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The latest article is now up at Brooks Foreign Policy Review, here.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), founded 42 years ago, was created to provide a framework to advance regional stability in Southeast Asia at a time when the withdrawal of colonial powers had created a vacuum. This placed the newly independent states of the region in danger of succumbing to ethnic strife and communist insurgencies. Since the conclusion of the Cold War, ASEAN has embarked on a series of free trade initiatives, linking it to some of the Asian-Pacific regions most dynamic economies.

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Article is also up at Brooks Foreign Policy Review, here.

In 2001, Former Singaporean Ambassador to the United Nations, Kishore Mahbubani asked a simple question, which was also the title of his book, “Can Asians Think?” Mr. Mahbubani sought to challenge, what he perceived as, Western paternalism. He believes that Asians do not need indefinite guidance by the Western world, because Asians are capable of independent thought, and just because these thoughts may differ from the West does not mean they are the result of defective thinking. A befitting question for the coming decade is, “Can Sub-Saharan Africans think?” For many Westerners it would seem the answer is, “No”, at least as far as Africa’s relationship with China.

In 2005, the Western media began to express “concern” with the increasing Chinese presence in Sub-Sahara Africa (Africa). During this period, many foreign policy observers began to promote the idea that China is plotting to take over Africa in some neo-colonialist attempt to gain unlimited access to natural resources. For example, Karin Kortmann, a German parliamentary state secretary stated in November of 2006, “our African partners really have to watch out that they will not be facing a new process of colonization” (Cheng 2007). The same year, Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, Jack Straw, made similar allegations “Most of what China has been doing in Africa today is what we did in Africa 150 years ago” (Stevenson 2006). This Sinophobic boilerplate is hyperbole, but the narrative suggests that the average African is impotent and their leaders are all iniquitous or ineffectual.

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This is too cute.
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Receptionists at the Sekumiya Hotel in the city of Obama in Fukui prefecture
© AFP Shaun Tandon

Obama, Japan, roots for accidental namesake

OBAMA, Japan (AFP) – Obama, Japan, is rooting for candidate Obama, hoping that if he becomes the US president he will put this ancient fishing town of 32,000 people firmly on the tourist map and, just maybe, choose it for an international summit.

Supporters in Obama — which means “small shore” in Japanese — have held parties to watch election results, put up posters wishing the senator luck and plan a special batch of the town’s “manju” sweets bearing his likeness.

“At first we were more low-key as Hillary Clinton looked to be ahead, but now we see he is getting more popular,” Obama Mayor Toshio Murakami said.

“I give him an 80 percent chance of becoming president,” the 75-year-old said with a proud grin.

Murakami sent a letter last year to Obama, enclosing a set of lacquer chopsticks, a famous product of this town on the Sea of Japan (East Sea) in Fukui prefecture’s Wakasa region.

“I will present you the chopsticks of Wakasa paint and I am glad if you use it habitually,” Murakami said in the English-language letter. “I wish you the best of health and success.”

Murakami noted that Barack Obama’s birthday, August 4, happens to be “Chopsticks Day” in the city.


The manager and recptionist of the Sekumiya Hotel in the city of Obama
© AFP Shaun Tandon

Obama, who is also a hero in his father’s native Kenya, has been gaining in a neck-and-neck race with Clinton, in part by winning over voters in states that rarely back members of their Democratic party.

Murakami is now preparing another package for the candidate that will include a good-luck charm from the local Obama Shrine.

“For the first letter I found his address on the Internet, so I don’t know if he got it,” Murakami said. “But this time I asked the (US) embassy for his exact address, so I’m sure he’ll get it.”

Lest cynics find the city’s efforts naive, it was Obama himself who first drew attention to the connection.

Obama, speaking to Japan‘s TBS network in December 2006, said that when he flew once to Tokyo, an officer stamping his passport told him of the town.

“He looked up and said, ‘I’m from Obama,'” the senator said.

A professor saw the footage and contacted the mayor, who insists that his support for Obama goes beyond just his name.

“It seems to me that President Bush isn’t aggressively addressing global warming, but Obama would. And I like how he opposed the Iraq war,” he said.

Murakami also hoped a President Obama would sign a peace treaty with North Korea. It is no small issue in Obama, one of the seaside towns where agents from the communist state kidnapped Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, setting off a long row between the countries.

The election is being closely followed by many in 1,500-year-old Obama, a port nestled by snowy hills that in ancient times supplied food to the emperor when he lived in Kyoto some 75 kilometres (40 miles) to the south.

“When you look in Obama’s eyes and hear his voice, he’s very impressive,” said resident Rieko Tanaka.

“Hillary is a bit old-fashioned and she’s the wife of Bill Clinton, so I think a new person should lead the USA,” she said.

Tomoyuki Ueda, 40, a company worker dining at a restaurant serving the town’s celebrated mackerel, said it would be healthy for the United States to elect its first African-American president.

“I think both Obama and Hillary are qualified, but if Obama becomes president he could correct problems of racial discrimination,” he said.

Seiji Fujihara, a head of the local tourism board, said he has only met a black person once, but believed Obama’s election would make the United States “more equal” on racial issues.

Fujihara started a club for self-styled Obama supporters in the city and plans “I love Obama” T-shirts.

“We know we can’t vote. But if we send out a message, we can help push him to victory,” he said.

©AFP

It has been a long time since I’ve blogged about Sudan.  Most folks who read this blog probably know, China (and Russia) are often blamed by the West for much of what has happened in Darfur. People say that the government of Sudan could not arm the Janjaweed (government covert-sponsored militias), if they were not getting weapons and revenues from oil sales. Much of the West believes that China and Russia should use their clout to pressure Sudan into stopping the violence in Darfur. I’m not sure about Russia, but I know that China has cooled to Sudan’s government somewhat. They have even sent peacekeepers. This is interesting because both China and Russia have long held a policy of non-interference. The reason being that both nations do questionable things in their nations, especially in regard to minority groups. They do not want to set a international precedent of interference in domestic issues by international bodies due to humanitarian concerns. Its seems that China has softened its stance somewhat.
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Sudan welcomes Chinese peacekeepers

By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU, Associated Press WriterFri Feb 1, 3:01 PM ET

Their clocks are set on Beijing time, they use state-of-the-art equipment and — most of all — they are welcome by the Sudanese government. In just about everything, the Chinese peacekeeping contingent in Darfur is strikingly different from the rest of the U.N. mission here.

The 140 Chinese engineers and troops deployed in Darfur were among the first reinforcements sent by the United Nations, which took over peacekeeping in the western Sudanese region in January. The Sudanese government quickly approved the Chinese contingent, even as it vetoed contributions from other countries because they were not African — including a Scandinavian engineering corps.

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I wrote a few times about the changing family dynamic in Japan and the rise of the woman worker. Despite Japan’s shrinking and aging population the article makes clear the crime rate is low, unemployment is very low for a developed nation (less than 4%) and the country is still quite middle class. It does not sound like a crisis, it sounds like Japan is going the way of some less dynamic and mature European countries. It is becoming what I like to call a “museum country”, it is stagnating.

So what can Japan do? Further deregulate and import more foreigners? That might be a long term solution, but I’m not sure the social cost outweigh the benefits for most Japanese people.

I believe one of the key problems in Japan is how decisions are made. Japanese people, since the Late Tokogawa Period (and likely before) have be very high on consensus. They do not tend to like strong independent leaders making controversial and difficult decisions. They do not like this in CEOs and they especially do not tend to like this in Prime Ministers, therefore these positions are historically weak. Some of the issues that plague Japan need a strong leader, but due to the way the political and economic establishment has been historically structured this individual or “new generation” of leaders is unlikely to manifest.

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https://i0.wp.com/www.pawelpilarczyk.com/pictures/1m18.jpg

For Japan, a Long, Slow Slide

Declines in Productivity, Population Combining to Stifle Economic Growth
By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 3, 2008; A17

TOKYO — As the United States frets noisily about a recession, Japan is quietly enduring a far more fundamental economic slide, one that seems irreversible.

This country, which got rich quick in a postwar miracle of manufacturing and alarmed Americans by buying up baubles such as Rockefeller Center, is steadily slipping backward as a major economic force.

Fifteen years ago, Japan ranked fourth among the world’s countries in gross domestic product per capita. It now ranks 20th. In 1994, its share of the world’s economy peaked at 18 percent; in 2006, the number was below 10 percent.

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This is an interesting article about the role of age and fame in modern Japanese politics.

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Celebrity rises to power in Osaka
By Purnendra Jain

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KYOTO – While celebrities-turned-politicians in Japan are nothing new (and prone to disgrace), an outspoken 38-year-old lawyer and TV advice show host recently elected as Osaka prefecture’s governor is raising hopes even beyond his electoral base.

Toru Hashimoto’s landslide victory this week with more than 1.8 million votes thoroughly trounced rival Sadatoshi Kumagai, who received a little less than 1 million votes. When Hashimoto takes office in early February after the four-year term of incumbent Fusae Ota ends, he will be the youngest of Japan’s 47 governors.

He also largely owes his success to female and young unaffiliated voters who frequently watch his TV shows where he discusses legal options for people with marital and financial issues.

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Africa: Africans Stuck With EU Deals – Europe attempting to screw Africa economically again. Wow, big shock.

Ghana 2008: Who Benefits from the $ One Billion ACN Merchandise Sales? – The spending boom in Ghana with the African Cup at its epicenter benefits China the most? Benin Mwangi thinks so and I have to agree. It is an interesting that this trade boom is being lead by African women who are outsourcing production to Asia! That is just amazing, in a bad way. Then again they may have no choice due to Ghana’s poor infrastructure it might not be possible to manufacture the amount of product they need faster and cheaper than it is to import it.

Ma ‘never intended’ to hide green card – Apparently the new big scandal in Taiwan. I suppose if I was voting for a president to lead my nation and he was a permanent resident in another nation that would disturb me. I would think he was not completely loyal or was looking for a back door to exist quickly if things started to fall apart. Not good Ma Shensheng.

Permanent mechanism to close urban-rural gap – More ideas on that harmonious society that the CCP has been talking about since the the 17th Party Congress. As I mentioned before, the Chinese government is in a race against time to secure the future stability of China. This article focuses on investments in rural infrastructure as an attempt to improve the economic condition of the hinterland.

Ordinary citizens seeking a place at the decision-making table in China – This is a very interesting article about a grassroots political movement. The Chinese government response was interesting. It usually happens this way, if they can’t suppress the movement they negotiate. The problem is every time this happens they attempt to clamp down more to prevent this type of movement from every getting off the ground. The article seems to suggest it is a “democratic movement”, but I do not think so. These people were just trying to protect their capital investment.

Ethnic violence spreads in Kenya, with no sign of respite –  I’m not sure what to say about this now.  The two opposing sides met and came to no conclusion.  The solution is obvious.  Have a new election with serious international monitoring, but Kibaki likely thinks he will lose so will not go that route.  He figured possession is 9/10 of the law and he just needs to wait it out…while his countrymen continue to kill each other.

Stock markets see another ‘black Monday’ – I wonder how many Chinese Billionaires are there now? From what I know most of them are rich off the stock market and for some reason centered around Wenzhou.

Japanese sushi lovers shrug despite high tuna mercury levels – This is quite odd to me.  Japanese people, IMO, are quite anal about freshness and purity of food.  Tuna is a key stable of the Japanese diet and the dismissive response to mercury levels is quite odd.  I am going to consult with my wife over this later.

Military balance tilting toward China – An interesting article on the military balance between China and Taiwan.

Rice Rebukes Bush Envoy Who Criticized Policy on North Korea – Jay Lefkowitz, President Bush’s special envoy on North Korean human rights said the current Bush Admin policy will not solve the nuclear issue in North Korea before Bush leaves office. Well, he is right, that is obvious to someone of the meanest intelligences.

Roadblocks on the Great Asian Highway – Interesting article about overcoming infrastructural barriers between Thailand, Laos, and China to create more efficient trade; and some immediate negative externalities for the local Laotian people.

Corruption-fighting Vietnamese granny gets award – Transparency International awards Vietnamese grandma for fighting the good fight for 25 years against death threats from local government officials. This woman is 150 cm (4’11” inch) tall and 40 kilograms (88 lbs) and has more “balls” than 99% of the politicians in Washington D.C., unfortunately for us Americans.

China closes 44,000 pornographic websites in 2007 – The Chinese government is not fond of “adult entertainment”. This is part of the increasingly common crackdown on various facets of the sex industry in China. I’m sure shutting down 44,000 websites has kept the thought police quite busy.

Science with Africa: Accelerating Science and Technology in Africa – Information on a conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 3 to 7 March. The themes of the conference will be science and innovation policy, science themes and innovation and will consist of plenary sessions and workshops.

Africa: ‘U.S. Recession a Threat to Third World Exports’ – There has been a recession fear going through North America, Europe, and East Asia lately but any economic downturn for the United States will also significantly effect some of the world’s poorest nations, which are already on the margin. This will not just hurt trade but also aid revenues.

Africa: Current Intellectual Property Systems Marginalise Continent – Tumelo – This article deals with the need for better a better market regulatory infrastructure for the continent. I like the emphasis placed on African solutions to these problems and not just copying the West. Japan created a system based on Western capitalism but with specific Japanese characteristics that proved exportable to other nations in the region like South Korea and to a less extent Taiwan. Africa also should be encouraged to undertake such innovation for issues specific to the continent.

Ma promises 100 years of peace and prosperity – Ma’s using the boost from the Legislative victory of his party to help him campaign for the office of president.  He sounds even more arrogant than before. (sigh)

Why Europe should thank China – An interesting article on why the EU should THANK China for their dollar peg on the yuan. Strictly going by the article, I guess the judgment should be based on what how does the long term and short term benefit stack up when comparing advantages and disadvantages of a strong euro to USD relationship. The article does not address this. The conclusion is the EU gets “some benefit”, so suck up the cost and just reduce the overhead on your exports. LOL, easier said than done.

Chinese sub, Kitty Hawk in standoff – More “war games” in the Taiwan Strait. I wonder why China is getting provocative all the sudden or is it they are just testing new equipment in realistic scenarios?

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