about K4,000 this month.

Frontier says some people are trying to bypass the queues by paying up to K300,000 to brokers who use their relationships with passport office employees to fast track their way through the often-lengthy application processes.

“A quick exit from Myanmar is what most are here for,” Frontier says.

Xi’s inexorable inquisition

When western journalists report on China’s anti-corruption drive, they focus on the huge sums of money embezzled, the massive bribes and the fragrant abuses of power.

But the eye-catching amounts are only part of a much bigger picture – the enforcement of party and political discipline.

Wang Xiangwei, the top China commentator for the South China Morning Post, says in a regular column that since coming to power 10 years ago President Xi Jinping has used his ruthless anti-corruption drive and a relentless ideological campaign to crush rivals and strengthen control over all levels of society.

Wang says the Communist Party’s chief anti-corruption agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, has investigated and disciplined almost five million officials, both high-ranking and grass-roots – tigers and flies, in party parlance.

“The commission now gives more weight to political discipline and political protocols – usually a reference to whether officials heed and obey the party leadership,” Wang says.

“Almost all the officials currently being investigated … were first and foremost accused of violating political discipline and political protocols.

“These violations are often expressed in such stock phrases as ‘speaking ill of the party’s policies’, ‘abandoning ideals and convictions’, ‘being untruthful and disloyal to the party’ and ‘resisting investigation’.”

Regional grouping with global heft

With Russia on the back foot in its Ukraine invasion, reporting of the recent Samarkand summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation focused on the meetings between Putin, China’s Xi Jinping and Indian PM Narendra Modi.

Enthusiasm for Putin’s sorry adventure was clearly waning.

But The Japan Times pointed out that the fascination with personalities obscured an important phenomenon: the rise of the SCO and significance for an evolving world order.

Contributor Brad Glosserman, deputy director of the Centre for Rule-Making Strategies at Tokyo’s Tama University, said in an op-ed that the organisation had been formed in 1996 to combat “three isms” – terrorism, extremism and separatism.

It now had nine members: China, India, Pakistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The organisation had been seen as a security-focused body, a bulwark against US encroachment in the region but it now has economic and cultural projects.

Glosserman quoted La Trobe University academic Nick Bisley as saying the SCO should now be seen as “an illiberal club of increasing global significance.”

Writing in India’s The Statesman newspaper, commentator Harsha Kakar said the group had 40 per cent of the world’s population and produced a quarter of the world’s GDP.

The SCO was set up to boost Chinese influence in Central Asia and to keep the US at bay in a region China and Russia considered their backyard.

AUKUS represents longing for Western domination

AUKUS was unveiled a year ago, to a lukewarm reception from countries to our north, based on concerns about the proliferation of nuclear powers in the region.

Indonesia and Malaysia have most firmly expressed their disquiet.

Australian commentator Daryl Guppy says AUKUS aims to upset the power balance in the region.

But the significance of Australia’s aim to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, is an open question, Guppy says in a South China Morning Post op-ed. The first submarines will not be delivered until 2040.

The importance of AUKUS, he says, lies in its longing for an order that has been rejected in the region.

“AUKUS makes no secret of its desire to counter Chinese influence in the ASEAN region,” Guppy says. “[It] is a stalking horse for those who look back fondly at Western domination of the region.

“it is the danger inherent in this kind of thinking that poses the real threat to the region and to the development of a rules-based solution to instability.”

Korea looks beyond K-pop’s success

The success of South Korea’s series Squid Games – which this month won six Emmy awards – shows global pop culture is not the exclusive domain of the West, says an editorial in The Jakarta Post.

Korea has invested heavily in promoting traditional and popular cultural products that are now taking the world by storm, the article says.

The campaign to promote the Korean Wave – known as hallyu in Chinese – a soft-power branding strategy through entertainment. “K-pop culture has become an integral part of the economy,” it says.

And yet, it is not enough. Writing in The Korea Herald, academic Kim Seong-kon, thinks out loud about what it would take for Korea to become an internationally respected country.

Kim, emeritus professor of English at Seoul National University, says: “You can easily find a few rich countries but you have to go quite far before you find an internationally esteemed country.”

Becoming a respectable country is more difficult than being a rich country, he says.

He summarises what he thinks is needed: “In order to be a pivotal global leader we should earn respect from the international community first. We should have a dignified attitude, a sense of appreciation and a foreigner-friendly mindset.”

Korea might take a big step in this direction in November, when it plans to ask ASEAN for Common Strategic Partnership.

Veteran regional observer Kavi Chongkittavorn writes in his Bangkok Post column that this is a bold and timely move.

“[It comes] amid ASEAN’s desire to expand strategic ties with selective dialogue partners,” he says. “It also showed Seoul’s confidence toward ASEAN.”

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