What does it mean when the PM of Singapore did not attend the OBOR briefing?

May 18, 2017

Q: Your lightning take please. Why didn’t the Chinese invited PM Lee for the OBOR briefing in Beijing?

A: I am confused. From what we know the only source seems to be from Lawrence Wong who was asked why didn’t PM Lee attend and he replied, the Chinese are responsible for issuing out invitations. So many things can be read between the lines. (A) the Chinese bureaucrat who was responsible for compiling the invitation list choked on his toothpaste while brushing his teeth and promptly died hence PM Lee’s was left out. (B) The Chinese did actually send PM Lee and invitation but for some reason the it didn’t reach PM Lee’s office.

It is a very strange way to communicate information because if I ask you the time and you begin to recount that this morning when you took a dump your shit was glowing and it was green in color, then reasonable people are likely to draw the logical conclusion you don’t know how to manage an intelligent conversation.

So I don’t know.

Q: Let us assume that the Chinese did not invite PM Lee. What can you draw from that?

A: The short answer goes something like this. China considers the US led pivot in the form of the TPP as overbearing and diametrically in conflict with its geoeconomic interest. They have obvious drawn the conclusion Singapore is a reliable ally of the US and a main proponent of the TPP. They also have reason to believe Singapore has designs to rally the rest of the ASEAN countries against China’s occupation of the SCS. So the Chinese have taken this opportunity to demonstrate their displeasure?

Q: How true is China’s assertation given that Singapore has always maintained it has a right to it sovereignty and elemental right to speak out?

A: I think the Chinese position is reasoned, reasonable and logical.

Q: So you believe it to be true?

A: No. As I said it is a reasoned assembly of facts along with a reasonable conclusion that abides by very logical rules concerning how one might draw an accurate picture of what is transpiring?

Q: Why is Singapore against OBOR?

A: I really don’t think it’s that personal. Singapore simply sees more mileage to go with the US position. Hence it’s not unusual for her to align and even intertwined her interest with the US position to maintain its geoeconomic and geopolitical sphere of influence and primacy in the Asian Pacific region.

This position is not unique to just Singapore. The Japanese and to a limited extent the Indians subscribe to such a position.

Q: How is the Indian position different in so far as you see fit to describe ‘limited’ from let’s say the Japanese position?

A: The Indians have always been suspicious of the Chinese and it’s a very entrenched mindset that has a long history that goes back to 1962 when the Chinese crossed the Mahon line. Technically it was a Chinese invasion of Indian territory. To exacerbate matters both countries share a gamut of buffer zones in the form of Bhutan, Tibet and to a limited extent Kashmir as well. Because China has always been a reliable ally of the India’s arch enemy Pakistan.

China has pumped in at least $46 billion of investment into Pakistan for the CPEC project and they’re unlikely to scale back. The OBOR project is likely to heighten the security risk of India considerably as CPEC is likely to increase the scope and ease of cooperative action between Pakistan and Chinese forces. For the first time the Pakistani’s will be able to mobilised their armor units and artillery pieces with full logistical and supply support via roads. This has been one of the perennial constraints that is so serious that it literally stops both sides from fighting. As since every shell needs to be either airlifted or taken to site with donkey power thru the mountainous himalayans it guarantees a detente. But with the completion of CPEC both the Paks and the Chinese Army will get deeper access and deployment into Kashmir.

I say their resistance to OBOR is ‘limited’ as it relates primarily to balancing the geo political sphere.

The Indians are wary of OBOR not only on land but sea as well. One concern is how the Chinese navy has become more muscular in the Indian Ocean – of course China justifies this arms race by constantly issuing out assurances that all it is trying to do is build new international trade networks. This other dimension of OBOR known as the Maritime Silk Road is a constant source of anxiety for India as she sees it as China’s attempt to gain control or influence at all major maritime trade chokepoints from the Gulf of Eden to the Indian Ocean and into the Bay of Bengal.

One of the constraints of the Chinese Navy is the lack of ports that would allow her to competently conduct blue water operations. But with Djibouti coming on line in Etiophia and Gwadar in Pakistan and Sonadia in the Bay of Bengal and all this is under the aegis of OBOR. What this means is for the first time in maritime history, the Chinese navy would be able to conduct carrier operations right in the backyard of the Indias.

This has to be disconcerting when you consider Indians navy is currently in a right mess. They just decommissioned one carrier and what they’re left with spends more time in the dry docks than at sea. On top of that they don’t even have a carrier doctrine as no one knows what planes to use.

As opposed to the U.S. system, however, the Chinese strategy is based on a version of mercantilism to control trade—as we’ve witnessed in its military push in the South China Sea, where it is beginning to deny access to other nations.

Q: What about Japan’s opposition to OBOR? How might they motivation differ from the Indians?

A: Japan is a very curious case. To me at least. Allow me to share why – as it is has every reason to be a big influencer in Asia. But for some curious reason they don’t seem to be able to build up a critical mass of the feel good factor or for that matter much enthuism with anything they do. That is very sad because unbeknown to many Japan is already a passive contributor to OBOR thru the scope of Japan’s official development assistance (ODA). Japan is remains the largest provider of foreign assistance and low-cost loans, larger than the United States or the World Bank or even the ADB. Japanese development aid to Asia and Africa is double Germany’s contribution. Japan occupies a similarly dominant position in concessional lending to Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Yet Japan cannot seem to drum up enthuism. I think one reason has to be the way they go about giving out these concessional loans – there is no grand design, no heart tugging story, they seem to like fund a sanitation plant somewhere in the dessert and once it’s finished everyone thanks them and a few months after that no one seems to be able to remember who built it or why or even who it’s supposed to benefit.

OBOR is very different. It doesn’t take a lot to stir up plenty of enthuism and excitement. You know just the other day a group of school kids asked me, what is one belt, one road? I asked them have you all heard of Marco Polo? And they all smiled and exclaimed yes. Every kid knows the story of that frontier man. It’s the story of great human endeavour, battling self doubt, breaching the unknown, a tale of redemption, risk. It’s very romantic. Very addictive and riveting. The man who went to Cathay ate a bowl of noodles and some wanton dumplings and came back to Verona Italy to make spaghetti and ravioli – of course that story isn’t entirely true. But you get my point – OBOR is very exciting and that’s really another way of saying the Chinese have done a brilliant job of marketing the vision, mission and philosophy of what they plan to share with the world.

While the Japanese are still running here and there building stuff for Africans and South Asians and no one knows or cares two hoots about their story. Because they don’t have one – so I see this malaise to be very much of the Japanese failure of imagination to sell themselves to the rest of world.

Why are they against OBOR? I really don’t know. Maybe they’re just so used to Pax Americana that’s what they really comfortable with. What I do know for a fact is most Japanese remain very uncomfortable about Japan weaponizing their atomics or allocating more of the GDP for defense – the modern Japanese has no stomach for war. And that may well be the reason why they much prefer to go with status quo. Because if China dominates the field of possibilities in the AP region – they will have to go down the warpath and Japan does not want this.

Q: Do you think OBOR holds out opportunities for Singapore?

A: I think at a country level it’s generally accepted, there will be more minuses than pluses. Firstly the volume of trade will be diverted as new gate ways will open up. Secondly, the Chinese are likely to deprioritize the use of the Straits of Malacca and Lombok. At the current rate of growth traffic grows at roughly 20% every year so it’s back to back and I don’t see it growing that way forever. Thirdly, the way in which raw materials will be converted to finished goods will begin to move inland for the very first time in human history.

Q: Sorry for the interruption this just came in – some people say OBOR is very conceptual because it relies of the cooperation of 62 countries and all it takes for the pipe to stop is for one country not to cooperate – what is your take?

A: I think what these people are asking obliquely is this Kompf – if a country for any reason decides to blockade a the section of the trade route what is likely to happen? In my understanding it’s like this. In 1956. When Nasser shut down the Suez Canal to the Gulf of Abaqa. Anglo French paratroopers were sent in. In 1983, when Noriega threatened to shut the Panama Canal. America invaded. You can draw you own conclusions as to what is going to happen from these examples.

Q: So you’re saying if the Thai’s build a canal thru the Kra Ismuth and blockade it, the Chinese will invade Thailand?

A: Not necessarily the Chinese per se. Maybe they will channel it thru the UN. But it’s likely the rest of the beneficiary countries along that route would very much like to see it remain open and that would be their motivation to vote in favor of armed aggression if diplomacy fails.

Look at it this way. I have waterlocks on my land. So does the landowners up and downstream. These locks are never ever used. That begs the question why would any sane landowner build expensive waterlocks that he never ever uses – must be some sort of mass insanity in action right. Not really. Because should the landowner upstream decide to activate his locks during the dry season to keep whatever little water to himself and deny water to me and the others downstream. Then all the landowners downstream will retaliate by activating their locks during the rainy season and flood that belligerent landowners land. So these waterlocks are the equivalent of the farmers atomic weapons. They are not meant to be used. But just because you don’t use something doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the agency of power. It is a deterrent. Because the very fact one has that capability to effect mutual assured destruction confers balance of power to ensure that no landowner interferes artificially with the datum of the river.

Trade routes are not so different. There will be the equivalent of waterlocks built in at strategic choke points to build in mutual assured destructive capabilities along with features to ensure every country along the route has balance of power to keep it open.

Q: I am sorry to interrupt you just now. Coming back to the question. What opportunities will there be for Singapore to benefit from OBOR.

A: The summary is not much at the country level simply because Singapore is in China’s bad books. Of course the politicians will continue to insist all is well and play happy families even. But I think there is enough indications to suggest relations are strained and likely to deteriorate.

But for Singaporeans I think the opportunities are limitless.

You know don’t think the Chinese are doing all this because they are good hearted people – their motivation is primarily geoeconomic. They want their factories to run on three rotating shifts without ever stopping. Then want every Chinese to be employed. Above all they want as many Chinese settlers to go out and populate the furtherest reaches of the world. This is the unpalatable aspect of OBOR that is seldom ever discussed – as to broach it automatically requires on to discuss the merits of lebensruam and how only that doctrine comes naturally to all imperialistic powers. The Americans had to do it with the prairie settlers. The Spanish before them did it with. So did the British, Romans, Ottomans and virtually every superpower.

If you think I am talking thru my hat. Then you best ask how did 1 million Chinese end up settling in Africa and calling it home. Many of these settlers first went there as menial construction workers and they eventually stay on entirely by their own initiative, not by way of any state planning. This Chinese diaspora is the primary engine that drives China’s economic growth in Africa. They’re there prospecting for gold in southern Ghana. In Zambia, they’ve grown so big they have even syndicate the illicit trade in ivory and rhino horn – in some parts of Africa, Niger and Chad especially they control every aspect of trade. Even the mighty French foreign legion don’t dare to cross them as many of these settlers have permeated every level of the landowning gentry and they wield tremendous influence. To me these are the first generational equivalents of the Spanish matizto of Ayala and Osmena’s.

The Chinese mandarins in Beijing are not stupid. Like the Japanese who learnt how to wage war in Manchuria only to apply their skill of arms against the British and Americans during the WW2 in the Pacific – they learnt a lot from Africa.

If you really want to time travel into the future and take a look at how the world will be along the many nodes, networks and confluence points of trade of OBOR, look at the Chinese and study what they once did in Africa.

If you want to be a first class intelligence analyst about China affairs don’t just sit in your aircon cubicle in some skyscraper and look thru ADB and World Bank stats to figure what the Chinese plan to do with OBOR. Go to Africa infiltrate their social networks like a Mossad secret agent and find out what they have been doing there since 2001. It’s a story that no one writes about because Africa has no four Seasons, it just a place where everyone likes to point guns at you.

And this is the same advise I will give every Singaporean. Just go! Because if you wait for Lawrence Wong to carve a way with the Chinese. They will just throw him a few trinkets – as at a government level it’s kaput. You will grow old, bald, toothless and poor and no girl will ever want to go out on a date with you. She dowan lah! But if you go. Find your niche in somewhere in the millions of miles. Can be anything under the sun – I can almost guarantee you providing you don’t mind strange people pointing guns at you from time to time. You will be rich beyond your wildest imagination. As who dares wins!

Kompf. You have absolutely no idea. None whatsoever. How long we have all been waiting for this day. And it’s finally here.

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