Why is China angry with Singapore?

October 2, 2016

Q: Recently a global times article stated – Singapore should not push it. It cannot play the role of taking the initiative to help US and South East Asian countries to go against China over South China Sea matters. Do you think there is some truth to this?

A: There is undoubted some measure of truth in my personal opinion.

Q: Would you care to elaborate?

A: That’s not necessary. It’s all there in the public domain for anyone to connect the dots and draw their own findings.

Q: Singapore has been accused for playing a role in rebalance Asia-Pacific strategy by containing Chinese imperialistic plans – what exactly is meant by this? Are they referring to China’s plan to build a canal in Southern Thailand or might this be something to do with the grand Chinese one belt, one road initiative?

A: What frequently surprises me is people, who seem content to wax lyrical about China resurrecting the Silk Road in the form of the one belt, one road initiative never ever seem to factor in the scale and magnitude of the undertaking.

We are not talking about a couple tar roads. This is a huge undertaking and it’s sheer size and scope alone is really quite mind boggling.

Yes, the Khral Ismuth canal is certainly one major aspect of six other economic corridors – but as a stand alone by it’self, it doesn’t make much compelling sense. I think when you review the various elements of OBOR at a continental level, it’s really a hundred year plan. Even the Marshall plan did not have a completion date approaching anywhere near three digits – so although the idea looks very doable and even handsome on paper I am doubtful that it will ever come to fruition in either your or my lifetime. I don’t think it’s anything to worry about.

As for the proposed canal in Thailand. This is hardly a new idea. It’s been bandied around since the age of sail of King Rama. Nothing came of it then and absolutely nothing will come of it now.

Q: You seem to be quite dismissive of China’s plan to build a canal across Southern Thailand to bypass Singapore. Don’t you see any compelling reasons that support that idea?

A: There of course exist many compelling reasons to find an alternative route, such as the fact a quarter of the world’s trade goes thru the Straits of Malacca. That building the canal will shave off travel time and bring down the cost. That traffic in the straits is fast reaching saturation point and it’s even conceivable this will in the near future present an untenable security challenge to China since that’s their primary oil supply route from West to East.

But having said all that China is not the final decision maker, it’s the apparatchiks in Bangkok. Given historically the South has always been like Northern Ireland to the Thai elites – as it’s riven with religious, sectarian, class, cultural and tribal divides at so many levels. And this is a perennial problem. Some of which in my opinion cannot be happily wished away with just diplomacy and requires very serious long term counter insurgency solitons to effectively neutralize.

I don’t really see any pay outs for the Thai elites and power brokers at this moment to sign off on a super expensive canal project.

Let me put it another way. Why would the Thai elites and Chinese dig a big and expensive hole and lie in it?

Q: What does building a canal in southern Thailand have to do with the Chinese lying in a hole?

A: Everything! In 1956, the British landed paratroopers in Egypt to seize the Suez Canal. They didn’t do that for fun. Americans did the same when Noriega threatened to close the Panama Canal in the 80’s. Again they didn’t do that for fun either. In every single case it was strategic decision – as the closing of a canal represents a clear and present danger – by every known definition, a canal is not so different from a sea route. Keeping it open is a strategic precondition. It’s jugular – so the moment it’s constructed, it becomes a de facto protectorate of China.

Of course diplomatic parlance is so structured never to put it across in such terms. But that sort of mentality is automatic whenever stakeholders talk the language of canals.

The Thais are not stupid. They know this only too well.

Q: You seem very skeptical about China’s one belt, one road initiative. Can you please elaborate?

A: I am not completely skeptical. I just feel that as a global trade blueprint to enhance connectivity, certain elements can only be described as pie in the sky.

There is a very good reason why the British empire unlike the Romans did not see the wisdom of investing in roads and laying down railway tracks and instead saw fit to perpetuate their empire via the high seas. The sea cannot be blockaded easily. The entry cost is very high. You need a first class navy – even with that, one can always go around hard points. Most importantly one is always a moving target. The same cannot be said about fixed and embedded routes of transportation. They will always be very vulnerable to internal and external risk.

Having said that I am not completely dismissive of OBOR. Some elements such as the high speed rail network that links Singapore to Kunming and the proposed Eurasia economic corridor to revivify trade between China and the EU – is indeed doable and realizable within ten years.

But other proposed economic corridors such as connecting the continental shelf of West Africa to the Indian Ocean to the east of Mozambique. Or the idea of idea of constructing thousands of miles of irrigation canals that connect the Great Lakes of Uganda to Zaire right up to Chad and beyond Egypt to finally the Nile to terraform the desert into arable land are just the stuff of science fiction.

These people who come up with such plans should go live there for three years.

I think one has to be slightly circumspect when it comes to appraising the merits of OBOR.

Q: Why do you think the Chinese are so adamant over occupying the islands in the South China seas?

A: To me it boils down to only a discussion of realpolitik. We could just as well ask the question without the risk of committing any violence to your original question – why are the Americans and Western powers so adamant that China relinquish it’s claims over the South China Seas.

From my reading of the tea leafs – there’s intrinsically nothing in the South China Seas except maybe a couple of worthless rocks and even less reason to die for – Pokemon also don’t want to go there and he’s been everywhere – so what we essentially have is the creation of an illusion of something from absolutely nothing and this should prompt us all to ask – why? Or better still cui bono?

Fear….comes to mind.

Fear if you didn’t know is very powerful stimuli and you can even say it remains today the most effective and most cost effective means to engineer mass consent.

Both the Chinese and the Western powers are leveraging on fear to fulfill their specious ends.

China has it’s own agenda. The economy is slowing down. And the happy days are well and truly over – they need a means to divert the attention of the masses to keep some semblance of social cohesion against the rapidly changing economic downturn. That I can well understand.

As for the US and their allies. They too are leveraging on fear. In perhaps the same way, Metternich successfully used the fear of a returning Bonaparte from the island of Elba to galvanize and unite the allies against an imaginary marauding army.

And that is what I essentially see in the South China Seas.

The US and their allies sowing the seeds of fear to galvanize opposition against China.

What else is there? Otherwise who in their right mind would ever see the need to dig a hole and lie in it by signing the TPP?

To me this is common sense. You don’t have to be a profound thinker to draw the logical conclusion that a pivot is really quite redundant without the precondition of fear first being present.

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