Monday, April 17, 2017

Article: Are There Chinese Hitmen in the Kingdom of Tonga? (The Diplomat)

Remarks from Tonga’s prime minister make public an open secret about crime in the Chinese community. 

Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Tonga ‘Akilisi Pohiva has publicly said he’s concerned some members of Tonga’s Chinese community might be hiring hitmen to target rivals within their own community. In so doing, Pohiva has said out loud what is an open secret in many parts of Oceania, and beyond.
In a range of countries, some of the recently arrived Chinese immigrants are bringing with them the norms of the business sector in mainland China. Many parts of China are a wild west. There are entire “gangsterized” villages and endless examples of the impunity (and immunity) with which powerful people can act. The recent case of Bo Xilai, the former party secretary of Chongqing who became enmeshed in a murder case, shone a bit of light into the depth of the rot.
Many of the Chinese who come and work in shops in Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, and elsewhere in Oceania didn’t have much money to begin with. In Tonga’s case, many immigrants are recruited from rural areas of China by one of the handful of major Chinese business people operating in the Kingdom. Often they have to borrow either from friends, family, or illicit sources to get the money for the flights, passports, visas, and set-ups costs. All too often they end up passing through criminal emigration operations. That means some were enmeshed with corrupt, and possibly criminal, activity before even landing in Oceania. And now those organizations know where they live.
Additionally, in Tonga, newly arrived Chinese have taken over about 80 percent of the retail sector in around the last decade. Many of the Chinese who run shops are still linked back into Chinese systems through supply chains and family.
While there are notable exceptions, including intermarriage, many of the newly arrived Chinese take local citizenship if they can, but they tend to see countries like Tonga as either a place to make money before returning to China, or as a stepping stone to other countries, including New Zealand and Australia – if not for them, then for their children. Many don’t intend to set down permanent roots, and so tend not to value integration into local society.
Tonga, like much of the rest of the region, is community-based and church is important. There are regular fundraisers, sharing of crops, and food to be made for communal events. Most of the Chinese community stays outside this network of obligations.
If a Tongan owned a shop, they would be expected to contribute to the community. The Chinese don’t, lowering their operating costs (in addition to being able to source directly from contacts in China). No matter how hard a Tongan worked, it would be very difficult to compete with a Chinese shop. It is not a level playing field. This can result in resentment from the Tongan population, exacerbating insularity in the Chinese community. It is one of the reasons why Chinese shops were targeted during the Tongan riots of 2006, and why a village in Samoa has decided to ban any new Chinese shops from customary land.
The insularity of some in the Chinese community has contributed to the perpetuation of more unsavory mainland business practices. In Tonga recently arrived Chinese have been involved in human traffickingprostitutionkidnapping and ransom, smuggling, corruption, bribery, gambling, arson, and murder. Then there is the visa fraud, fraudulent passport use, attempts to bribe customs, fencing of stolen property, etc. All in a country with a total population of around 100,000, where the Chinese population is only around 3 percent.
There isn’t much crime in Tonga, and official numbers put Chinese community-related crime at about 3 percent of total crime. But that percentage is misleading because the majority of crime within the Chinese community is never reported – it tends to be the most extreme cases, or cases involving Tongans, that find their way into the police statistics. Most adult Tongans in the capital, Nuku’alofa, can tell you where the Chinese brothels were, or are, and some of the gambling locations. They rarely get busted.
More troubling is that Tongans are sometimes enlisted as enforcers or proxies. There are multiple cases of Chinese businesspeople trying to enlist Tongans to burn down competitors’ shops, smuggle drugs, or assaultrivals within the community. This spreading of criminality into the general population is socially corrosive in the tight knit communities of Oceania. If, for example, the same China-produced fentanyl that is doing such damage in North America is brought into Oceania’s societies, it may take a very long time to recover. There are already signs meth might be making it in to Tonga.
Obviously, not all Chinese in Tonga are involved in illegal activity. In fact, some of the biggest victims of the criminality are other members of the Chinese community.  Also, there are at least three distinct (though sometimes overlapping) types of crime:
  • Transnational crime that passes through Tonga incidentally (for example using Tonga as a transshipment point when smuggling drugs between South America and Australia).
  • Crime in Tonga with direct links back to China (possibly via organized crime groups)
  • Crime within the Chinese community in Tonga
It’s unclear how much, if any, of this is linked to people in the Chinese “system,” either officially or unofficially. So, the question is how to tackle this before it gets worse?
For transnational crime, regional coordination and intelligence sharing is key. Australia and New Zealand are coordinating with other regional governments, including France, and are doing some good work in that area.
But, when it comes to domestic crime in Tonga, unfortunately New Zealand has other priorities that have seriously hampered crime prevention efforts.
Wellington has been focused on achieving a certain sort of regime change in Tonga. For at least a century various political leaders in New Zealand have been sporadically trying to break and bring to heel the complex political, economic, and social structures in Tonga. This is in part because New Zealand wants Tongan customary land, currently administered by the heads of the extended families (aka the “Nobles”), to be privatized. Some of Wellington’s recent efforts involved backing and funding, in at least one case via an NGO, the “democratic” group that was involved in the 2006 riot. During that riot, to avoid bloodshed and valuing lives over property, the Tongan police did not heavily intervene, eventually stepping aside to let the Tongan military secure the situation, which they did.
With Tonga in shock, New Zealand (and Australia) used the opening to propose a tripartite tied-aid policing agreement that would put a New Zealand police officer in place as Tonga’s Police Commissioner. Since then, three New Zealanders have filled the post. None spoke Tongan, let alone Mandarin, or had spent much time in Tonga before the posting. All have had serious problems building trust with the police force, and have forced officers to enact policies that are breaking down trust between officers and their communities, affecting information flows.
All also executed operations that raised questions about whom they were serving. One of those operations initiated a series of arrests of Nobles seemingly designed to discredit them as a group. Most of the charges were subsequently dismissed by the Supreme Court, with one Noble even successfully suing for back pay owed as a result of him losing his Parliamentary seat due to the false charges. Another operation involved seizing databases from the Tongan Immigration Ministry and sending them out of the country (presumably to New Zealand) for analyses. No convictions have resulted from the seizure.
The current Police Commissioner is focused on arresting people who are sitting by the road, or in their front yard, casually drinking on a Friday or Saturday night, even if they aren’t committing (other) crimes. He’s arrested hundreds of young men. Now that they have criminal records for doing something many New Zealanders do every weekend, they will have a much harder time getting a visa for further education, work, etc.
Meanwhile, the problems in the Chinese community go unaddressed — or worse, misaddressed. At the end of March, under the watchful eye of the current New Zealander Police Commissioner, the prime minister of Tonga was made to apologize to the ambassador of China for the crimes against Chinese in Tonga. The Chinese ambassador also complained that “the reasonable compensation claims by the victims were not earnestly responded [to] or implemented.”
It’s unclear why, as the man in charge of policing, the Commissioner himself wasn’t the one to take responsibility. Rather, the Commissioner had earlier “addressed” the problem by bringing an ethnic Chinese New Zealand police officer to Tonga to act as a community liaison. A liaison between which parties was unclear as he also didn’t speak Tongan.
The Chinese ambassador gave the liaison department a car, but has yet to substantially cooperate with the Tongan government on background checks for Chinese in Tonga.
Another interesting component of the whole event was that to the ambassador, ethnicity and not citizenship was the determining factor. The ambassador, as a representative of the state of China, claimed to speak for all ethnic Chinese, regardless of whether they are from Taiwan, Fiji, or Tonga. It gives no space for a Sino-Tongan community separate from Beijing to develop.
This link between the Chinese state and overseas communities occasionally pops into high relief. For example, in 2006, there were riots in the Solomon Islands that targeted the ethnic Chinese community. Locals were incensed at what appeared to be corruption and favoritism linking Solomon Island decision-makers and some newly arrived Chinese. China evacuated hundreds of Chinese to China. Interestingly, the Solomon Islands didn’t even have official diplomatic relations with China, as it recognized Taiwan. But the perception was that the Chinese state, via its overseas community, was creating a back channel into the decision-making structure.
All this doesn’t help dispel the feeling that a large part of the Chinese community is in, but apart from, Tonga. And that, as long as China stays China, overseas communities are vulnerable, through family or business ties, to the whims of someone back on the mainland. It also inhibits ethnic Chinese from becoming more integrated into local society.
Less than two weeks later the Tongan prime minister, who seems to have better information sources than the Commissioner, couldn’t hold it in any longer and out came the comments about the hitmen.
The Tongans know what is going on, but policing directives out of Wellington are making it increasingly difficult to build the trust necessary to have the information networks required to actually do something about it. It is emblematic of an approach to the region in which some of Wellington’s “stabilizing” operations can actually create more problems for all concerned because, fundamentally, New Zealand don’t seem to trust regional allies to be able to understand and resolve their own problems. Not only does it make more difficult for the countries concerned, it can actually drive them away from wanting to cooperate in the future.
The countries of Tonga and China are working together in a range of areas. For example, soon after the apology, China announced it would be funding and building a $25 million sports complex for Tonga’s upcoming hosting of the Pacific Games.
That engagement will continue with or without the spread of crime in and around the Chinese community. It would be better for all concerned, including China, if it were without. For that to happen, New Zealand (and China) needs to get out of the way and let the Tongans assess and solve their own domestic problems, for the good of all involved.
Cleo Paskal is an Associate Fellow, Chatham House (U.K.); Visiting Trudeau Fellow, CÉRIUM (Canada); and Adjunct Faculty, Manipal University (India).

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Article: France dives back into the South Pacific (TheWorld Today)

After a relatively quiet period, Paris is re-energizing its maritime empire, particularly in the Pacific. In the past year alone, there have been huge military sales, paradigm-shifting diplomatic initiatives, and unusual visits by French political leaders to far-flung islands. The first question is why? The second question is: what does that mean in the context of China’s growing role as a Pacific maritime power?
France has impressive global reach. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, every qualifying island can claim up to a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). France has islands all over the world that qualify, including the Pacific territories of New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and Wallis and Futuna.
The full tally of islands means France has the second largest EEZ in the world, around 11 million square kilometres, second only to the slightly larger EEZ of the United States. There are dots of France all over the globe, many in critical locations convenient for effective monitoring and strategic positioning.
Paris’s attitude towards her extremities tends to change over time, and is a by-product of core concerns. Take the evolving view of French Polynesia. It consists of more than 100 islands and atolls, including Tahiti and Bora Bora, spread out over the central southern Pacific and covers an enormous area, with an EEZ of 4.8 million sq km, about twenty times the total land mass of the United Kingdom.
For some of France’s post-Second World War leaders, fixated as they were with spectre of a nuclear conflict in Cold War Europe, the remoteness of the overseas territories represented a potential safe zone where leadership could retreat, and regroup. Charles de Gaulle’s concept of a ‘dispersed France’ viewed the ‘French territories in the furthest oceans’ as being crucial for the survival of the state should ‘European’ France be devastated, or become indefensible. While France decolonized other possessions, the ones in the Pacific were held on to very tightly indeed.
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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Article: President Trump: Here there be monsters? (Sunday Guardian)

Trump seems not to believe in monsters. Or, to put it in another way, Trump thinks he and America are the biggest ‘monsters’ on the map.
NEW DELHI: The modern incarnations of Humphrey from Yes, Prime Ministerexcel in keeping their pet politicians on leash through warnings that if they try to roam free they will immediately be eaten by monsters. In the same way that centuries ago some European cartographers used to implicitly encourage travellers to keep on the “right” path by drawing intimidating wild animals and sea creatures in parts of their maps that they judged dangerous or unknown, the Humphreys of today try to keep their charges “on track” by threatening them with the monsters of public opinion, their own party, the press, funders and other such terrors. 
The thing is, the United States’ President-Elect Donald J. Trump seems not to believe in monsters. Or, to put it in another way, Trump thinks he—and America—are the biggest “monsters” on the map and the smaller monsters and the Humphreys should be scared of them. He might be right.
Ever since the primaries, politicians, pundits and the press all warned of dangers for Trump if he waded into the waters of taking on China’s trade policies, facing down Fox News, not kowtowing to the interests of major funders, using the term “radical Islamic terrorism”, and more. Not only did he survive, he won.
For decades no American President or President-Elect publicly took a direct call from a Taiwanese leader. They were told by their political cartographers the call would immediately dump them in troubled waters with China, where they could get eaten alive. Trump took the call. So far, in spite of a lot of thrashing around by Beijing, no monsters. 
Politicians are trained to run public statements through a phalanx of focus groups, special interest lobbies and top bureaucrats or risk being cut off from funding or political support. By the time they come out the other side, the statements are weak and vague. Trump directly tweets major policy to the American public and foreign powers, sometimes in the middle of the night. So far, no monsters. 
American politicians aren’t supposed to question the beneficence of globalisation. Trump has not only said it has been bad for the American workers, he has derogatorily rebranded those who support it as “globalists”. Former US President Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan was “it’s the economy, stupid”. But, especially since the financial crisis of 2008, it’s been clear that globalisation-linked economic indicators (stock prices, trade, etc.) can look strong without doing much for the average person. Trump knows that and has shifted to “it’s jobs, stupid”. He celebrates when new factories are announced for the US, and tweets against companies who decide to build abroad—often dramatically affecting stock price. Corporate America used to be able to stomp its feet, breathe fire, and get concessions. Trump seems not to care. 
The mainstream systems have no idea how to handle Trump. A clear example was the recent case of the Russian “dirty dossier”. The premise was that the Kremlin had a file on Trump detailing dodgy activities including an incident in a hotel room in Moscow that could be used to blackmail him. The story has been discredited, but the interesting thing is that the fundamental premise was deeply flawed anyway. While the sort of activities described might have destroyed another politician, even if they had been true they probably would have done little damage to Trump. Many of the things Trump did during the campaign would have killed the prospects of another candidate—Trump University, the infamous audio of Trump describing his seduction technique, the name calling, etc. But Trump’s relationship with his supporters is so direct and unique, it bypasses the usual vulnerabilities. 
In fact, those sorts of attacks on Trump tend to boomerang on the accusers. In the “dirty dossier” case, somehow Trump has even managed to put yet another “monster”, the normally sacrosanct intelligence community, on the defensive. Suddenly information is coming to light on how private intelligence companies function, who hires them, their links to politicians, how their data are leaked, and more. 
It’s not Trump who is being weakened, it is expensive data firms, political operatives, former members of the intelligence community and the media. These erstwhile “monsters” are sustaining major damages from their greatest enemy, public scrutiny.
By this time next week, President-Elect Trump will be President Trump. And President Trump and his crew are planning on sailing the American ship of state directly into the path of the biggest monsters at home and around the world. Meanwhile, outsiders will continue to shoot flaming arrows at the sails and anti-Trumpers deep in the system will try to drill holes in the hull from the inside. We truly are in uncharted waters.
Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian’s North America Special Correspondent.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Article: Foreign relations: 2017 likely to be a good year for India (Sunday Guardian)

In the US, there is much less of the preaching on Indian domestic issues that tended to come out of the ‘academic left’.
By Cleo Paskal
Kochi: 2016 planted the seeds for some fundamental changes around the globe—a Donald Trump Presidency, Brexit, demonetisation, migration waves in Europe, a Chinese military base in Djibouti, the retaking of Aleppo, the failed Turkish “coup”, and more.
2017 is the year we start to see what those seeds are likely to grow into. There will be touchstone events, like the French and German elections and the once every five years Chinese Communist Party Congress. They will hint at deeper trends. And the situation is so dynamic, major “unpredictable” events are also likely. So the question is, will 2017 be a good year for India? In terms of foreign relations, very likely yes. 
To begin with the obvious, Donald Trump as American President has the potential to completely reshape US foreign policy. The Washington ecosystem is already trying to anticipate and adapt. For example, the DC think tank centre of gravity has shifted from the Clinton-linked Center for American Progress to the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Similarly, for years the traditional US media powerhouses sidelined conservative voices, shunting them to talk radio, the internet and cable TV. There they built a completely separate following, one that showed its size and power on voting day. Now mainstream American newspapers are playing catch up, trying to find “respectable” conservative columnists to make them seem relevant to Trump’s America.
The general tone of these (re)emerging poles of public debate is pro-India. There is much less of the preaching on Indian domestic issues that tended to come out of the “academic left”, and much more of an appreciation for India as a friendly, compatible and pivotal power.
The shift in public tone brings to the surface the ground level fact that, even before the election, US-India relations were on the upswing. In the past few years, the momentum, particularly on defence, has greatly deepened. For example, the Pentagon has a unit dedicated solely to building and smoothing cooperation with India. It’s the only country-specific node in the Pentagon. That cooperation is only going to accelerate under President Trump.
During the bruising Presidential campaign, Indo-Americans were among Trump’s early, vocal, and devoted supporters. Trump made a point of addressing a predominantly Indo-American rally in New Jersey, released a campaign video in which he spoke Hindi, and members of his family attended Diwali celebrations. Trump has shown himself to be a loyal friend with a long memory. He will not forget the early support of Indo-Americans.
Soon after winning the election, Trump met with Hindu-American Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (even though she is a Democrat), and announced he will nominate Indo-American Governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley for the post of American ambassador to the United Nations. 
Apart from the personal warmth and bonds, there are highly compatible policy priorities, including fighting terror. And President Trump is much less likely to involve himself in the domestic challenges of other countries, including India, than some previous US administrations. 
Another common concern is China. President Trump will not just talk the talk on China. And, of course, Trump wants Delhi to be an ally in any face-off with Beijing. This could accelerate the already growing India-Japan ties, with help from Washington. Trump and his team also understand India’s operational realities. China will always be India’s neighbour. And, while Trump will turn up the volume on Iran, there have been few murmurs of complaint about the Iran-India port project, etc.
Beijing knows all this, and so is likely to court India as much as it can (while still trying to maintain control over its near-colony Pakistan). So, on the China front as well, India may end up with more manoeuvring room.
As far as Europe is concerned, bluntly put, the more terror attacks, the greater the swing to the right, the more economic problems, and the less European unity, the more likely it is that European countries seek out any and every cooperation with India.
Meanwhile, across the Channel, Brexit is unquestionably good for India. The UK needs new partners and India is one of its top priorities. It will be looking for a range of engagements, from Indian investment in the UK (which is already very politically important to London), to skilled English-speaking workers to plug the gap once the flow from continental Europe is slowed, to Free Trade Agreements. 
Should the US and UK tracks both accelerate, then 2017 might also see an “Anglosphere” bloc start to take shape, with India as a fulcrum. This could include South Africa, Singapore, Canada and other English-capable, democratic, like-minded countries. 
Even under these best possible circumstances scenarios, 2017 is unlikely to be all unicorns and rainbows for India. There are some major new India-friendly players, but there are also a lot of moving parts and old players still have tendrils interlaced with the evolving systems. Additionally, while India has myriad opportunities, Delhi may decide that some are much less appealing than others. Whatever happens, it will take very deft handling by India to take advantage, or at least stay ahead, of the massive changes we are going to see in 2017.
Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian’s North America Special Correspondent. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Interview: On in-coming President Trump with Ian Masters' Background Briefing radio show

Cleo Paskal was on Background Briefing with Ian Masters talking about policy priorities for soon to be President Trump. You can hear it here.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Article: Oceania is changing fast and India will be affected (Sunday Guardian)

India, Pacific countries, Japan, China, Oceania, Donald Trump
Small countries might be big players in Pacific’s Great Game.
One of the biggest questions roiling Pacific countries is “will the United States militarily defend its Asia-Pacific allies in a time of conflict?” Much of the strategic architecture of the region is predicated on a “yes”. That’s why there are US bases in Japan, close American military cooperation with the Philippines, rotating Marines in Australia, and more. Much more.
China has been working hard to undermine those relationships. It declared an Air Defence Identification Zone that covers areas claimed by Japan, in part to see what the US would do (officially, the US didn’t do much). Beijing is actively courting regional leaders like President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines (though Duterte himself seems much more willing to work with President-Elect Donald Trump than he was with President Barack Obama). Australia allowed a Chinese company to lease a port right next where the Marines are stationed in Darwin. And more. Much more.
One zone where this geostrategic chess game is moving at a dizzying pace is Oceania. Oceania is roughly the zone between Hawaii, New Zealand and Japan. Made up of over a dozen independent countries, and covering close to 1/6th of the planet’s surface, it is still littered with the rusting carcasses of World War II era Japanese and American planes and boats left over from the last time it was at the front line of a conflict between Asia and America.
From a defence, intelligence and economic perspective, Western presence in the area is mostly covered by Australia and New Zealand. However, both have a track record of regularly using their influence in the region to advance their own narrow interests, sometimes to the detriment of regional (and even their own) security.
For example, when the country of Tonga wanted to introduce more renewable energy into its grid in order to lower rates, Wellington actively used its aid and influence to try to ensure a key solar power procurement contract went to a New Zealand company, even though the company had little experience operating in a tropical region. The end result was that the Japanese had to step in to complete the New Zealand-built solar plant and there was no reduction in cost to the consumer, in some cases costs actually increased. 
This sort of ill-conceived, heavy-handed interference has weakened the Western position in the region and, in the medium and long term, is damaging to Australia and New Zealand themselves. 
It has also left the door wide open for China. China’s footprint in the region has expanded very rapidly, on multiple fronts. In Samoa there are plans for China to build what will be the largest wharf in Australasia. In Fiji, there has been extensive military cooperation. In Tonga, newly arrived Chinese have taken over around 90% of the retails sector in less than a decade. And the list goes on. 
The response from Australia and New Zealand has been conflicted. While some in the political and strategic communities are clearly concerned, others seem resigned.
At a macro level, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said in 2009 that the US would not protect Australia in a time of crises. More recently, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating said that Australian foreign policy has been “tagging along” behind the US, and that Canberra should “cut the tag”.
At a micro level, grasp of the speed and degree of change is sometimes dangerously incomplete. Recently, in Tonga, a Chinese shopkeeper was attacked in her sleep and nearly killed. A young Tongan man was arrested. The New Zealand press used the incident to promote the narrative that Tonga, and Tongans, are violent and increasingly unstable, justifying more “impartial” New Zealand oversight.
In response to its own narrative, New Zealand sent an ethnic Chinese New Zealand policeman to Tonga to embed with the Tongan police in order to “help protect” the ethnic Chinese in Tonga. In reality, however, the Tongan attacker was hired by a Chinese businessman to attack a rival. This was all about crime within the newly arrived Chinese community, not about Tonga. The New Zealand response only exacerbated the situation.
Similarly, New Zealand is pushing for the commercialisation of customary lands in various countries in Oceania. The expectation in Wellington is this will benefit New Zealand business in the region. What is more likely, as Samoan academic Dr Iati Iati has shown, is that the locals will be disposed and may become desperate, meanwhile the land itself is more likely to end up with Chinese investors. Again a lose-lose situation.
It is in this context that, last week, the University of French Polynesia convened a high level conference called “Coveted Oceania”. France has vast ocean territories in the Pacific, based primarily on its two possessions, New Caledonia and French Polynesia. In the last year, the French profile in the area has grown rapidly. In April, in a deal worth close to $40 billion, France won the contract to build 12 submarines for Australia (New Caledonia and Australia share a maritime border). And just a few months ago, New Caledonia and French Polynesia joined the Pacific Island Forum. On the sidelines of the “Coveted” conference there was active engagement with Australian academics with the goal of expanding collaborations. France is suddenly much more visible in Oceania.
Oceania is changing fast. And India will be affected. As the “Indo-Pacific” century rolls on, the strategic spheres of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean will increasingly overlap. The election of Donald Trump is only likely to increase US ties with India, and give India latitude for its “act East” policy. Narendra Modi and Japan’s Shinzo Abe, not only get along with each other, they also seem to be among Trump’s favourite foreign leaders. And all three are cautious about China. 
Abe wrote about a democratic Indo-Pacific security diamond, with the Japan, India, the US (Hawaii), and Australia at the points. However, Japan was bitterly disappointed that Canberra chose to buy French submarines rather than Japanese ones and, at the same time, the Australian strategic community seems to be conflicted and is sending out mixed messages. While some are passionately devoted to the “diamond” (or similar), others are not so sure the US will come to its aid in a crisis and are proposing hedging their bets, perhaps with countries that are not democracies. The potential resurrection of France in the region adds a new element.
In an Oceania context, it’s not clear if the “diamond” (Japan, India, US, Australia) will solidify or if it will become more of a triangle (Japan, US, India), or perhaps even expand in some areas into a pentagon (Japan, India, US, Australia, France).
Whatever happens, there is no question India will become more involved in Oceania. There are plans for an Indian space research station in Fiji, growing economic ties with Vanuatu, and a whole slate of bilateral proposals crafted since Prime Minister Modi visited Fiji in 2014. 
So will the US defend its Asia-Pacific allies in a time of conflict? Hopefully, ties between democratic partners will strengthen and it won’t have to. The chances of that are greatly improved if the countries of Oceania are given the space to develop stable societies and economies instead of being used by regional powers as outlets for short-term narrow economic interests that end up giving long-term advantage to China. If Canberra and Wellington want to feel more secure about their relationships with Washington, Tokyo, Delhi, and Paris, they might want to rethink their relationships with Nuku’alofa, Apia, Honiara and Port Moresby.
Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian’s North America Special Correspondent.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Article: What now for Trump’s America? (Sunday Guardian)

Donald Trump, America, US election, Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton
A supporter of President-Elect Donald Trump of US holds a sing in his support in New York on Wednesday. Reuters 
What happens will depend on how the ‘establishments’ respond and adapt, and if Trump presses his advantage quickly and efficiently.
London: So here’s what just happened. President-elect Donald J. Trump blew up the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, major funders, major foundations, think tanks and the mainstream media. And they are not pleased. Cosy relationships, some nurtured over decades, have been exposed and excoriated. Carefully developed plans have led to dead ends. Exalted leaders now face potential legal humiliation.
This should sound familiar. Policies and personalities aside, this is the same sort of political earthquake that shook India in 2014. And, to a lesser degree, the UK the day after the Brexit vote. Washington this week echoes Delhi of two years ago, and London in June. In DC, there is a mad scramble within normally staid, and often smug, institutions. Many believed their own propaganda and never thought this day would come. They didn’t plan for it. They are scared.
What happens moving forward will depend on how these “establishments” respond and adapt, and if Trump presses his advantage quickly and efficiently.
That means understanding what really happened on 8 November. And what didn’t happen. In spite of the oft cited narrative that the vote was the result of an unprecedented “whitelash”, according to CNN exit polls, Trump received a slightly higher percentage of black votes than Romney did in 2012 (Trump 8% to Romney 7%) and a slightly higher percentage of Hispanic votes as well (Trump 29% to Romney 27%). Trump also received slightly fewer white voters than Romney (Trump 58% to Romney 59%). Given the margins of errors, that’s hardly any difference. But almost no one was equating Romney’s numbers to a “whitelash”.
In 2016, race did play a new role in that many black voters simply didn’t turn up to vote. In some states, that low voter turnout may have been decisive. And a big part of that was down to the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Her policies didn’t widely inspire, and many remember her statements during her husband President Bill Clinton’s administration in which she characterised members of the black community as “superpredators” who needed to be locked up and “brought to heel”. Bill Clinton’s policies are responsible for some of the US’ extremely high incarceration rates. Some haven’t forgotten. So, rather than vote Clinton, or Trump, they just didn’t vote all.
Also, Trump didn’t win the popular vote. Had he run against Bernie Sanders, he likely would have lost the Presidency as Bernie could mobilise voters in a way Clinton couldn’t. So the idea that the US is somehow more racist than it was four years ago when pretty much the same percentages voted for Romney as voted for Trump doesn’t seem to make sense.
What did happen is that Trump pushed a wide range of buttons, and different buttons rang bells with different sectors of voters. Some of the buttons he pushed were TV, Twitter, trade, terror, trust, and truth.
It started with TV. Trump makes great TV. And he was given an early massive boost by billions of dollars in free coverage. According to leaked Democratic emails, this was fine with the Clinton team as they thought he would be an easy person to beat, and was one of their preferred opponents (along with Ted Cruz and Ben Carson). 
Trump built on this appeal by being active on Twitter. Unlike the Clinton account, he was clearly in control of his tweets. They were personal, punchy, a bit erratic, but very real. They created a powerful personal connection with his followers. He would pop up on people’s phones and computers at home and at work, putting himself in their personal space, on a regular basis and at all times of the day and night. He wasn’t asking for money, he was just letting Team Trump know what he was thinking. It was very effective, and he used it to drive home his unique policy positions.
While TV and Twitter gave him the audience, it was what he did with that audience really shook up “the elites”. On trade, Trump’s questioning of the benefits of the current form of free trade agreements put him closer to Bernie Sanders than the mainstream of the Republican Party. It is also largely sympathetic to India’s stand on a balance between trade and the protection of critical domestic sectors, as was seen with food at the WTO negotiations. This message resonated very strongly with large sections of American workers (and unemployed). Clinton, meanwhile, seemed to offer no alternative to the current economic model. And while the leaders of the big unions tended to support Clinton, many on the (dwindling) factory floors voted Trump.
On terror, Trump’s lack of compunction in linking terror to extremist Islam resonated with wide swaths of the population exasperated at being called names for just trying to discuss and understand “what the hell is going on”. Apart from generalised security concerns, many felt that free speech was only permitted by certain groups for certain groups. They felt they couldn’t even try to explain their concerns without everyone from CNN to university professors calling them every name in the book. 
For some it felt like the “establishment” had decided that their emotions weren’t valid. In fact, they were called evil for even having them. These Trump voters are watching the current anti-Trump demonstrations on the news knowing that, had Hillary won, and they had demonstrated, they would have been called fascists, Nazis, and more. They felt, as Trump said, “forgotten”. And now, they hope, they will be forgotten no more. Which leads directly to Trump’s next button.
Trust. As wide sections of the electorate saw themselves being branded “deplorable” and worse, they increasingly lost trust in being accurately and adequately reflected in establishment institutions, like the mainstream media and the Republican Party. During the primaries, the Republican Party was hewing a close line to the Democrats on the sanctity of free trade and need to avoid “Islamophobia”.
Since The Donald was willing to bluntly discuss both those issues, he immediately gained trust. Supporters may not have agreed with all his policies on those two topics, but there was at least a space in which they weren’t vilified for discussing them. This also gave Trump space to do things like have openly gay Peter Thiel in a keynote position at the Republican National Convention—a first. There was no obvious political reason for it. And Trump’s relationship with his supporters was so strong, the crowd gave Thiel a standing ovation.
This sort of thing also gave Trump a reputation for the truth. At least in comparison to “crooked Hillary” and her seemingly endless FBI investigation. This was fanned by a widespread switch of media allegiances. Having been repeatedly denigrated, hundreds of thousands (if not more) abandoned the mainstream media in favour of sites like Drudge, Daily Caller, Zero Hedge and Breitbart. They are the new powerhouses, with close links to the new Trump administration. Anyone who says they were stunned by the Trump win or that no one predicted it, wasn’t reading the Daily Caller or Zero Hedge.
Apart from editorialising, this “new media” also does actual reporting. They were the first to cover the Clinton health story, the questions around media funding of the Clinton Foundation, and anti-Bernie manoeuvres at the DNC. While CNN rambled on about how the evil Russians were trying to steal the election from Hillary by leaking her emails, the Daily Caller actually went through the emails and (in their own admittedly biased way) covered the contents, while linking to original sources so you could check for yourself.
While the source of the emails was opaque, and certainly not ideal, given they were supposed to have been handed over to the FBI and therefore to the American people already, most had no qualms about reading them. The contents of the emails were extremely problematic. They seemed to show institutional incest that was questionable if not illegal. Bernie Sanders had no chance against a Democratic Party that was a subset of the Clinton machine. Add in the Clinton Foundation shenanigans and the picture got even murkier. 
So, at the end of all this, Trump, eschewing traditional funders and media, rose to the top, climbing over the broken pillars of establishment Republican Party economic and social policies. Along the way, the Democratic Party’s weak community foundations and possibly systemic compromise were exposed for all to see. 
What happens next depends. Will the Democratic Party use the opportunity to tear out the rot and rebuild from the ground up? They lost traditionally Democrat, working class voters to the Republicans. Will they listen properly to what’s happening across the country and try to win them back? It sounds logical but it can be harder than it seems. In Delhi, after Congress’ massive defeat in 2014, the politically logical thing would have been to go for a change of leadership and direction. That didn’t happen. 
Similarly, will Trump be tempered by Washington and lose some of his overt fight? Part of his base is counting on him to “drain the swap” and “lock her up”. Will he go after corruption immediately or lose valuable time allowing the currently stunned opposition time to regroup and retrench? Again, in India in 2014, there was a lot of hope for immediate anti-corruption action. The longer the delay, the harder it gets. 
The next few weeks will give a much better idea of what Trump will actually be like as a President. He is already softening on Obamacare, likely having realised that a lot of his working class base has come to rely on it. He is not ideological. And he wants to get re-elected. He will likely listen, not to the DC pundits, but to his advisors, and his base. In the meantime, what he’s already accomplished—leaving both main political parties in tatters and fundamentally changing the media landscape—is a challenge for everyone involved to up their game. Now we’ll find out who really wants to make America great again.
Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian’s North America Special Correspondent.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Article: Look beyond the Presidential race, don’t miss the Senate vote (Sunday Guardian)

FBI, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, US election, polls
A woman holds a hand-written sign of support as US President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a Hillary for America campaign event in Charlotte, North Carolina, US on Thursday. REUTERS
Before the FBI letter, it looked possible that both the House and the Senate would go majority Democratic. 
London. The men who designed the American system of governance didn’t trust each other. Having just won independence from a monarchy, they put in place a complex, interlinking system of checks and balances to try to ensure that the United States didn’t produce a powerful king of its own.
Over the years, that system has been adjusted and refined, but always with the goal of a separation of powers between the legislature (the Senate and the House of Representatives), the executive (headed by the President), and the courts. The theory is, the legislature makes the laws, the executive carries them out, and the judiciary (in the form of the Federal and Supreme Courts) evaluates them. And they all keep an eye on each other.
Most of the talk around the 8 November election in the United States has been about who will be President. But when American voters step into the voting booth, they will not only be choosing a President, but will also be faced with an entire menu of choices for a whole range of other elected positions. 
Given the separation of powers, what the new President can accomplish will greatly depend on who else is elected. President Obama, for example, has had a whole slate of initiatives blocked by a recalcitrant Republican legislature, including his nomination for the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Similarly, the legislature keeps trying to kill the Obamacare, and the President just vetoes their propositions. With a President and legislature from different parties, already slow moving Washington can come to a standstill.
This is one reason why, to understand what is really happening on the 8th, we have to look beyond just the Presidential race. The recent FBI letter saying that it is still investigating the issue of Hillary Clinton’s emails, hasn’t just revived the campaign of Donald Trump, it has also completely changed the math around what had been considered safe Senate and House seats. 
Members of the House of Representatives are elected for two-year terms. Senators are elected for six-year terms, with approximately a third of the Senate up for election every two years. So, this year, the entire House is up for grabs, as are 34 seats in the Senate.
Before the FBI letter, it looked possible that both the House and the Senate would go majority Democratic. Now that is not so sure. This is not necessarily because people will switch their vote from Clinton to Trump. It could be that people who might have voted for Clinton are so put off by the allegations that they just don’t go out and vote, hurting the entire Democratic line up. Alternatively, Republicans who don’t like Trump might opt to stay at home, swinging it the other way.
The composition of the Senate is particularly important because the members of the Supreme Court are nominated by the President, but confirmed by the Senate. There are nine members of the Court, appointed for life. The average retirement age is 78. Currently there is one vacancy on the court, caused by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Three of the remaining eight Justices are 78 years old, or older. That means it is possible that the next President may appoint four Justices to the nine-person court, affecting the direction of the United States on everything, from campaign financing to abortion to voters’ rights for long after their Presidency ends.
Both parties are using the Supreme Court vacancy to try to motivate their base to vote—saying they don’t just need to win the Presidency, they also need to win the Senate. But there is a widely different approach from each party to the “ground game”. The Democratic Party puts a lot of effort into knocking on doors, driving people to polling stations, and generally making sure that people who are likely to support them are voting. The Republican Party has been particularly weak this cycle, as section of the Party itself seemed to be rejecting Trump. That is slowly turning around, in part because of the FBI letter, but it will take until voting day to see if will make the difference. 
As the numbers come in on 8 November, keep an eye on not just on the Presidency but also on the Senate. If one party captures both of those pillars of power (executive and legislature), they may also capture the third (the Supreme Court), giving them the power to reshape America in their image for decades to come. 
Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian’s North America Special Correspondent.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Article: Trump or Hillary, India’s foreign policy set to get complicated (Sunday Guardian)

Clinton has trodden a rocky path with India over the past decades. 
Ottawa: With less than two weeks to go before the US election, many in Delhi, and beyond, are wondering which candidate would be better for India, and Indo-Americans. Indo-Americans are a coveted demographic in US politics. As a group, they are one of the most prosperous, and are increasingly influential in Washington. Traditionally, they vote mostly Democrat, however, there is a growing swing towards the Republicans making them, and their financial and political support, potentially “up for grabs”.
Republican candidate Donald J. Trump has realised this and is actively trying to engage with Indo-Americans, and India. On 15 October, he appeared at a Republican Hindu Coalition rally in New Jersey with the theme “Humanity United Against Terrorism” to raise funds for Kashmiri Pandits and Hindu terror victims in Bangladesh. With thousands of mostly Indo-Americans in attendance, Trump said: “India is a strategic ally for the US. I look forward to deepening the diplomatic and military cooperation that is shared between both countries… India has been a great friend to the US in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism… We’re going to have a phenomenal future together…I love India.” Trump also praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s streamlining of the Indian bureaucracy, and said he was “a big fan of Hindus, and a big fan of India.” Trump then released a video called “Ab ki Baar Trump Sarkar”, featuring clips from the event. In it he said: “India and Hindus will have a true friend in the White House once I’m elected…Under a Trump administration, we will become better friends, best friends.”
The outreach has also included Trump’s extended family. Last week, daughter-in-law Lara Trump celebrated Diwali at the Rajdhani temple near Washington, DC.
In contrast, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has yet to personally address a primarily Indo-American event. Also, having had a much, much longer time in public service, she has more of a track record with engagement with India that doesn’t necessarily help her if she is trying to reach out to India itself. Myriad lists are circulating online with titles like “Bill & Hillary Clinton: 25 years of anti-India hostility!” Issues raised include: then President Bill Clinton’s sanctions against India after the nuclear tests in 1998; Bill Clinton administration’s seeming pro-Pakistan tilt on issues like Kashmir, as well as the favouring of China over India (for example by blocking the sale of Cray supercomputers to India, but approving them for China); Bill and Hillary’s hiring and support for Robin Raphel (a former State Department official who was considered pro-Pakistan by Delhi and who was subsequently investigated by the FBI for possible espionage); and extensive diplomatic problems between India and the US resulting from the time of Hillary Clinton’s post as Secretary of State, including the resignation of the US ambassador to India who was appointed while Clinton was in office.
Clinton’s choice for Vice President, Tim Kaine, also has a track record with India. As recently as June, in his capacity as Senator from Virginia, Kaine actively participated in hearings that criticised India in the lead up to Modi’s address to Congress. Not afraid to make comments about domestic Indian politics, Senator Kaine, a former missionary, said: “Some members of the Indian-American community in Virginia, many of whom are Sikh, have expressed concerns about issues of religious tolerance and liberty in India. I hope that Prime Minister Modi continues efforts to better protect the inalienable rights afforded to all people, just as we fight against expressions of religious intolerance in our own political climate.”
Given the rocky path Clinton and her extended team have trodden with India over the past decades, it would greatly help her case in Delhi as a “friend of India” if she were to make a more overt effort to break with the past and reach out to India as a true strategic partner.
The way it is now, many in Delhi agree with strategist, Prof M.D. Nalapat when he writes: “Clinton is cocooned within a foreign policy establishment that is nervous about the scale of its past errors being exposed, and is consequently doubling down on the very policies that are resulting in the slow collapse of US global primacy at hands of China and its partner, Russia.”
Clinton’s team might also want to rethink its strategy for reaching Indo-Americans, a growing number of whom are drifting towards the Republicans. Many find Trump’s messages of being “tough on terror”, lowering corporate taxes, and favouring legal immigration over illegal immigration to be quite attractive.
Trump has a marked advantage over Clinton as he has no track record as a public servant, so it is difficult to know what he would actually do, as opposed to what he says. But, right now, he is making a personal effort with both India and Indo-Americans. For whatever reason, India seems to be one country that Trump “loves”.
So which candidate would be better for India, and Indo-Americans? Indo-Americans are a very varied group, so it really depends on individual priorities. But the interesting thing is that we are even asking the question given that, as a group, they were for so long considered a “safe” Democratic bloc.
As for India, barring a major shift, with Clinton as President it is likely Delhi will see more of what it saw when she was Secretary of State. With Trump as President, India will have to wait until 9 November to find out if it really is true “love”, or if it’s a one (election) night stand.
Whichever way it goes, India’s foreign policy environment is like to get much more complicated very quickly.
Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian’s North America Special Correspondent.