Mini Lee should ask General Yeo to come back!

January 19, 2017

Q: You have always been critical of the present government for letting George Yeo go. Why do you see his role as so jugular to our time?

A: This hardly requires detailed elaboration. For the very first time since possibly Lincoln, Trump will perhaps be the most divisive President in US history. This does not bode well for either the US or for that matter the world or even Singapore as this is the opposite of a much needed unifying moment.

I see this moment as a very polarization and divisive chapter in human history.

No doubt divisions have always existed between the US and China stretching all the way back to even Bill Clinton’s era. But in the past it could be said these divergent interest and points of views were never ever amplified to such a dangerous degree or even sharpened that it threatened the strategic importance of keeping the status quo or at least settling on some form of tacit understanding for détente to preserve the status quo ante.

But understand this! Trump & Co has already done a lot of damage – such as threatening to review the one China policy and recently there has even been talk of stopping China from weaponizing the SCS. In my considered opinion – all this loose cannon talk just heightens the risk.

In times like this there is a need for professionals like General Yeo to bring a nuanced approach to resolving conflict.

Q: What do you think about Vivian Balakrishnan in fulfilling that ‘nuanced’ role?

A: Please understand I genuinely want to be polite. In fact, I think Vivian Balakrishnan is one of those perennially underrated ministers who unfortunately did not get much credit in any of his portfolio’s simply because they were all tough as tungsten nails. Nonetheless he definitely has strengths, but my feel is when it comes to breadth of knowledge concerning the intrigues of Sino American relationships, appreciation of Realpolitik, Intellectual fire power and most importantly stature, prestige and capacity to influence no one comes close to General Yeo.

Q: What about Mini Lee? And how serious is the geo political situation concerning China’s occupation of the SCS?

A: Let me be very blunt this time. As it seems I am not getting my message across effectively – if you want good results never get a sheep to do a fox’s job!

That’s all you are going to get from me concerning Mini Lee and his métier.

As I mentioned there is a clear and present risk – what I think most people don’t seem to appreciate is how precarious the situation is in the SCS theatre. Recently, Reuters reported that a Xian H-6 long range precision bomber with a payload of atomics was flown to the edge of the dash line. Now to most people, this may well be a big nothing – but for those who understand the intricacies of the art of war and the bureaucracy of statecraft in the Chinese communist oligarchy, this in my considered opinion can only be interpreted as an escalation of hostilities that the world has not seen since the Cuban missile crisis.

It seems we are living in very interesting times.

Q: Is it true to say it is your belief – the one China policy should never be used as a bargaining chip? My second question is what is it that is so disconcerting to you about China deciding to fly a bomber to the SCS?

A: I feel compelled to point out time and again that I do not share many of the Republican candidate’s policy positions concerning the priori position to revisit the One China policy – only because this is a subject that comes encrusted with historicism. Many of which I feel compelled to point out in the strongest possible terms is not only a source of perennial shame, humiliation and pain to China on a national scale, but it is also one of strategic priority that China will prosecute to it’s logical end even if it means she will incur penalties.

I refer to both conventional and economic penalties.

I for one remain unconvinced that Mr Trump appreciates the depth of history that is associated with the One China policy.

This is a failing common to the west, as it is often seen as geo politics. But in China, the one China policy is a form of spiritual nationalism approaching the bounds of religion.

So I think if you want to split hairs on religion – people can only get very emotive and even irrational and in some cases they will even cut off their noses to spite you. That in a nutshell is my concern.

It is worth mentioning. Every time I talk with my friends in Europe and the US, I find that hardly anyone appreciates the resolve of the Chinese when it comes to their seriousness concerning the one china policy. The discussion is always couched in terms of territorial claim that frequently elides history – this I feel is a very serious omission on the part of the part of the West to assume that everything can be tabled for discussion or negotiation – my feel is they have not been diligent in either their intelligence gathering and most importantly analysing this aspect of the Chinese psyche.

As unity. Or shall I say the seeming appearance of unity in the national context has always been a matter of strategic precondition to the Chinese leadership stretching all the way back to the Imperial days. If one takes the trouble to peruse thru the long history of China, every single aspect of governance is streamed to prioritizes unity. Everything from the physical of the Great Wall to the intellectual is designed to create a united China.

Many intelligence analyst today seem to have conveniently forgotten what once sadly transpired in Tiannanmen square in the eighties – in my humble opinion this chapter of history should be required reading material for anyone who desires to understand the importance of unity to the Chinese leadership.

So with that reality in the foreground how far do you think Mr Trump is going to go by trying to use the one china policy as a bargaining chip?

Based on my understanding of the Chinese leadership there is no possibility of Balkanization in China. I don’t deny that may have once transpired spectacularly with the USSR, but for history to repeat itself in China is simply impossible as they are so many built in safeguards to interdict that sort of social cultural implosion – not even the in the autonomous regions of Tibet, Xinjiang or for that matter Hong Kong or Taiwan.

Q: To my second question – what is it that is so disconcerting to you about China deciding to fly a bomber to the SCS?

A: I have already answered that question – as that act by itself is the clearest demonstration of China’s resolve to use every means including atomics to defend it’s right to plant a flag on the SCS.

It is the decision making process that should prompt every perceptive observer to sit at the edge of their seats – as this is not something that can be done at a localized command level – it would logically involve at least seven to eight layers of lengthy discussion at a party political level then it would filter down to the executive arm. The fact that they can mobilize within such a short period of time can only point to only a few decision nexus, this scenario has been war gamed, that is to say the various permutations have been played out. Standard pre-emptive protocols are already in place to facilitate lighting response. Launch and priming codes are sequenced in such a way as to avoid lengthy bureaucratic friction.

This is not a play play scenario. This is very serious to people who know warcraft.

Please understand I am not for one moment saying war is imminent – only you have to understand the SCS is a new theatre unlike Kashmir, the 38 parallel or the West Bank. There currently exist no rules of engagement. No historical precedent as to what each side is supposed to do or not do under X,Y or Z conditions.

It’s not like happy Kashmir where the Pakistanis fire off a salvo of 155’s at half past one before breaking off for tea and popadoms then everyone ambles into their fox holes followed by a return salvo of shells from the Indians at exactly three sharp and on Eid and Devali they even have a ceasefire and play a bit of cricket.

Many many bad things can and will happen in the SCS. Things can be taken out of context. Conflict can escalate beyond control.

There is a pressing need in my opinion for a Nixon and Mao moment to restore global harmony so that everyone can sleep soundly. To accomplish this with finesse and immaculate skill very very serious men are needed – this is the time for the Singapore government to set aside it’s ego and simply ask themselves one question – who can best step into this shoe.

To me politics is like organized crime – emotion is a luxury! As I said, don’t ever get a sheep to do a fox’s job.

Q: What is your primary concern with Trump?

A: I don’t think my primary concern is necessary framed in the short term – that is true not only of Trump, but also Brexit as well. As when we speak presently, it is my firm belief people in the US and the UK are still hopeful.

I am not only talking about those who voted for Trump and Brexit. There is certainly denial there of the economic reality that makes up modern trade and commerce. But for those who are vexed and demonstrate aghast over Trump – I also see elements of denial as well.

As they don’t seem to want to come to terms with how free trade and globalization has produced inequalities that can no longer be denied and must be redressed if it is to remain credible.

As I said, in the short term for both the US and UK. The current economic situation is not as bad as was predicted and they live in hope that things will get better. But as time goes by, it is my belief since the expectations of the electorate is so unhinged from reality and the custodian of power cannot possibly be the purveyor of their hopes and dreams, currency will depreciate, inflation will bite further, jobs will not return home, living standards will continue to decline and the aperture for upward mobility will be further constricted as the global economy moves towards stasis.

This is going to take some time, but happen it surely will as free trade and globalization is so entrenched at a systematic level that any attempt to change it will surely be violent – and when that day comes there will be plenty of angry people who will not only feel cheated but they will lose all hope in the idea of government and possibly even veer towards isolationism.

Q: So is it right to say you are more afraid of the post Trump era?

A: Yes, I think most thinkers have already moved on – Trump and Brexit is already a done deal. Now in my considered opinion there remains only a few questions on the table. How much damage will the global economy be able to sustain without falling apart? How will the US electorate react when Trump fails to deliver on so many of his pie in the sky promises? Will they actually blame him? Or will they themselves assume some level of culpability to blame themselves?

I am not optimistic. As history has shown time and again – disaffected, marginalized and especially ignorant people will likely direct their anger at an imaginary foe and all the signs suggest that China may have to bear the brunt of this tsunami of unfulfilled hopes and aspirations.

For now, and for the foreseeable future, the future certainly looks very bleak.

Q: Do you see Trump heralding the return of fascism? And if so how would you rate this apparent threat?

A: No! no! I think most people have the wrong end of the stick. Let me be frank – the threat of fascism is not as real and present as the threat that the democratic electoral system has managed to produced these set of undesirable results. I for one am inclined to believe democracy might not longer be sustainable any longer.

Bear in mind Trump won the Republican nomination because more people voted for him than voted for anyone else. Democracy was furiously at work there. Donald Trump won the presidential election because enough people voted for him in enough states. Again democracy was furiously at work there. And you could even say it is the same with Brexit – it was a democratic referendum. In both of this cases, no one can say without running the risk of discrediting themselves, democracy did not work the way it was supposed to, although it produced exactly the opposite of the result it was meant to produce.

Now this to me is a historical development of sorts – because since Plato’s Republic, the democratic process has proven to be a very robust and reliable way to winnow good from bad leaders. Not it seems the process may have failed.

So of course this has to be disturbing at some many levels.

Q: If democracy is no longer a reliable means to perpetuate political hegemony – then what do you see as the credible alternative?

A: I don’t for one moment believe completely democracy is done for. Bear in mind, this is not new – as both Mussolini and Hitler also came into power via the democratic process. But even after the end of WW 2 – there was a great movement of pan European introspection spearheaded by the Beveridge commission that was quite brutal in it’s account of how many of the Europeans had planted the seeds of fascism which culminated in WW2 by imposing the harsh dicta on the Weimar Republic in the Treat of Versailles.

Unfortunately the same intellectual resolve or spirit or whatever you wish to term it seems to be sorely lacking in the Trump win – you don’t see the neo liberal elites interrogating either why or how so many seemingly level headed and reasonable Americans voted for Trump. Neither do you hear Paul Krugman, Michael Porter or for that matter any of the adherents of globalization and free trade suggesting that they are willing to accept even one molecule of culpability for this outcome that they all prefer to term as an aberration. That to me has to be worrisome. As it suggest there is only a few possibilities here, one the water supply system in the West is contaminated with mind bending drugs or that many of these intellectuals much prefer to live in their own reality of denial.

Q: To what extent will the economic slowdown in China affect it’s foreign policy towards the US?

A: You know when it comes to China – I don’t think one can delineate cleanly between their domestic and foreign policy, it’s really one of the same reality, where it could be said domestic policy exerts a gravity on foreign policy and vice versa – that’s only to be expected you have to factor in the immense scale, diversity and complexity whenever we speak about China.

As it stands today – the Chinese leadership is trying to engineer a soft landing on the economic front. Of course all this is not even widely published in China as information is controlled and filtered. But their economy is definitely not in the pink of health – I think they expanded too fast especially in the property sector and debt along with cost of capital and inflation will continue to militate against even the best plans to conceive a soft landing. This is definitely a matter of great concern on the domestic front and that is why the Chinese want status quo when it comes to trade with the West.

The problem is Trump seems to be laying down plans for a trade war with China. To be honest with you. I don’t know whether this is all just saber rattling or might it even be something approaching the serious – if it’s the latter then we are likely to see an economic war – where I don’t see any clear winners emerging.

But I digress.

Coming back to your question. Many things are very crumbly and fragile with the Chinese economy – for the very first time there is a reversal of migration from the coastal cities back to the countryside. Again this news is not widely reported. There is also the issue of the succession plan of the fifth generation leaders that has recently been put on hold by Xi – this suggest there might be schism within the oligarchy of the Chinese communist party. There is also the complexity of having to deconstruct and retool many of the state owned oligarchies that have grown so powerful and all pervasive that it has become a form of spiritualism resembling religion in China. I mean in China – what many westerners don’t seem to comprehend is it is communism is not just a political philosophy based on ideology, it is very much a way of life that happens to nourish millions of Chinese. Of course in the west, if we use modern accounting techniques, we would provably consider these state owned oligrachs as zombie outfits – but in China, certain sacred cow industries such as coal, steel and the many appendages of the PLA is really the equivalent of Temasek Holdings – so it’s conceivable these set pieces can never change – as they happen to be an indelible reality of the DNA that holds the country together. That simply means even if the Chinese leadership want to change these set pieces, they will have to work around the labyrinth of power and politics…it’s going to be uphill for Xi and his crew to jump start the domestic economy without the rest of the world.

Either way China needs the world as badly as the world needs China – that’s reality.

(To be con’t)

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