Another 4 years

With academics and a lot of other things consuming my time, I’ve spent less time caring about the 2012 US elections. Myself aside, international support for Obama doesn’t seem to be significantly lower than in 2008. If the world were the electorate, it seems likely that Obama would have been elected in a much greater landslide.

But though the results are the same, 2008 and 2012 differ in one massive way: The reason. In 2008, there was genuine support and enthusiasm for Obama internationally. This was reflected by his overseas trips that did much to help Obama build up his brand. 4 years on, it was understandable given the domestic situation that Obama would be less focused on foreign affairs. But it was also notable that direct support and enthusiasm for Obama was much lower. It wasn’t that people didn’t want Obama to win, but rather than they were less likely to support him directly. The 2012 support stemmed more from a general dislike of the Republican candidate, or candidates.

This might well have been the unfortunate result of Obama’s own doing. His rock-star status and breath-of-fresh-air-appeal in 2008 created some very high expectations of how he would perform. Once in the White House, reality struck, limiting his capacity to do many of the things had argued for. The Arab Spring, the rising tensions in Asia and Europe’s slow disintegration probably didn’t help the case.

As it stands, though non-Americans are happy for Obama’s re-election, there is doubtlessly less enthusiasm for his presidency. Not that it really matters, given that the events on the ground are forcing Obama to ‘pivot’ to domestic issues.


Tectonic shifts in Chinese society

Dr. Wei Hongxia

China.org.cn, the “authorized government portal site to China” “published under the auspices of the State Council Information Office and the China International Publishing Group (CIPG) in Beijing” is not known for being very fair in its reports. Indeed, I have followed its opinion pieces with the very intention of getting a radically different perspective. However, every once in a while, there comes an opinion piece with some very good observations that are able to stand up to scrutiny.

Here’s Dr. Wei Hongxia, “visiting scholar with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace”, discussing three very relevant changes in China that could well shape how the next 10 years play out under new leadership: Chinese political culture, Chinese civil society and Chinese foreign policy.

Observers have noted that the scale and the scope of the coming changes are likely to be widest in China’s three most important leadership bodies: The Party, the government and the military. It’s believed that the coming changes will see roughly two-thirds of the existing membership replaced by newcomers. These newcomers will largely account for many of the leading positions in China’s political, economic and ideological administrations, and provincial, foreign policy, public security and military operations after the upcoming 18th Party Congress and the 12th National People’s Congress in the Spring of 2013. In general, this new generation of leaders is more diverse in their educational, professional and economic backgrounds. Most are better educated than their predecessors and some even have diplomas from foreign institutions. Some of them have been chosen through competition, some through recommendations and some have gradually risen through the ranks. They are also more cosmopolitan in their worldviews and policy choices than their predecessors. Their backgrounds are more complex, representing different interest groups within China.

Appearance, Appearance, Appearance

After much attention on the 2012 Chief Executive Elections, Leung Chun-ying ultimately emerged the new Chief-Executive elect. Although not seen as the ideal candidate, he certainly held the lead in terms of opinion polls, and probably has some genuine support, more so than many of his rivals. A major part of his victory was down to his ability to project a sense that he was the public’s choice and Henry Tang merely China’s choice. This appearance was certainly helped by his visits to public housing estates etc.

What is surprising is his failure to recognize the importance of public perception in the aftermath of the vote. His first order of business, visit the Chinese Liason office. Certainly there are good reasons to do so, though I am doubtful of his explanation. However, for argument’s sake, let’s put aside the suggestion that he went to thank the Chinese Liason Office for their unofficial official support at the end of the campaign. Even if he had a legitimate reason for visiting, he should be well aware of the perception that it would give. I think it is safe to assume that he doesn’t live in a vacuum of his own, which means that he would be fully aware of media reports on the heavy show of hand by the Chinese Liason office as well as the fear that the Chinese government was unnecessarily meddling in Hong Kong affairs. Then it should be clear, even if there is a good reason to visit the Liason Office, such as visit would best be done at another time, in another place, in a more sensitive way. What baffles me is how a candidate can be so conscious of public sentiment during the campaign, and almost instantly ignore or fail to even consider public perception.

Responsibility to Protect: A 5 point test

An interesting 5 point test on whether to invoke the Responsibility to Protect, presented by Gareth Evans, Australia’s foreign minister for eight years in his Project Syndicate article.

  1. “The first criterion is the potential harm to civilians: is the threat of a type and scale that prima facie justifies the use of force?”
  2. “Whether the primary purpose of any proposed military action is to halt or avert the threat to civilians”
  3. “The issue of last resort: has every non-military option been explored and found unlikely to succeed?”
  4. “Proportional means: are the scale, duration, and intensity of the proposed military action the minimum necessary to meet the threat in question?”
  5. “The final, and ultimately the most crucial, criterion for intervention is the balance of consequences: will military intervention do more harm than good?”

Yes, or just No? Public opinion during HK Chief Executive Election 2012

This year’s Hong Kong Chief Executive Election has been anything but normal. As I noted last time, it was instrumental in creating new norms that I feel will be beneficial in the future. One of the more interesting aspects was of this years campaign was the swings in public opinion, which I believe had a distinct impact on the race as a whole. More interestingly, was support for any of the candidates a ‘Yes’ in support of them, or merely a ‘No’ in opposition?

From the off, Leung chun-ying seemed to have the upper hand in public opinion, with regular reports of how he was besting Henry Tang by sometimes double digits. On the surface of it, it seemed that the Hong Kong people prefered Leung, who was seen as having an outsiders chance of dethroning Tang, who at the time was perceived as ‘China’s pick’. In many respects, this may be true. Certainly, Tang was the first to be hit by a series of scandals with his marriage laid out in full view, followed by massive cranes being put outside his Kowloon Tong residence. So in the midst of the campaign, you had Leung, who was seen as popular and the people’s choice, in comparison to Tang who was scandal hit and China’s choice.

With Tang’s rather unwarranted outbursts revealing Exco meeting details, it became increasingly clear that he would be an unviable candidate, lacking both public opinion and having a long series of unforced errors. Attention then swung quite strongly towards Leung. However, Leung turned out to have a closet of his own with allegations of corruption and very-late-coming allegations from Tang of being an advocate for greater power and more limited freedoms. Also, in the closing stages of the campaign, there were further questions as to whether Leung was an underground member of the Chinese Communist Party. All this helped turn the perception of Leung as the under-dog to the presumed Chinese pick, something that the Chinese liaison office seemed to support by almost openly canvasing for electors to vote for Leung.

A defense of the 2012 Hong Kong Chief Executive Election

Today, 1,200 people will cast ballots in the Hong Kong Chief Executive elections 2012. It has been an eventful campaign, with even a full Wikipedia page being developed with details outlining all the various bits of mud that were slung around. Let’s first be clear, as Anson Chan so eloquently stated, this election is not a free and fair election. Albert Ho was clearly not going to win, and only 1,200 people were able to express any opinion in any instance.

However, in contrast to the 2007 elections, this was measurably more competitive with 3 candidates (Leung Chun-Ying, Henry Tang and Albert Ho) rather than the 2 (Donald Tsang and Alan Leong). Notably was the fact that there were a whole host of other politicians who were considered possible candidates, including Rita Fan and Regina Ip. There was even a ‘primary’ between the various pan-democrat groups. The campaign itself was also more competitive with genuine uncertainty as to who would be ultimately elected until about a week ago. In addition to the formal poll, there was also the HKU’s public opinion poll that was conducted yesterday and the day before.

Although the 2012 elections are not free and fair elections in their own rights, I think it is hard to argue that they have not been an improvement in comparison to the 2007 elections. Whilst we should continue to push for universal suffrage in 2017, we should stop and think how far we have gone this year.

AC MUN 2012 – Part 2

The 2012 edition of the annual Atlantic College Model United Nations conference was hosted last weekend. Since I was organizing the conference, I wasn’t able to spend as much time in committee as I wanted to. Though on Saturday I got a full dose as I ended up co-chairing the Crisis committee. We simulated Iran closing the Strait of Hormuz (thanks RCNMUN 2012) and I realized in the process of making the news articles the evening before that the situation wasn’t that stimulative as one might have thought. It mostly consisted of copying and pasting a news article and changing words like threaten to have. That was all it took. A few word changes and the world could be up in smokes. What if a real news aggregator mistyped or accidentally sent out the news that Iran had closed the Strait of Hormuz?

The crisis committee itself was fun. I ended up creating a few extra news reports than I had anticipated. I had some other stuff to sort out after lunch, but I did go back to the crisis committee about half an hour before it finished, and ended up being North Korea, introduced a few ‘interesting’ clauses and then headed off to the closing ceremony. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a crisis committee (the simulation sort, not the ‘we only knew about the topic today’ sort) so not a bad first introduction overall.