I recently had a conversation with a high ranking officer in Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade whose work responsibilities include promoting and facilitating border trade and investment between Vietnam and China. We have been meeting for years and despite past flareups in the South China Seas and the occasional anti-China rally in Hanoi, he has always expressed optimism toward the future of the China-Vietnam relationship. He has believed that cooler heads will always prevail at the upper levels of government and that the increasing flows in border trade and investment overland between China and Vietnam do much to alleviate the tensions brewing on the seas. But in my recent meeting, the officer expressed a 180 degree interpretation of the future of trade relations between China and Vietnam. He fears that as a result of China’s aggressive movements in the South China Sea, the two countries will soon adopt isolationist and protective trade policies toward each other, and the goodwill provided by decades of border trade and shared investment projects will soon become undone. Continue reading
Category Archives: USA
Which Chinese provinces and US states have similar areas and populations?
In recent weeks, warfare in Burma’s Kachin State has increased and is now making its way closer to the Burma-China border. While the international community has paid little attention to the Kachin conflict over the past few years, understanding its complexity is now more important than ever. Failing to do so could have dire implications on the lives of Kachin women, and on diplomatic relations in the region.
Kachin State is an ethnic area in northern Burma that has long suffered from conflict with the central Burmese government. In 2011, a seventeen-year cease-fire was broken, resulting in the onset of active warfare. In spite of ongoing attempts at peace negotiations, the Burmese government has been committing atrocities– including rape, arbitrary arrest and torture– against civilians. The region has been documented to be an active conflict zone resulting in one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. According to reports issued by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO)—the political arm of the Kachin people– over 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have fled to border areas of Burma and China to escape the fighting, and these communities suffer from a lack of basic necessities and little to no foreign aid. Additionally, as the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand has documented, the trafficking of women into China’s neighboring Yunnan province as forced brides has become a growing problem.
Recently, I traveled to Mai Ja Yang, the second largest city in KIO-controlled territory to interview women and men living amid the conflict about the issue of trafficking. I conducted interviews with over 25 trafficking survivors, female soldiers, women’s organizations, lawmakers, cultural leaders, IDP relief workers and administrators from the KIO. I was hosted by the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand, an organization actively working on the issue.
My research revealed that gender discrimination, demand from China for brides due to the one-child policy and crippling conditions on the ground due to the military conflict within Kachin State contribute to the problem of trafficking. As former “forced brides” and others reported, the escalation of the military conflict has resulted in a sharp increase in irregular migration. Simultaneously, trafficking has become less of a priority for the KIO government, whose attention is focused on war strategy and the political process, rather than the empowerment of Kachin women.
Now, the Burma army is stepping up its attacks in a move that could increase women’s vulnerability to trafficking. As a recent article in the Irrawaddy Magazine revealed, last week the army launched an attack on a KIO military outpost near Mai Ja Yang, which shares its eastern border with China’s Yunnan province. Mai Ja Yang is home to a growing number of IDPs—men, women and children who have had to flee their homes after their villages were raided. Now, not only are these people’s homes destroyed, but their temporary camps are in danger, as well.
With fighting approaching the border areas, women living in the camps could become even more vulnerable. These women face insecurity in the form of food shortage, lack of infrastructure and basic sanitation. They also face circumstances of gender-based violence and rape. Additionally, lack of a means of income generation influences women to migrate to China to find work—a situation that leaves them vulnerable to labor exploitation and trafficking.
But the international community has been slow to respond to the conflict. As a recent Stimson Report revealed, the precarious nature of the US- China relationship has given American leaders pause in “interfering” in such a sensitive geo-political arena. Additionally, aid workers report having had difficulty accessing the IDP camps due to the ongoing warfare in surrounding areas.
Despite these cautions, it is in the interest of the Chinese, Burmese and Kachin governments to quell an increase in trafficking. Doing so would not only improve the lives of thousands of women, but it could prove beneficial for each country’s relationship with the United States. This is because the US State Department has made trafficking a primary agenda in its international policy. In fact, the State Department’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report ranks every country in the world according to how well they comply with the US mandate against human trafficking. As a result, in recent years trafficking has become a number one priority on the US government’s agenda.
The policies associated with the US government’s anti-trafficking mandate are n0t always beneficial for the women they’re intended to help. As I discuss here, the US State Department sometimes gets it wrong, and trafficking continues to escalate. In the case of Burma and China, however, the US’s mandate could actually serve a useful—even diplomatic– function. Due to the transnational nature of human trafficking, cooperation between governments in the region is essential for the development and implementation of a robust anti-trafficking policy. Collaboration between the Chinese government and KIO, for example, is needed to resolve trafficking cases and bolster prevention efforts on both sides of the border. As wary as the US government is of getting involved in these relationships, the trafficking issue could potentially be an inroad yielding productive results.
Thus far, however, the only people seriously trying to combat trafficking along the Burma-China border are a handful of brave and talented activists on the ground. Mai Ja Yang is home to a number of women’s organizations dedicated to increasing the political and civil rights of women in Kachin society. These women work at great personal risk, while the Third Brigade of the KIA works to maintain their security.
But these organizations can only accomplish so much without international support. Instead of turning a blind eye to the conflict, Western governments should help them develop a robust anti-trafficking policy for Kachin State. Additionally, the US government should put pressure on the Burmese and Chinese governments to de-escalate the conflict in KIO-controlled areas. Failing to do so could not only exacerbate the precarious nature of diplomatic ties in the region, but it could lead to an increase in victims of human trafficking– the very people the US government says it is trying to help.
US Ambassador to China Gary Locke paid his third visit to Yunnan province on Thursday, November 21, one day after the announcement of his unexpected resignation. His visit was part of an investment promotion roadshow entitled “The Best of America” traveling around China’s southwestern provinces and organized by the US consulates in Chengdu and Guangzhou. The event was hosted by provincial vice-governor Gao Feng and attended by Yunnanese business interests and officials from the provincial international trade promotion department, tourism department and public health departments. Core economic strengths of the US were represented by CEOs and officers of Deliotte, GE, Motorola, CISCO systems, Intel, and Miller Canfield Law firm in addition to other firms. United Airlines was also in attendance and eager to promote its new direct flight from Chengdu-San Francisco opening early 2014.
Opening remarks were given by both Ambassador Locke and Vice Governor Gao. Both speeches highlighted the United States’ and Yunnan’s shared history of cooperation through the Flying Tigers, as well as the need for present day economic cooperation. In his remarks, Ambassador Locke boasted of the increase of China-to-US FDI under his tenure. In the past 21 months, investments from China totaled USD 18 billion, more than the past 10 years combined, an accomplishment Locke can only take partial credit for, as larger macroeconomic trends in the US and China were also important factors. Locke was also able to highlight the increase of Chinese students in the US in recent years. According to the ambassador, the number of Chinese students in the US reached 280,000 in 2012. In addition, Ambassador Locke was also able to point to decrease in wait time for US visas and a new, expanded visa office at the Chengdu consulate as notable achievements under his tenure. Aside from pushing investment in America, Locke also promoted core American values like legal transparency, free trade and intellectual property rights, issues that have been divisive for the two countries in past years.
Speaking directly after Ambassador Locke, Yunnan’s Vice Governor Gao Feng also promoted bilateral trade and cooperation. In his remarks, Vice Governor Gao emphasized Yunnan’s role as China’s gateway to South Asia and Southeast Asia and its fast pace of the its economic growth. Gao pointed to the recent China-South Asia Expo as a marker of Yunnan’s rise in national and regional importance. The US delegation noted that Locke’s visit to Yunnan went very smoothly and all requests for visits to companies and government ministries were granted, including a visit to Yunnan University, where the Ambassador met with students and professors. This is in contrast to the difficulty encountered when US delegations request access in other provinces and autonomous regions in southwest China, particularly Tibet.
The roadshow was planned with the specific purpose of promoting Chinese FDI to the US, the export of medical technology to Yunnan’s developing healthcare sector, and tourism to the US. After the Green Lake Hotel event, the delegation met mostly with potential investors from the agriculture and mining sectors reflective of these two sectors as two core pillars of Yunnan’s economy – tourism. Locke also encouraged US investment in Yunnan tourism management systems – something sorely needed in Yunnan, and China at large, as localities struggle to protect cultural capital bases and natural endowments from the damaging onslaught of mass Chinese tourism.
The inability of Yunnan’s medical infrastructure to keep up with the demand for medical services was apparent when the delegation was shown MRI scanner purchased from the US that had been use for 10 years at the Kunming Number One Hospital. The machine was being used 70-80 times per day non-stop for seven days per week. Cumulative cost of parts and supplies maintenance, all imported from the US, had greatly exceeded the original cost of the machine.
Lastly, Chinese tourism to the US was high on the list of promotion for the delegation. In 2012, tourism to the US was the US’s top service sector export with Chinese tourists leading the way in number of tourists visiting the US in a by country breakdown. In international trade accounting, foreign tourist visits are counted as an export due to the positive accumulation of foreign income.
Locke’s visit is recognition of the fruits of the China’s Western development program – namely economic progress to the degree that US investors are now drawn to the fast growth rates coming out of China’s southwestern provinces. And as a result of that economic progress, Yunnanese investors have reached levels of wealth garnering capabilities to invest in the US, half a globe away. His visit is also reinforcement of Yunnan’s strategic location as a gateway for regional investment to Southeast Asia and South Asia – a key point mentioned by both the US delegation and the provincial hosts.
Later in the day, Locke’s diplomatic rock star status was confirmed by an exuberant crowd of students at Yunnan University proud of their shared heritage with the US ambassador. Locke returned that exuberance with hugs. With Locke stepping down it may be a while until another US ambassador to China receives the kind of welcome received in Thursday in Yunnan.
Consensus among some of the ExSE members is that Locke may be stepping down in preparation for a high appointment related to the 2016 presidential election. He is an extremely successful career politician with experience managing Americans’ most important bilateral relationship, domestic economic and international trade relations as US Commerce Secretary, and a successful run as governor of Washington State. This portfolio positions Locke as a strong candidate for VP or Secretary of State under a future Democratic presidency. Gary Locke will step down as US Ambassador to China early 2014 after taking up the post in August, 2011.
Earlier this week US President Barack Obama cancelled his historic visits to Malaysia and the Philippines but made good on his promise to attend regional leadership meetings in the coming days where key trade agreements and hard power deals are likely be negotiated and fortified. However, domestic pressures over the budget crisis and government shutdown in Washington have caused the President to scrap his trip entirely.
Will Obama’s absence be a game-changer for regional relations and the US’s strategic pivot to the Asia Pacific? Will Tea Party-infused political brinkmanship in the US offer Chinese president Xi Jinping, also attending the summits, a golden opportunity to expand China’s regional footprint?
Obama’s strategic “pivot” and return to the Asia Pacific, by and large, has utilized Southeast Asian states as a springboard in developing a program of political and economic laurels that open up Southeast Asian markets for foreign direct investment and international trade. From a 1,000 foot view, the US pivot looks similar to China’s foreign policy to Southeast Asia, thus the US’s program both complements and competes with China’s regional rise. It is important to remember that due to its proximity to Southeast Asia and its fast-tracked economic expansion, China’s investment and trade volumes with Southeast Asia will always exceed that of the United States. However another hard reality is that US power in Southeast Asia, both soft and hard, will always eclipse that of China’s. It will take major restructuring in the US (for the worse) and in China (for the better) to reverse this relationship. Despite the best efforts of the Tea Party in the US and potentially of an equally challenging New Left movement down the road, the status quo in terms of the channels that express US military, economic, and cultural power in Southeast Asia are unlikely to weaken. For China, we are uncertain of Xi Jinping’s economic reform platform likely to unfold at year’s end, but we can be assured that his platform will focus on strengthening China’s domestic economy first, with foreign policy and other considerations taking a backseat.
In terms of soft power choices between China and the US, the consistent preference of Southeast Asians is to side with the US or at the very least, against China. Wealthy Southeast Asians, like the Chinese, send their children to top US universities for robust skilling; Southeast Asians, like Americans, go to China to learn Mandarin. Middle income consumers in Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia refuse to purchase Chinese made smart phones (and their apps and operating systems), those who have the means to purchase cars in Laos choose Japanese Toyotas or refurbished Korean used cars, and with the Chinese mainland’s crowding out of the Hong Kong and Taiwan entertainment industries, no one in Southeast Asia listens to new music or watches new films coming out of China. Continue reading