Crisis in Paradise of Southeast Asia

New article in The Diplomat, Southeast Asia: “The Next Crisis?”. Not surprisingly, as the major majo in ASEAN, Indonesia continues to play a pivotal role in the economy of the region. Malaysia, as the second in line, also have to work with Indonesia to ensure that the region does not crash and burn when Indonesia’s band-aid solutions to its currency issues run out.

Surprisingly, the author does not mention anything about Singapore and how the city-state can aid its neighbour in restructuring their economy. Perhaps it is still too sensitive in a region where intervention in domestic affairs is seen as taboo.


China-Japan Crisis Management



The Diplomat recently an article on the dispute between China and Japan by Michael D Swaine and Rachel Esplin Odell.

While Japan’s PM is gearing up to step more boldly into the territorial dispute against China, it is still hindered by its post WW2 constitution. US, its military ally, is also probably unwilling to encourage Japan to normalize military if it wishes to continuing courting China. That being said, Japan’s PM, Shinzo Abe, may still attempt to raise the ceiling for its military spending in hope to signal Japan’s firm stand on the matters.

China, on the other hand, while flexing its military muscle, is also unlikely to back off from the matter. While unlikely to be outright militarily aggressive to Japan, China’s robust economic growth means that its military might will only grow beyond Japan’s hope to catch up. China can afford to be cooperative while leaning a little on its military arm.

The trinity in this dispute is of course our global police, the USA. While its economy is fledgling and dependent on the production might of China, USA cannot afford not to look towards the east. USA must continue to play a balancing game between supporting its ally, Japan and not antagonizing the sleeping giant, China.

What is needed, according to the authors, is a means of resolving the tension. Mechanisms and Rules of Engagement are required between China and Japan to avoid escalating the situation. Both sides need to acknowledge the existence of a dispute and be willing to discuss the possibility of a compromise. Operationally, both sides must understand the other’s viewpoint and avoid escalating tensions based on misconception or misjudgement of capabilities and intent because of the fog of war.

Generally, I agree with the authors viewpoints on the dispute. However, based on my limited interactions with Chinese and Japanese naval officers, both sides are quite adamant in their rights to the islands. I paraphrase the words of a Chinese admiral at a security conference, “There is no dispute nor cause for worries about military escalation in the region. China is here to resolve any issues.” This is rather worrisome…

China’s soft power

A good article by the Diplomat on China’s soft power. I like the way the author, Trefor Moss, describes soft power. That it is simply, “being liked”, it is all in the mind and it must always be in context of the bilateral relationship of the two parties. China is not without its soft power, especially in Africa. Unfortunately, we tend to listen more to the bad images shown by the West rather than seeing what China is doing. At the end of it, soft power must be willing and sometimes there is simply no way to make the “cow drink the water”, even after you brought it to the river.

Three things I’ve learnt at Clubmed Bintin

Been a while since my last post as I was away with the family at Clubmed Bintan. While I had a relaxing and fun time there, I’ve learnt three things about Singapore and our way of life. Firstly, Singapore REALLY has no natural resources to speak of. Even when we want to find a place to go away and relax, most, if not all Singaporeans will go overseas. There is simply no space to speak of in Singapore. No natural wonders, natural sights nor natural anything to go and ease the mind. Even the ones that we had while we were still a young nation were sacrificed on the altar of economy prosperity and progress.

Secondly, our region is blessed with natural wonders, just not us. Our neighbors have wonderful sights and places. Just one hour’s ferry ride away from Singapore is a beautiful beach with palm trees and fine white sand. Our neighbors really don’t have to struggle much to make do. In my father’s words, “When all you have to do is to stretch out your arm to get a banana, you take life at a slower pace.”

Thirdly, even with our current man-made success, the typical Singaporean’s daily life is a struggle. A rats’ race among ourselves, among the newly arrivals on our land and against the world at large. With the constant struggle to keep up and the sense that if we stop, we fall behind, how are we ever going to be happy. Singapore prides itself with its night life and being a 24hr city. However, enjoyment does not equate to happiness. Happiness comes with contentment and an ease of mind.