The week kicked off with Aaron Connelly writing about the power transition in Myanmar, something last attempted in 1990:
Few people in Myanmar think that the military will seek to prevent a transfer of power along the lines prescribed in the constitution, a document they wrote to protect their interests even in the event of an NLD landslide like the one that occurred in November. But no one in the NLD wants to say anything that would either give the military cause to reconsider or, perhaps more critically, that would attract the ire of their leader.
Fellow Myanmar expert Andrew Selth outlined the history of the institutional rivalry between the army and police:
Such problems are much less likely in Myanmar. The Tatmadaw is still the country's most powerful institution, it commands the lion's share of the budget and, under the 2008 constitution, the Minister of Home Affairs is always a serving army officer. Also, the expansion of the MPF is being achieved in part through transfers from the armed forces. The chief of police and about 10% of MPF officers are former military personnel.
That said, the MPF is trying to develop its own ethos and esprit de corps. Police officers are being encouraged to see themselves as separate from the armed forces, with different responsibilities requiring different methods. If the force is able to develop independently, and receives reasonable budget allocations, then serious tensions between the Tatmadaw and MPF can be avoided. However, any obvious intrusion into police affairs by members of the armed forces could cause tensions.
Leon Berkelmans struck the opposite tone from Steven Grenville this week on Japan's negative interest rates:
The biggest problem with negative rates is political. People hate the idea, and they are not shy of coming forward with their views. That was made very clear to me in responses triggered by a piece I wrote over a year ago. Unfortunately the comments section is no longer up, but there were some strongly worded statements. One of my favourites was: 'This is an example of why one shouldn't take drugs before publishing articles.'
Indonesia's de-radicalisation plans need an update, particularly for those in detention, says Cameron Sumpter:
Yet research has shown processes of radicalisation are wide-ranging and involve social and emotional forces that are often antecedent to the adoption of an ideological framework, which in many cases is only partially understood anyway.
Factors such as the pursuit of status or personal significance, the comraderie of belonging to an underground network, the desire for revenge or adventure, and the adolescent development of identity have all been identified as recurring themes. Ideology may facilitate these processes, but it's not necessarily the source of motivation for initial involvement.
Peter Cai looked at Asia's oldest political party, the KMT, after its electoral defeat in Taiwan:
In 2014, I interviewed Sean Chen, a senior adviser to outgoing President Ma Ying-Jeou and a former premier, who said the Party must localise in Taiwan for its own survival but at the same time, it must also aim for a higher goal such as serving a broader Chinese community. His answer illustrates the KMT's dilemma, caught between its Chinese roots and rising Taiwanese consciousness.
Japan unveiled the prototype of its next-generation stealth fighter, but this is a significant accomplishment, says Richard Bitzinger:
If successful, the ADT-X/F-3 could shift the centre of gravity in the fighter jet industry from the North Atlantic closer to the Asia-Pacific. If Japan decided to market this fighter to overseas customers — increasingly likely, as Tokyo is quietly watering down its near-total arms export ban — then the F-3 could seriously challenge the West's predominance in this highly lucrative business sector. That, however, depends on the cosmic alignment of a great many technological, economic and political factors, a 'harmonic convergence' that is hardly assured. Japan, despite all its advantages, will continue to struggle in building and maintaining a state-of-the-art aerospace industry.
Michael Raska wrote on the recent announcements from Beijing regarding reforms to the PLA:
Ultimately, the key question is this: will the reforms in the PLA's organisational force structure will be reflected in its operational conduct, particularly in the PLA's capabilities to exploit cyber-kinetic strategic interactions in its regional power projection, as well as responses in potential crises and security flashpoints in East Asia?
On one hand, China's political and military elites believe that a new wave of the global Revolution in Military Affairsis gathering pace, led principally by the US, and China must therefore accelerate the pace of its military development. Internally, however, the reforms are designed primarily to close the PLA's inter-service rivalries, interoperability gaps and the dominance of the ground forces.
The Zika Virus won't be the next Ebola crisis, says Allira Attwill. The international community has learned some lessons:
The second failure was unique to the region. Peter Piot, the co-discoverer of Ebola, and Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust, have noted that WHO's Regional Office in Africa (WHO-AFRO), which should be the WHO's strongest regional office, given the breadth and depth of health challenges in the region, suffers from longstanding problems around capacity, and because of its location (Brazzaville), it struggles to attract the quantity and quality of talent and leadership it needs.
The final (and possibly most palpable) failure occurred at the international level.
Nick Bisley thinks Australia should carefully consider whether or not to conduct its own freedom of navigation exercise in the South China Sea:
Undertaking a FONOP is fraught with risk, both in narrow operational terms as well as in the broader sense that it would increase the strategic temperature in the region. A FONOP informed by ill-thought-out notions of pushing back on China and lacking a larger vision of the complex realities of Asia's changing international environment would only contribute to growing military tension in the region. Alongside careful planning about a possible military exercise, Canberra should also be undertaking extensive diplomatic efforts to work with other non-claimant states, both US allies and non-allies, to lower the temperature in the South China Sea and to begin a conversation about the difficult steps we need to take to ensure Asia enjoys a regional order that is not dominated a militarised Sino-American rivalry.
Also this week Euan Graham talked about Australian defence engagement in the Pacific:
It is in this context that Canberra needs to re-evaluate its defence engagement in the region, not simply as a capacity-building adjunct to development assistance, but in support of strategic Australia's interests. The Pacific Maritime Security Program, incorporating the Pacific Patrol Boat (PPB) initiative, is the most important engagement instrument of all, currently operating across 12 countries: Papua New Guinea (PNG), Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Samoa, Vanuatu, Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands and the Cook Islands. Prospects for Timor Leste joining the program are delicately poised. Right now this appears to be hostage to bilateral frictions in a further reflection of Canberra's wavering influence in the neighbourhood.
Several attempts to indict Malaysia's Prime Minister on corruption have failed, writes James Chin:
According to The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The Economist and the like, Najib is 'disastrous’ for Malaysia. The Western media cannot comprehend how Najib can stay in power when it is ‘clear’ that ‘corruption’ has taken place, with huge and unexplained sums of money ending up in Najib’s personal bank account in Malaysia. The story is even more compelling when you take into account the dramatic sacking of the deputy prime minister, another senior minister from Sabah, and the attorney-general. The first two were known to be critics of Najib’s role in 1MDB. The attorney-general was replaced when he tried to charge Najib for corruption.
Is there a 'great game' occurring in Southeast Asia over railways? Julian Snelder:
So battalions of bulldozers will cross the Laotian border soon to lay the key link in the Pan-Asia grid. Via Kunming, Beijing is offering its neighbours the gift of connection into its mighty domestic rail system. Francis Fukuyama marvels at this projection of the 'China model', which must necessarily be lubricated with a great deal of concessionary money. To paraphrase Archimedes, give me a financial lever long enough and I can cover the entire world with railways. Friendly ASEAN states are happy to access China's construction excellence and its fantastically cheap money. Spurning such an opportunity would be an act of geopolitical independence, defiance even. In Asia, not all railroads lead to Beijing, but most do.
Crispin Rovere reported on the results from Iowa:
For Republicans, a Cruz win in Iowa was essential for any candidate not named Trump, and Rubio’s impressive showing guarantees a drawn out primary race. But, despite the Rubio surprise, the Iowa result aligns closely with expectations, solidifying Trump’s position as the GOP frontrunner and likely nominee.
On the Democrat side, Clinton’s aura of inevitability was punctured but she held her position. The closeness of the Iowa race suggests it is by no means over for Sanders, and he will enjoy a honeymoon in media coverage. Yet Sanders must now achieve a truly dominating victory in New Hampshire if he’s to be competitive in South Carolina. Clinton is still the frontrunner.
Vanuata may get a new start from its snap election last week, says Anna Naupa:
Only 18 of the 52 MPs elected are incumbents, and the election results attest to an emerging new political profile for MPs, with a number of reform-minded former senior public servants set to take their seats in the new parliament. This presents an opportunity for a more robust national policy debate at the highest level. With several of these ‘new’ politicians elected under an independent or small party banner, the direction of reforms and allegiances will not be known until parliament sits on 11 February. Training of the new MPs will need to be a priority for the Vanuatu's 11th legislature.
Several European countries are proposing different plans to address refugee migration to the continent, something that may lead to more turmoil, writes Daniel Woker:
Sweden, often viewed as a paragon of an open and humanitarian country, has just announced it will transport about half of the 150, 000 refugees it received last year back to where they came from. 'Back to where?' one is tempted to ask, given African countries routinely refuse to issue papers to refugees in Europe, let alone allowing them to return. Sweden will no doubt find that massive financial assistance, with generous sums allocated to grease the acceptation machinery, will be required if such desperate measures to resettle denied migrants and thus prevent xenophobic backlash at home are to succeed.
Secretary of State John Kerry had a largely unsuccessful visit to Beijing last week. Kerry Brown:
Kerry's visit shows that ambiguity about Chinese views of America’s role in the region remains as strong as ever. When it suits China, it continues to want the US. But Beijing also resents Washington, accepts it in some areas, and rejects it in others.
The new model of major-power relations Xi has talked about since 2014 so far remains largely rhetorical, with little new real diplomatic content. On the South China Sea, on North Korea, and on Taiwan and cross-Strait relations, there has been no radical break with the past under Xi. Views of the US remain much as they were under his predecessors: as a power half envied and half disliked. Kerry’s visit did little if anything to shift that ambiguity.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Stephen Brookes.