Friday, November 14, 2008

The new US president

Well, so Americans have elected Barack Obama as president. And we all know that his administration has plenty of problems inherited from the Bush administration - the economy, Iraq and Afghanistan, North Korea's nukes, bad global perception, etc.

For the US to be a global superpower, it doesn’t just need hard power – economic and military – but also soft power – that is, image, moral authority and a good international standing. Given his background, he is not likely to piss off people like the Bush administration did with some of their belligerent language and actions, so it's likely that things should improve.

However, even if we ignore any doubts about his character, there are some things beyond his control. And the problems that we see hinge on them.

One is the power structure in America. To briefly summarise it, with the tripartite power-sharing arrangement between the administration, Congress, the judiciary, and everybody jostling for their own agreements, it requires a lot of time to satisfy everyone, and consequently by the time it's approved the original initiative is usually heavily diluted. And by then it might be too late.

The other is time. There is only so much that can be accomplished in 2 presidential terms, and many of the problems that America faces are long term in nature, like the insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s unlikely that he’ll be able to finish the campaigns in his term, given the complex and long nature of such campaigns.

The economy is another. To get more jobs and make America more competitive in the long term, it means some unpopular decisions that might cost him political support. Will he be able to without alienating voters? Hopefully.

Vested interests are another. For America to achieve change for the better, sometimes Americans must be willing to sacrifice some of their vested interests for the greater good. Will Obama be able to persuade them to do so? I hope so.

The trouble is, in the cacophony of voices common to liberal democracies, people are easily distracted from doing what’s necessary. Hopefully, with his mastery of public relations, Obama can stand above the cacophony and lead.

Ultimately, the leaders that Americans elect and the results that they deliver are simply a reflection of themselves as an electorate. If they want to see change for the better, they'd better be prepared to support the right initiative and work towards it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

China and Tibet

The issue of who has the legitimacy to rule Tibet has long been a thorny issue for China and Tibetans. That said, the issue goes back a long way, when the Tibetan kingdom was annexed by China a few centuries back, partially taken over by the British, and then finally invaded by China in 1950.

What is clear, though, is that Tibetans aren’t happy with the Chinese occupation. Mass migration of Han & benefits of economic development going to them, suppression of religious worship & culture, plus massive environmental pollution. Add a massive military presence & stationing of nukes in Tibet (as more than one PLA general has said).

Negotiations haven’t seemed to achieve much. Perhaps Beijing regards it only for show purposes?

Trouble is, if nothing is gained out of negotiations, the Dalai Lama could well be sidelined by those calling for an insurgency. And in this regard, it is by sheer luck that the Tibetans have been rather peaceful – perhaps a result of Buddhist culture.

But the same thing is going on in Xinjiang. And unlike the Tibetans, the Uighurs aren’t as peaceful and may turn violent. Groups like the ETIM might gain a bigger following.

And what could happen in an insurgency? One only needs to look at the former USSR for examples, like the Chechen conflict. Even if secession is achieved, ethnic conflicts like Moldova-Transnistria might still occur.

Tibet might be an inalienable part of China. However, if Beijing really wants it to be that way, they need to ensure that the Tibetans feel the same too.