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In Asia Media this week: China’s official media calls for Australia and China to re-balance, Japan’s papers stress peace

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/05/2022 - 4:28am in

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Asia

In Asia Media this week: China mulls its Australian links; Beijing explains its Pacific Islands courtship; ASEAN people look to China; Bangkok finally holds an election for governor; Biden’s new group only at talks stage; Japanese paper stresses peace; rainbow flag stirs up a reaction. China’s official media is usually predictable and in recent times Continue reading »

Book Review: Skateboarding in Seoul: A Sensory Ethnography by Sander Hölgens

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/05/2022 - 8:16pm in

In Skateboarding in Seoul: A Sensory Ethnography, Sander Hölgens immerses body, board and camera lens in Seoul’s skateboarding scene to explore local variants of the ethos of authenticity that shapes skateboarding as a global subculture. While the book could situate itself more within broader academic research on skateboarding in different contexts, it is nonetheless full of fascinating and lovingly researched content, writes Duncan McDuie-Ra.

Skateboarding in Seoul: A Sensory Ethnography. Sander Hölgens. University of Groningen Press. 2021.

For most skateboarders, even at the professional level, the draw of skateboarding is being able to live in joyous delinquency for as long as possible. Skateboarding’s ethos of authenticity is a counterbalance to cyclical periods of popularity — such as its inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games — and periods of disinterest — when corporations and mainstream culture desert skateboarding. To put it another way, the subculture, not the sport, is the core. Skateboarding in Seoul: A Sensory Ethnography reminds us that skateboarding is a global subculture.

Author Sander Hölsgens immerses body, board and camera lens in Seoul’s skateboarding scene and its global connections to deliver rich insights into the local variants of this ethos of authenticity. Immersion is common in skateboarding research as the bodily and sensory experiences, semiotics within and across spoken languages and ways of gazing at the urban landscape to identify objects and surfaces of desire are difficult to comprehend without participation during research and, in many cases, in years prior. Hölgens participates in the Seoul skate scene as a skater, researcher, but also as a filmmaker and as a collaborator with a local skate brand affording unique experiences and encounters.

South Korea is a liminal node in skateboarding’s global subcultural cartography. It is neither part of the cultural core — though it is moving closer as Hölgens demonstrates in this book — nor is it a peripheral space where skateboarding is in its infancy and where spots to skate, equipment and instruction are scarce. Indeed, Hölgens suggests that skateboarding in Seoul is characterised by abundance: of skate shops, skate equipment (to ride and to film/photograph), skateparks and skate spots throughout the ‘city of pristine surfaces and polished granite’ (9).

Person on skate ramp

Image Credit: Photo by Erik Hansman on Unsplash

Skateboarders in Seoul navigate tensions between skateboarding as escape, the chance to recast oneself as an outsider, and skateboarding as a planned activity in planned space, the city’s numerous skateparks. Hölgens’s explorations of these tensions are the strongest contributions of the book. Many of the skateboarders featured in the work seek escape (talchul) from parental and social pressures (Hell-Joseon) through skateboarding, ‘proposing marble instead of hell’ (15).

Most fascinating is that the skaters resist both the pressures of state/society/family and the common ways that young and not-so-young Koreans cope with these pressures. Hölsgens writes that, sharing a conversation with one of the local skaters, ‘skaters perform a subtle critique of Hell-Joseon by valuing their well-being, by resisting socio-political pressures that would limit their life, by taking care of one another, such that there is an escape from societal misconduct and pressures’ (53).

The unexpected flipside of individuality, independence and expression are the ways in which skaters in Seoul enact these desires in the skatepark rather than the streets. In other nodes of skateboarding, especially the US, Europe and Australia, skateparks are seen as vital yet inauthentic spaces for street skateboarding. They are legitimate training grounds and meeting sites, but street skateboarding gains legitimacy by being performed and captured (as video or image) where it is not supposed to, activating surveillance, security guards and hostile architecture such as skate-stoppers. Furthermore, it is skateboarding in the streets that reproduces the ethos of the subculture, constantly on the edge of illegality.

In Seoul, skateparks are an extension of the home on the one hand, but also an escape from the familial home on the other. They provide skaters with ‘an idealised conception of what homes can be, through a communing of space […] where one can take a nap or prepare dinner, without having to conform to the set of socio-cultural norms that relate to either decisively public or private life in South Korea’ (58). Hölgens connects this to spatial cultures in South Korea, where public spaces are not only used for what is generally accepted as public behaviour but also include meetings, cooking, eating, sleeping and singing, among other activities. Skateparks thus take on a sense of domesticity, care and inclusion that draws skaters of different backgrounds, genders, sexualities and skill levels.

The unexpected challenge for skate brands in Seoul is getting talented skateboarders to take their skills out of the skatepark and to the streets, primarily to produce content with a global resonance. Hölgens explores the ways globally connected skaters, magazines and filmers try to implore skaters to explore the city and find spots, particularly in the magazine Unsung (87-89). There is a disjuncture between the ways a mobile class of global skateboarders sees Seoul, as a city of perfect granite and marble spots that can be visited with filmers and photographers to produce content for sponsors, and the ways many local skaters turn their back on the urban wilds in favour of the certainty of the city’s skateparks.

However, global aesthetics do travel, and Hölgens goes into depth on Korean skate videos, notably Hunger (2016), that emulate the look and feel of classic skate videos from the US and elsewhere, including the use of the VX1000 camera favoured by skate filmers in the 1990s and 2000s. Skate filmers in Seoul draw direct parallels to the look and feel of classic skate videos in the book, and they create a ‘mimetic world, in which the old is made new and lived experiences are undermined, or at least retold, rearticulated, and rigorously choreographed, so as to mimic a glorified idea of what skateboarding ought to look and feel like’ (101). The use of the VX1000 in an urban landscape associated with cutting-edge technology suggests these aesthetic choices ‘construct a tangible affinity between skateboarding in Seoul and the practice elsewhere’ (105).

Skateboarding in Seoul offers fascinating insights into the ways skateboarding travels as a subculture and displays elements of ‘mimesis and alterity’ in different contexts. Overall, however, the book forgoes opportunities for deeper analysis. The main argument of the book is expressed as a series of ambiguities at different points along the way. Thus, we learn that skateboarding in Seoul is ‘both formalised and fragmented, imposed and self-initiated, societal and individual, anti-establishment and middle-class, competitive and revolutionary’ (16); later, ‘situated and universalist, static and on the move, affectionate and rigid, well-outlined and spontaneous’ (106). The idea that skateboarding is multifarious within and between contexts is not exactly a surprise, and indeed readers attracted to a book on skateboarding in Seoul will likely share this starting point.

By the book’s end there is a strong sense of what skateboarding in Seoul is like, but not much on why this scene matters in affirming or challenging the ways we think about skateboarding, subcultural mimesis, class and consumption, or youth more broadly, whether in South Korea, Asia or beyond. This relates to the light-touch treatment of prior academic research on skateboarding in the book. While existing works are mentioned, the book lacks in-depth discussion of how different authors, disciplines and interdisciplinary fields have approached skateboarding in different contexts, the questions they ask, where they direct their focus and the ways their arguments align with — and depart from — this study. An additional chapter would not be too arduous for readers in what is a short book overall. Some risk-taking in the argument and in drawing together the book’s broader significance would bolster Skateboarding in Seoul’s otherwise fascinating and lovingly researched content.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

 

Foreign policy needs priority and balance

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/05/2022 - 4:58am in

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Asia, Politics

In the 1972 film, The Candidate, Robert Redford played a United States Senate hopeful, who, having unexpectedly won, turned to his political strategist and asked, “Marvin, what do we do now?” Anthony Albanese is better prepared for the prize than was Robert Redford’s character, but on Australian external policy, the question would be fair. The Continue reading »

Book Review: Water and Public Policy in India by Deepti Acharya

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/05/2022 - 11:43pm in

In Water and Public Policy in IndiaDeepti Acharya explores the conceptual and theoretical frameworks behind the notion of a right to water, drawing on the evolution of water policy frameworks in India. This book enriches discourses around water justice through a water governance perspective, writes Kalrav Joshi.

Water and Public Policy in India. Deepti Acharya. Routledge India. 2021.

Water and Public Policy in India coverThe ideological origins of the idea of ‘a human right to water’, which led to the institutionalisation of this notion, remain structurally flawed and deeply problematic for the interests of ‘water-poor’ states. Disseminating and channelling this top-down approach at the behest of global organisations will not resolve any of the embedded complexities – it is a fantasy that cannot achieve targets for the humanitarian water management process and prevents equality for the ‘have-nots’.

In light of the hegemony of the idea that water is a right, Water and Public Policy in India explores the conceptual and theoretical frameworks underpinning the ‘right to water’ and advocates using this term in place of ‘human rights to water’. According to author Deepti Acharya, the latter term is a top-down approach, whereas the former is not only comprehensive but also based on a rights-based approach. This helps in policymaking and analysis, along with setting priorities for water policy to ensure no individual is deprived of sufficient water supply. By underlining India’s national water policies, Acharya argues that this can introduce a new water policy framework at the global level.

At the international level, the concept of the ‘right to water’ has been introduced and advanced through two major discourses. The first discourse contends that this idea has arisen and developed along the course of regulation. The fundamental contention here is that worldwide organisations have distinguished water as a right and have guaranteed access to water through global interventions.

The second discourse, advanced as a component of the water justice movement, dismisses this case by arguing that genuine change has been brought about by water researchers and water activists who have pressurised states to guarantee the right to water for all. Situating these arguments in modern political thought, Acharya defines the ‘right to water’ as a ‘process that is interlinked with many aspects, including rights, duties and priorities’ (34).

Dripping tap

Image Credit: Photo by Shridhar Vashistha on Unsplash

Positioning ‘water scarce’ states at the centre of its analysis, the book argues quite convincingly that the concept of the ‘right to water’ is only achievable when there is an established, efficient system and a just water supply, backed by rights, duties and priorities. The book interrogates the required mutual understanding between governments and individuals necessary to secure the ‘availability, accessibility and affordability’ of water for everyone. Acharya writes: ‘To maintain this condition, it is important to ensure and preserve water through policy structures’ (35).

One of the most compelling and engaging parts of the book, which is at its core, is its analysis of India’s national water policies that were drafted in 1987, 2002 and 2012 respectively. The details are revealing. The book is critical of the approaches taken by the Indian government in making national policies and identifies missing elements like the monitoring of equal water supply, specific mentions of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes and arrangements to ensure the sustenance of water resources will guarantee the right to water to every individual.

The book vehemently argues that the concept of the ‘right to water’ was completely ignored in national water policies in India. Though the entire concept of the ‘right to water’ was at a nascent stage in India, it is noteworthy that national water policies were strategy-centric, focusing on a needs-based approach for distribution and management. However, they barely focused on water justice and therefore were bound to fail given these circumstances.

The formation of national water policies in India evolved from a top-down approach to a participatory one by the national water policy of 2012. Despite this paradigm shift in policymaking, the question of public-private partnerships remains the biggest concern. The book also identifies concerns regarding the making of policy, the language used and policy implementation without a sense of the values key for the development of water discourses. The book is also an attempt to look beyond the conventional ways of relying on the legislature and the executive in policymaking, arguably positioning the Indian judiciary and civil society as key expounders of the ‘right to water’.

One of the book’s chapters focuses on the Indian understanding of the ‘right to water’ and its contours. It chronicles this right from the time of British colonial rule, where water was the subject of management and control by the central government, to the post-independence (constitutional) setting that more or less protected water as a right. Though colonial rule might have resulted in the formation of a public system of water management, it is notable that this system did not endorse water as a right. In fact, it was the subject of management, an exploitative way to have control over the rights of individuals in using water resources.

The book introduces the major traditions in the concept of water justice with a series of critiques from different ideologies including neo-Marxism, eco-feminism and post-liberalism. It moves between the academic and practical aspects of the great looming public policy challenges in the environmental space, including the power dynamics that the process is always subjected to. Questions are raised, often swaddled in data and ethics, and met with key frameworks that should pave the way for a better, egalitarian world with the equal allocation of water as a resource.

The book attempts to introduce a new water policy framework that offers a set of principles and benchmarks on which the idea of a ‘right to water’ can be based, titled the ‘Water Policy Analysis Guiding Framework’. This is a useful and important tool to analyse the contents of water laws, planning strategies and water policies that focus on realism and emphasise reality checks. Furthermore, the book intervenes by suggesting ideas and formulations for policymakers and planners. These include enriching water policies by establishing and institutionalising honest think tanks, encouraging water-related studies inclined towards water justice, undertaking rigorous academic work that can become a support system for policymakers and redefining people’s participation in water-related discourses and planning, among many other proposals.

The book could have explored a number of questions in more detail. To what extent does this concept of a ‘right to water’ pose a challenge to the existing hegemony around water governance and justice? In which ways do such interventions reflect the paradigm shifts and the looming crisis around water shortages? How is it relevant to the debates in international development and regional empowerment? Does using appropriate terminology make the concept of a ‘right to water’ more effective and less problematic? The book is nonetheless of critical importance to scholars and researchers of public policy, environment, water and law – particularly in the context of South Asian studies. It raises moral, geographical, political, social and economic questions regarding the consequences of policy formulation – economic and geographical exploitation – embedded within top-down notions of sustainable development and governance.

Acharya’s book critically evaluates the notion of the ‘right to water’ by considering a range of theories, ideologies and the practical implications of one of the most looming issues of our times. It is a significant attempt to understand discourses on rights as it pinpoints and discusses the threats for water freedoms and water equalities and it enriches water justice discourse through a water governance perspective. The question is how long the world will take to institutionalise this concept. There is a long way ahead.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

 

Albanese – In at the deep end in Tokyo

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/05/2022 - 4:58am in

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Asia

On his very first day in office, Prime Minister Albanese has seized with alacrity the opportunity to travel to Tokyo for the Quad meeting to announce his presence on the international stage. While this demonstrates his confidence about the next few days of count in the electorates still in doubt and preliminary negotiations with the Continue reading »

Climate Change: Who Promises What?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/05/2022 - 4:14am in


In this election campaign the COALition has set the debating agenda. And they have done their best to bury climate change.

Permanently on the defensive, the Australian Labor Party has done little to change that. An attempt by Labor’s Penny Wong (considering climate change implications to Australia and our Pacific neighbours’ national securities) was rather embarrassing (not because she wasn’t right on her criticism to the COALitiion, but because after her criticism an eventual Labor government had little more to offer). You really should see “Postcards from the frontlines of climate change”, by the ABC’s Asia Pacific Newsroom.

This may have been a blessing in disguise. Scientists have more relevant things to say.
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 Climate Analytics assessed the global warming impact of the 2030 GHG emissions reductions targets of the COALition, Labor, the so-called teal independents (the Zali Steggall Bill), and the Australian Greens (that analysis did not – I repeat, did not – explicitly address their credibility).

This is how they ranked them, from higher to lower resulting temperature (see infographic above):

  • Coalition (26-28%) consistent with at least 3°C, bordering on 4°C.
  • Labor (43%) consistent with 2°C warming.
  • Teal independents (60%) and Greens (74%) are both consistent with Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit. The Greens, however, add a safety margin (represented by their lower position in the scale).

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The ABC’s Nick Kilvert and Emma Machan asked four leading Australian climate scientists and IPCC contributors to evaluate the climate change policies (not just their 2030 GHG emissions reduction targets) of the COALition, Labor, and Greens (they, alas, left out the teal independents).

Their verdict? (1 being highest preference)
 
The four scientists elaborated on their assessments. Have a look.
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These headlines remained largely unnoticed, as we discussed the all-important “productivity”:

(source, see also)

(source, see also)

(source, see also)

When an unusual second La Niña in a row was announced last November, it was expected to be relatively mild. It was also expected to last until January or at most, February. It’s already mid-May and it’s still raining:

(source, accessed today at 19:57 AEST)

(source)
That’s how that weather looks at ground level. This year, some towns have already been flooded twice …

The long La Niña doesn’t bode well for the Americas either (particularly North America): they are going into summer.

(source, see also)
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Although most of them are still too young to vote, the climate kids of SS4C Australia are mobilising for these elections. They are planning a number of actions. But they need our support.

If you can, chip in (donations are 100% tax deductible).

Book Review: Narrating Democracy in Myanmar: The Struggle between Activists, Democratic Leaders and Aid Workers by Tamas Wells

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/05/2022 - 7:43pm in

In Narrating Democracy in Myanmar: The Struggle between Activists, Democratic Leaders and Aid Workers, Tamas Wells explores the multifaceted ways in which democracy has been conceptualised in Myanmar over the past decade, often outside of a Western liberal democratic paradigm. One year after the military coup, this book still offers an insightful window into the dynamism and contradictions of contemporary Burmese political thought, writes Giulia Garbagni.

This book review is published by the LSE Southeast Asia blog and LSE Review of Books blog as part of a collaborative series focusing on timely and important social science books from and about Southeast Asia.

Narrating Democracy in Myanmar: The Struggle between Activists, Democratic Leaders and Aid Workers. Tamas Wells. Amsterdam University Press. 2021. 

It has been little over a year since the Burmese armed forces (known as Tatmadaw) have seized power in Myanmar, rejecting the electoral victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi. It might thus seem ill-timed for researchers to discuss the subtleties of the conceptualisation of democracy in contemporary Myanmar when the country’s democratic experiment has been brought to such a brutal halt. As a work that sets out to do precisely that, however, Tamas Wells’s Narrating Democracy in Myanmar: The Struggle between Activists, Democratic Leaders and Aid Workers proves that, even under the current circumstances, interrogating what the Burmese mean by ‘democracy’ is paramount to understanding what is at stake in Myanmar.

Based on over 65 interviews with foreign aid workers, Burmese democracy activists and NLD political figures conducted between 2015 and 2018, and building on the author’s own professional experience in the NGO sector in Myanmar from 2006 to 2012, Narrating Democracy in Myanmar offers a sweeping overview of the multifaceted ways in which ‘democracy’ has been imagined, narrated and leveraged politically by different agents involved in the country’s democratisation process over the past decade.

Wells’s fundamental premise is a staunchly anti-positivist one: rejecting the idea that democracy can be measured scientifically according to a ‘minimum definition’, he takes issue with any attempts to ascribe it to a universal ‘ideal type’ which, he notes, invariably coincides with the yardstick of Western-style ‘liberal democracy’, against which Myanmar’s institutions are bound to be found lacking. Resisting the urge to assume that democratisation only moves along the axis of liberal democracy is, Wells argues, necessary for appreciating that actors and institutions that deviate from the liberal model championed by OECD donors might be simply ‘playing different games’ (199).

This ‘game’ has deep roots. After a densely theoretical Chapter Two, in Chapter Three Wells illustrates how discourses of ‘democracy’ not only originated in the colonial period, but were also defined by different interpretations of Myanmar’s precolonial past. Against the ‘white man’s burden’ narrative that framed British rule as a duty to steer the ‘immature’ Burma away from oriental despotism and towards a Western-sponsored ‘ocean of democracy’, the nationalist Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) instead emphasised the democratic nature of the Burmese monarchy, pointing to the existence of checks and balances (a parliament and a powerful monastical clergy), as well as to Buddhist traditions of grassroots self-rule, as evidence of the innate democratic qualities of Burmese traditional culture and society.

Parliamentary democracy in Myanmar did not survive the ethnic civil war that followed independence in 1948, giving way to military dictatorship. Yet, as described in Chapter Four, not even the generals resisted the temptation to forge their own brand of ‘democratic’ governance – that of ‘disciplined democracy’ – to justify the army’s role as the guarantor of the nation’s integrity.

Protestors holding signs defending Aung San Suu Kyi

Image Credit: Photo by Saw Wunna on Unsplash

After sketching this historical background, Wells dedicates each of the book’s core chapters (Chapter Five, Six and Seven) to what he identifies as the three distinct, but at times overlapping, narratives of democracy that have coexisted in Myanmar’s recent democratisation. Accordingly, these are the ‘liberal narrative’ of OECD donors, which defines democratisation as institutionalisation; the ‘benevolent narrative’ of the NLD, which espouses a moral vision of democracy whereby democratic leadership rests on individual selflessness and devotion to unity; and the ‘equality narrative’ of Burmese activists and intellectuals, which calls for secularism and inclusivity.

Each of these actors identifies the crux of Myanmar’s problems in different things: Western donors point to the persistence of military/civil, ethnic and religious cleavages, as well as a personalised political culture that devalues formal processes; the NLD to the lack of moral discipline and unity within the democratic movement itself; activists to those hierarchical relations of power in Burmese politics and society that leave little room for minoritarian views or dissenting opinions. Unsurprisingly, each narrative also strengthens the self-assigned role of their proponent: international agencies as the only qualified supervisors of ‘capacity-building’ projects; the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi as the only credible moral leader for the country; intellectuals and activists as the only effective driver of cultural change against the ‘one lady show’ of Aung San Suu Kyi (154).

Wells’s examination of the ‘benevolent’ understanding of democracy in Chapter Six stands out as particularly insightful as it sheds light on a puzzle encountered by many foreign observers: why has the NLD been less receptive to the recommendations of Western advisors than the previous military regime? While the Tatmadaw welcomed any form of institutional strengthening, including from Western-sponsored ‘capacity-building’ initiatives, the NLD – and its electoral base – espouses a vision of democracy rooted in Buddhist thought, whereby good governance does not rest on a procedural system, but rather on the ‘benevolence’ or ‘goodwill’ (in Burmese, sedana) of the ruler.

Democracy, accordingly, depends on the individual’s ability to transcend their innate selfishness, and the failure to do so will produce the moral degeneration of ‘ar nar shin’: a dictator wielding power for their own self-interest. The surest way for ensuring the moral rectitude of both rulers and ruled is ‘si kan’, ‘discipline’, in observance to a rigidly hierarchical view of democratic duties that mirrors traditional social obligations. Concretely, this narrative translates into extreme deference to the party’s leadership, with paradoxical results: in ‘discussion meetings’, Wells observed NDL politicians casting their unanimous vote on a motion before sitting through hours of discussion on it (183).

In the examination of all of these narratives, the issue of ethnic minorities – all victims, to varying degrees, of state-sponsored violence since independence – inevitably lingers in the background. Wells, whose interviews involved only urban interlocutors from the Bamar ethnic majority, openly acknowledges the limitations of his pool of interviewees and caveats against drawing blanket conclusions for the entirety of Burmese society from his study. Yet, while his reticence on this point might be justifiable on methodological grounds, it still leaves unanswered an inescapable question when we talk of democracy in a country where roughly 40 per cent of the population belongs to ethnic and religious minorities: who gets to exercise it?

Wells tends to boil down Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD’s shocking insensitivity towards the violence against the Muslim Rohingya community to the rejection of liberal democratic principles and universal values, including ‘human rights’, among both the Burmese ruling elite and mainstream public opinion – echoing his argument that activists and leaders in young democracies do not necessarily subscribe to liberal-democratic tenets. Wells does make passing mentions of a deeper level of analysis, for instance of Matthew Walton’s leading scholarship on political Buddhism. However, he avoids questioning how the NLD’s insistence on Buddhist precepts relates to the fundamental issue of democratic representation, leaving unaddressed more complex issues of national identity, sovereignty and citizenship. These, as brilliantly illustrated by Thant Myint-U, range from the ethno-nationalist roots of modern Myanmar’s constitutional set-up to the nativist ideals of cultural homogeneity informing the NLD’s political platform, and they ultimately determine who belongs and who does not in Myanmar – that is, who has the right to partake in its democracy, however conceptualised and narrated.

All in all, Narrating Democracy in Myanmar represents a valuable complement to the literature on contemporary Burmese political thought and democracy in Myanmar, one that gives a welcome judgement-free space to a gamut of diverse, often conflicting, perspectives on the ground. It certainly leaves the reader with the hope that Burmese activists, intellectuals, politicians and civilians can soon recover their right to imagine, debate and pursue what democracy means for them.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, LSE SEAC blog nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

 

The decline in Australian diplomatic skills

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/05/2022 - 4:30am in

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Asia

The Solomon Islands fiasco confirms what some of us have long known – the gradual decline in the quality of Australian foreign policy. The Bougainville copper mine and subsequent conflicts gave Australia a commercial and political interest in the islands going back to the sixties An experienced and ranking diplomatic presence having good relations with Continue reading »

Bits and Pieces: Arc of Idiocracy.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/04/2022 - 7:59pm in


Last Sunday ABC Insiders host David Speers interviewed Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce from Gladstone. One of the topics was climate change. At about 10:06 (AEST), Speers asked Joyce:

The issues here in Gladstone, China and national security have been on the minds of people I have been speaking to. They’re also a little worried about the energy transition. That’s, you know, often talked about here. There is hope this region becomes a powerhouse for green energy and hydrogen. But there is some uncertainty, they want to see a plan. What is your plan?

From that moment and up to almost 10:11 Speers repeated that question nine more times. I repeat: NINE … MORE … TIMES. Beyond babbling incoherently “Lay-bah” blah-blah-blah, “Lay-bah” blah-blah-blah, Joyce did not say what the Nationals Party plan for climate change was.

Why?

You could be forgiven to believe that was merely a display of cretinism and/or ignorance.

And there’s more than a kernel of truth to that, but that’s not the whole explanation. The deepest reason is that Joyce didn’t want to answer, so he instead used Labor as a distraction, in the hope people won’t notice.

He doesn’t want to answer because his party’s plan is the same COALition plan: screw climate change. He’s just unwilling to admit it, for in this election honesty on that could be costly.

But we’ve known the answer for a long time. You see that grotesque mug just left of Scotty from Marketing laughing at Scotty’s hilarious lump of coal stunt? That’s Barnaby’s answer.

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You still remember this?

(source)
That was in Queensland. The Black Summer fires started just a few months later. Barely the fires were out, we went into full La Niña mode (and we still are there).

That’s how Barnaby’s plan for Queensland and Australia looks like. Hilarious, uh?

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This infographic – reflecting the location of US military bases in the Western Pacific area as it was in 2011 – is dated. To update it a bit, I added the yellow arrow, showing where the Solomon Islands is. So, who is rightly worried about potentially hostile military powers in their neighbourhood?

(source)
Since then the US, India, Japan and Oz created their anti-Chinese Quad and the US, UK (!) and Oz joined hands in the anti-Chinese AUKUS.

And yet, it is Australia, not China, that is in panic mode.

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The thing with Joyce is that Labor pollies are much, much better at wrecking their own credibility.

That’s what Penny Wong did today, as she talked about how climate change and national security are linked. She began by scoring some points against the COALition:

Pacific Island leaders have made absolutely clear that their number one national security and economic challenge is climate change and what has Australia, under this government, given them? The climate wars, Mr Dutton making a joke about water lapping at their door steps and Mr Morrison thumbing his nose at them.

She was talking about this:

Fair enough. But then, a journo reminded her that Pacific Islanders regard climate change as an existential threat, to ask: “If they say or warn that they don't want any fossil fuel projects, will you listen and act?

Wong’s answer? The same Joycean blah-blah-blah, but spoken in an infinitely more articulate manner. It amounts to “no”, however.

Smelling blood in the water, another reporter asked: “Will Labor sign the UN pledge to put an end to coal? And if not, why not?”

This time Wong’s answer at least had the virtue of being straight to the point: “No

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Bottom line: neither the COALition nor Labor take climate change seriously.

Pray that the election ends in a hung Parliament and Labor forms a minority government, so that the Greens and/or the Socialist Alliance have the balance of power to drag Labor, kicking and screaming, into some kind of action.

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Bill Birtles (ABC East Asia Correspondent) is worried with Chinese interference, and remarks with irony:

Non-interference” remained China's mantra, a contrast to America’s foreign policy. But it was now “non-interference by invitation”.

Unfortunately, he didn’t specify the target of the suspected Chinese interference in this particular case.

Could it be the Solomons themselves he has in mind? After all it is them inviting the Chinese: if they indeed establish military facilities there, it is with the Solomons Government’s consent. But in that case, his claim of interference seems as odd as claiming that consensual sex is rape. Thus, I suppose it’s not the Solomons he fears would be the target of interference.

So, against Solomons PM Mannasseh Sogavare’s assurances that the “pact” “won’t involve a Chinese military base”, maybe it’s Australia he thinks could be the target?

Well, he might be right. But I would like to ask something. First, how do you, Bill, define foreign interference? Because the way the Australian Government defines it does not seem to match your definition. And second, how do you, Bill, describe this?
(source)

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Last week, Scotty explained why he didn’t send Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne to the Solomons to try and persuade its PM, Manasseh Sogavare, not to take the deal.

It had nothing to do with the fundraiser, believe it or not. The fundraiser was mere coincidence.

It was all about “sensitivity”. All of a sudden Scotty – of all people! – turned into a sensitive man. And touchy-feely Scotty decided that Payne’s visit could have made the Islanders feel bullied or disrespected or overwhelmed or otherwise unimpressed. The risk is that they would have felt compelled to double down in their defiance.

Now, I must admit that second bit actually makes sense. I mean, pompous, supercilious, condescending, fat Payne is really likely to elicit less than goodwill on anybody.

See what I mean? (source)

Oddly enough though nobody seem to have sent Minister for Defence Peter Dutton the email about sensitivity, for last Thursday Dutton went to a radio station to say this:

“I make this point: China conducts its business in a very different way than we do,” he said.

“We don’t bribe people, the Chinese certainly do, and they’ve demonstrated that in Africa and elsewhere. People can draw their own conclusions.”

I mean, nothing spells sensitivity like accusations of corruption. It’s almost like sensitivity never was a consideration at all, isn’t it?

As far as I can tell, the little question that Aussie journos never seem to remember (i.e. is there any evidence backing up your allegation?) never popped up.

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Winning an election makes all the difference. Last year Scotty was making no apologies for being mightily pissed off at Emmanuel Macron. Macron had all but grabbed a megaphone to call Scotty a liar in front of the whole planet.

Now everything’s forgiven, everything’s forgotten. Scotty is sucking up desperately:

(source)

Scotty is a natural: cruel and ruthless with those he finds weak; subservient with those more powerful than himself.

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So, what do you make of that? I’ll just say this: Scotty you are so full of shit!

Book Review: Strategies of Authoritarian Survival and Dissensus in Southeast Asia by Sokphea Young

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/04/2022 - 9:12pm in

In Strategies of Authoritarian Survival and Dissensus in Southeast Asia, Sokphea Young argues that the success of civil society organisation (CSO) movements in Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia depends largely on whether these movements are seen as threats to the regime’s winning coalition. This book’s powerful examination lays important foundations for further research examining the link between regime survival and civil society success, writes Bavo Stevens

This book review is published by the LSE Southeast Asia blog and LSE Review of Books blog as part of a collaborative series focusing on timely and important social science books from and about Southeast Asia.

Strategies of Authoritarian Survival and Dissensus in Southeast Asia: Weak Men Versus Strongmen. Sokphea Young. Palgrave. 2021.  

Strategies of Authoritarian Survival and Dissensus in Southeast Asia cover‘Why do some movements succeed while others fail in the context of a regime’s political survival?’ That is the question at the heart of Sokphea Young’s ambitious book, Strategies of Authoritarian Survival and Dissensus in Southeast Asia. The book engages with the complex literatures on authoritarian repression and clientelism to tease out when civil society organisation (CSO) movements and protests are successful in achieving their aims. Young’s close analysis of contemporary Cambodia, alongside two shorter interventions on Indonesia and Malaysia, suggests that the success of CSO movements ultimately depends on how regimes respond to them. Young’s work shows that even when CSOs are strong and well-organised, their success largely depends on whether they are seen as threats to the regime. When CSOs are seen as a threat, regimes are likely to opt for repression. But when CSOs are not seen as a threat, regimes are less likely to repress and opt instead for a concessionary strategy.

In the first part of the book, Young broadly examines the politics of authoritarian control and the political development of modern Cambodia, showing how issues of patrimonialism, repression and control intersect in the country. Young effectively lays out the central challenges that rulers confront in holding on to power, particularly in maintaining support from their winning coalitions through effective client-patron relations. Young casts Prime Minister Hun Sen as the central patron in Cambodia, who has used extractive economic institutions to maintain support and partial political legitimacy. A second strategy that Young describes is the co-option of CSOs, especially CSOs whose work closely aligns with the interests of the regime.

Police officer in Cambodia

Image Credit: Crop of ‘Police’ by Damien @ Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0

Young then examines two cases emblematic of his central thesis. The first case looks at a peasant movement targeting a powerful Cambodian senator with close ties to the ruling regime and a sugar company. The well-organised movement that developed in response to the expropriation of land by the sugar company threatened the interest of the Baron and, by extension, the ruling regime. The regime’s violent crackdown on protestors and intimidation of activists, in addition to blocking action through the courts, mean that the movement failed to achieve its demands, including the return of the expropriated land.

The second case presents a slightly different story. A European company with agricultural stakes in the country faced a loosely organised response by an indigenous community that felt its land was unfairly expropriated by the company. But unlike the Sugar Baron, the local partner that worked with the European company did not have strong ties to the ruling regime. As a consequence, the regime felt less threatened by the community’s movement, which gave its local officials the space to use regulatory instruments to address the CSO movement’s demands as part of its more concessional strategy. The community was able to partially fulfil its goal and received some compensation for its lost land.

In short, the first CSO movement, despite being relatively strong and well-organised, threatened the regime’s neo-patrimonial network and faced a repressive response that prevented it from achieving its goals. The second CSO movement, which was relatively weak and more loosely organised, did not threaten the regime’s network, and faced a more concessionary strategy that allowed it to partially achieve its goals. The argument presented in these two chapters is overall convincing. The in-depth analysis of these two cases with a broader discussion of CSO movements and neo-patrimonialism presents a convincing case of Young’s argument: it is ultimately the regime’s response that matters the most.

It is in its discussion of Cambodia that the ambitions and strengths of the book shine. By identifying how ‘threats from society’ can challenge the interests of a regime’s neo-patrimonial network, Young is able to show that distinguishing between threats of authoritarian power-sharing and control, like Milan Svolik also demonstrates, is not always so clear cut. Rather, they inform each other; threats from society and threats from elites are linked.

The strong discussion on Cambodia sets Young up for an interesting comparative analysis with Malaysia and Indonesia in the two penultimate chapters of the book. Though Young is able to show that similar patterns existed in Malaysia and Indonesia, this is not argued as clearly as the earlier chapters on Cambodia. For one, the analytical focus in the Malaysia and Indonesia chapters shifts somewhat from CSO movements and the neo-patrimonial networks of the regimes to the survival strategies of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Suharto, former President of Indonesia. The chapters point to changes to the winning coalitions of the respective regimes, rivalries that existed within these coalitions and how Mahathir and Suharto navigated their rivalries with other elites and responded to challenges from society. Young’s discussion in these chapters is not as sophisticated as his analyses of CSO movements in Cambodia because the reader is given less information on the strength and strategies of the CSO movements Young studies nor evidence on the winning coalition of the regime.

Secondly, where Young does discuss CSO movements, the neo-patrimonial links appear more tenuous. For instance, in the chapter on Malaysia, Young discusses several dam-building projects. One of the projects Young highlights is the Bakun project, which resumed after the Asian financial crisis with one of the Prime Minister’s close friends, Ting Pek Khiing, awarded the contract. This suggests that similar dynamics are at play, but it is never clearly established if Ting Pek Khiing was an initial member of Mahathir’s winning coalition, what the scope and strength of the CSO movement that protested the project were or if broader economic factors following the 1997 crisis influenced the decision to move forward with the project.

Similar concerns emerge in the chapter on Indonesia, where Young discusses similar examples of resistance. One notable example is the movement against the Kedung Ombo dam project. The project faced continued protests from the people of Boyolali whose land was to be flooded. The protestors took their case to court, with the Supreme Court ultimately ruling for $4.5 million in compensation. Suharto intervened and overturned the project and the compensation was voided. Young argues that Suharto intervened to maintain the economic interests of the crony system that underpinned his regime since many dams were funded by Indonesian cement companies, some of which belonged to his siblings and allies. But if that is the primary reason why the Kedung Ombo project moved forward, it is left somewhat unclear why the movement against the Lindu dam project was more successful. Like the Bakun project in Malaysia, questions about the scope and strength of the CSO movement also remain unanswered.

Despite some of these limitations, Young’s book offers a powerful look at the strategies of authoritarian survival and how they shape the success and failure of CSO movements. It is work by scholars like Young that helps add significant nuance to our understanding of how authoritarian regimes can operate. Young sheds light on why authoritarian regimes respond differently to the demands of similar civil society organisations and demonstrates that the neat divide between threats from elites and threats from society in understanding regime durability is rarely so neat. The book is therefore able to lay important foundations for further research that examines the link between regime survival and civil society success.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

 

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