Archive for the ‘Regions’ Category


A new era in Myanmar

Written on November 13, 2015 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights

FOR once the headline of the Global New Light of Myanmar, the rag that churns out the paranoid delusions of Myanmar’s ruling generals, told the real story: “Dawn of a New Era”. Even before a final result is declared, it is plain that the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace-prize winner, has won by a landslide in Myanmar’s first free, but far from fair, election in 25 years.

The NLD seems likely to have won enough seats to secure a majority—even with a quarter of the parliamentary seats reserved for the army. That is a remarkable victory for Miss Suu Kyi, a vindication of her policy of compromise with the generals and a repudiation of decades of military rule (see article). One of Asia’s most isolated and brutal dictatorships may thus be setting a democratic example to an ever more autocratic neighbourhood: in recent years Thailand has suffered a military coup (again), China and Vietnam have been locking up more dissenters and bloggers than ever and Malaysia’s government has clung to power only through rigged elections.

Amid the euphoria though, there is a nagging fear that Myanmar’s generals will seek to frustrate the people’s will. The early signs are that they will not do so blatantly, as they did when they ignored Miss Suu Kyi’s last general-election success in 1990. But apart from their parliamentary block, the generals retain control of the army, police and key ministries as well as much of the civil service. The army-inspired constitution ensures that Miss Suu Kyi cannot become president. Read more…

Published on Nov. 13 in the Economist



Composite image of China's President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou

This weekend’s historic summit in Singapore between the presidents of China and Taiwan may have surprised many, but the sides first broached the subject about two years ago and the leaders had their legacies very much in mind.

For Chinese President Xi Jinping, the summit may not change the outcome of Taiwan’s presidential election in January which the island’s main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is widely expected to win, two sources with ties to the Chinese leadership said. Anti-China sentiment is rising in Taiwan.

But longer term, Xi hopes to cement his place in China’s pantheon of great leaders if he is able eventually to lure the self-ruled democratic island, which Beijing claims as its own, back to the fold, the sources said.

“Xi is not thinking about just the present. It’s long term,” one source told Reuters, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“If Xi could eventually create a framework for reunification, he would be as great as, if not greater than Deng Xiaoping,” added the source, referring to China’s late paramount leader who negotiated Hong Kong’s 1997 return to Chinese rule.

Read more at Reuters

Is the China Model Better Than Democracy?

Written on October 21, 2015 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights

Is the China Model Better Than Democracy?

On Oct. 15, Daniel A. Bell, the author of The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy, sat on a panel hosted by Asia Society’s China File Presents series. The event, co-hosted by the New York Review of Books, also included panelists Timothy Garton Ash, Zhang Taisu, Andrew Nathan, and others, who discussed with Bell the question his book addresses — does China have an identifiable political model, and if so, what is it? The following ChinaFile conversation includes excerpts, edited for clarity, of that discussion.

Daniel A. Bell, chair professor of the Schwarzman Scholars program at Tsinghua University in Beijing and director of the Berggruen Philosophy and Culture Center:

For much of Chinese imperial history, public officials were selected first by examination and then by performance evaluations at lower levels of government. The fascinating thing is that this system has been reestablished in form over the past 30 years in China — highly imperfectly, as we’ll see. When this idea hit me, I began writing op-eds, and I was severely criticized by my liberal friends and my Confucian friends who asked, “What’s happened to this guy? He’s become a staunch defender of the government.” But that’s not what I mean.

I call my method contextual political theory: the idea that a political theorist should aim to make coherent and rationally defensible the leading political ideals of a society. I happen to find myself in China, so what are the leading political ideals of Chinese society? I label it “vertical democratic meritocracy,” the ideal that has informed political reform in China over the past 30 years. But there is still a huge gap between the ideal and the practice. This ideal is good, at least reasonably good, and can and should continue to inspire political reform in China in the foreseeable future.

What is this idea of “vertical democratic meritocracy”? This is the idea that democracy works well at lower levels of government. This is a view that Western political theorists have argued, starting with Aristotle, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. If you have a small political community the issues are fairly easy to understand, and you know the moral character of the leaders you’re choosing, thus making a strong case for democracy at the lower level. But, in a huge country, as you go up the political chain of command, the issues become more complex and mistakes become more costly. Read more…


By Daniel A. Bell, Timothy Garton Ash, Andrew J. Nathan, Taisu Zhang; October 19, 2015;





Saturday’s bombing of a peace rally in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, shows the horrific extent to which Turkey’s politics and Syria’s war are merging. The rally had been organized by leftist activists to call for peace between the Turkish government and the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which for years has been agitating for greater independence for Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said that the Islamic State is the top suspect.

If the Islamic State is indeed responsible, they will have targeted the rally in order to exacerbate the already violent conflict between the Kurds and the state. The bombing could easily have just that effect, coming at a time when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s authoritarian leader, has been critically weakened by protests and corruption accusations, and is turning to nationalism to maintain his grip on power.

The Islamic State has already used this strategy of playing on division in the region to great success — exploiting existing fault lines to generate conflicts that empower radicals and disenfranchise moderates. Attacking minorities who are already distrusted by the majority draws the minority further into conflict, and can spark a majoritarian crackdown. This dynamic has been playing out in Iraq, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, and now it has come to Turkey: the bombers are exploiting and deepening the division between Turks and Kurds in the same way that terrorists have exploited Sunni-Shia divisions in other parts of the Middle East.

The immediate roots of this moment lie in September 2014, when Islamic State forces laid siege to the Kurdish town of Kobani, just across the Turkish border in Syria. As the Islamic State pounded the city, it became an international symbol of dogged Kurdish resistance. Meanwhile, Turkey’s tanks and artillery lay silent just across the border, even as hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the area and Turkish citizens gathered on the hills to watch the carnage.

The opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) — which is largely Kurdish but has increasingly been seeking support from disaffected Turks — accused the Turkish government of allowing the Islamic State to crush Kobani in order to eliminate the Kurdish militias fighting there. Under grassroots pressure to respond to the government’s refusal to intervene, Kurdish politicians called for demonstrations, and more than 30 people died in riots across Turkey’s southeast. Read more…

Published on Oct. 12 by Nate S


FOR four years, American policy toward Syria has been built on a wish and a prayer: a wish that President Bashar al-Assad would leave and a prayer that the “moderate” Syrian opposition would be more than it is. Now Russia has stepped up its game, and the response from the American government and many commentators seems to be to wish harder and pray more, while condemning Russia for intruding where it supposedly doesn’t belong.

As much as many Americans and Europeans may abhor what President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia did in Crimea and Ukraine, Moscow’s intervention in Syria may offer the first glimmer of hope for ending the quagmire there. Mr. Putin is right that only stable governance and security will allow Syrian refugees to return home.

Rather than pursue decisive victory, America must seek to end this war with a less dramatic, less satisfying settlement.

The United States should have two goals in Syria. First, bring order to those parts of the country that the Islamic State does not control. Second, strive to build a coalition of forces that can contain the Islamic State and eventually replace it. Russia’s “intrusion” could offer a chance to achieve both.

This means setting aside American prejudices and heated political rhetoric. Russia isn’t an intruder in Syria; it has been involved there for decades, just as America has been involved throughout the Middle East for more than 60 years. Mr. Assad is Russia’s protégé, and Syria is an operations base for the Russian military. The United States has its own, significantly larger set of friends and operating facilities in the region.

At present, both powers have an interest in regional stability. Violent jihadist movements pose more of a threat to Russia than to America; many Russians have already died at the hands of terrorists, and thousands of Russian-based jihadists have flocked to the Islamic State with the intent to return home eventually. Read more…

Published in on 13 October, 2015

Gordon Adams is a professor emeritus of international relations at American University. Stephen M. Walt is a professor of international affairs at Harvard.

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