June 11, 2014


Writing about web page iiss.org

Kamila Pieczara | 11 June 2014

Focusing on geo-economic issues, the Cartagena Dialogue will bring together countries from both sides of the Pacific: Latin American, North American, Asian, and some European ones.

It is therefore meant to look less political than the two other summits of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) that the Cartagena one is set to join next March: the Asian Shangri-la Dialogue and the Middle Eastern Manama Dialogue. The Cartagena Dialogue will embrace countries from Canada to Chile on the America’s side, plus a dozen of Asian countries[1], Portugal and Spain, and countries such as France, the UK, and also the European Union representation.

Another summit? There are reasons, however, to be interested in the Cartagena Dialogue. Inception of this summit was announced at the Shangri-La Dialogue. This is a well-known annual gathering of defence ministers or senior officials as speakers, with hundreds of Asia experts in attendance[2]. This year, it brought to Singapore the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as well as senior staff from Chinese People’s Liberation Army, along with defense minister of France and from Southeast Asian countries, as well as the US secretary of defence, Chuck Hagel.

The IISS, based in London, has regional offices in Washington DC, Manama in Bahrain, and in Singapore. But it lacks a Latin American office. Even though Latin America of the moment is a less fragile region politically, serious discussions must have preceded the scheduling of this summit, which may become a regional ‘institution’, just like the Shangri-La or Manama Dialogue, also attended by senior defence officials.

In March in Colombia’s Cartagena the difference in concept is to bridge two or even three regions: the Asia-Pacific, Latin and North America. Especially if the region of Latin America witnesses economic or political turmoil, the little known place of Cartagena might be the scene of discussions that will later feed into policy-making. Following the establishment of the Pacific Alliance (in Spanish, Alianza del Pacífico), a free-trade agreement of initially Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru in June 2012, indeed the importance of the Pacific as a common denominator in states’ relations is set to grow.

While it is difficult to foresee the summit agenda, the ‘staples’ are likely to be not only tightening economic relations among Latin American states, but their relations with the United States, and – increasingly – Asia-Pacific powers such as China. Whether the gathering becomes an occasion to celebrate economic successes or rather to speak out about any tensions, both scenarios look good for Pacific states if they are to have a forum permitting both.

June 03, 2014

Wrong Queue?

Kamila Pieczara

In Hong Kong, a queue formed in front of a store along the Canton Road, for reasons to prevent this shop from overcrowding, as too many customers were trying to enter at the same time. Not with special occasions or with bargains, the store attracts with high-end fashion; the waiting shoppers are predominantly the mainland Chinese.

China’s propensity to overspend on luxury is not a good match to the fact that China is still in developing stages; this is not a queue to higher development. The Economist has recently labelled the Chinese overspending on luxury as ‘malconsumption’. It is easy to see that China’s 20% share in global luxury sales is out of tune with the country’s relatively low level of development[1]. ‘Like previous generations of visitors, members of China’s new rich are attracted to the cultural glories of Heritage Europe as much as its shopping opportunities’[2]. That is understandable, but rather than a Chinese eagerness to acquire haute couture, this behaviour begs the question if a country with accident-prone transportation, volatile food safety, and underdeveloped interior can really afford these Chanel outfits, Donna Karan New York dresses and Louis Vuitton bags. China should be aware of the middle-income trap, where countries are ‘trapped’ at a lower level of development, being more difficult to move from the middle to higher income – when the costs of imitating outgrowth the benefits[3].

China is moving fast, even ultra-fast, across an array of indicators. But one indicator is moving relatively too fast, and this is spending on luxury. Apart from exceptions alike the domestic brand of ‘Shanghai Tang’, luxury needs to be foreign. The question arises, what development model does China follow? A driver behind China’s growth has been the import of technologies, but this strategy will reach its limit even before China establishes itself at the advanced-economy level (M. Wolf)[4].

The behaviour of Chinese consumers, in a way, mimics that of the state; as the government acquires technologies from abroad, its citizens spend on luxury, also foreign. ‘Instead of loaning money to rich countries, China should be importing capital in order to speed its domestic development’[5] (D. Scissors; emphasis added). Imperative for China now is rethinking of its strategy.

Undoubtedly, there is an allure in easy spending, and to some China might seem rich enough to spend on anything it pleases. An entrepreneur from Ulan Bator recalls: ‘In China, once they had luxury cars and Louis Vuitton bags, art came next’, hoping the same is going to happen for Mongolia[6]. But at the moment, for the majority of China’s nouveau riche, art rests still ‘in a bag’[7].

[1] ‘Fakes and status in China’, The Economist, 23 June 2012.

[3] See the Economist for an illuminating graph, http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/03/focus-3.

[4] M. Wolf of Financial Times summarising an argument from D. Acemoglu and J. A. Robinson’s Why Nations Fail, available at http://www.ft.com.

[5] D. Scissors, ‘The Wobbly Dragon’, Foreign Affairs, Jan./ Feb. 2012.

[6] D. Levin, ‘A boom’s benefits, and risks’, International Herald Tribune, 17 July 2012.

[7] S. Kuper, ‘A work of art? It’s in the bag’, FT Weekend Magazine, 10-11 December 2011.

In Three Asian Countries, Power Returns to Tested Hands

Kamila Pieczara

At the end of 2012, politicians backed with old connections came to power in the three vibrant economies of Asia: China, Japan and South Korea.

In China, the leadership transition in November promoted to power Xi Jinping, who became President. As one of the “princelings”, or descendants of well-known communist revolutionaries, Xi is unsurprisingly equipped with old connections. But Japan and South Korea are two democracies. They have also received new leaders, in December 2012, who are no newcomers. In the Japanese elections (on 16 Dec.), the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won, and its leader (Shinzo Abe) became Prime Minister (on 26 Dec.). His name strikes familiar notes among observers of Japanese politics – Mr. Abe also held the same post for one year (Sept. 2006- Sept. 2007). On top of that, his father was Foreign Minister, and his grandfather – Prime Minister. Finally, it is South Korea that made the most surprising choice of all, as it elected Park Geun-hye, who is a daughter of former President Park Chung-hee (1960s and 70s), known for his authoritarian rule of the country[1]. Growing up as a presidential daughter, Ms. Park represents ‘old’ privilege in a country that needs to come to terms with a growing wealth gap and accompanying discontentment in the society.

The similarity of choices across the three countries is unusual, given the often highlighted differences between ‘communist’ China, and democratic Japan and South Korea. In China, the tradition to anoint and prime its leaders years ahead of their official nomination is an obligatory element of the political life; the other two Asian countries, however, are known for shifting moods among the voters. Notably, Japan just elected its 90th prime minister. South Korea, albeit more stable in this respect, has nevertheless experienced growing resentment towards conservative echelons of political establishment. In a country where change has been taken for granted, the appointment of Park Geun-hye as president is interpreted as a stop to more dramatic change. As these vibrant societies choose, or accept, to give power into such tested, with varied outcomes, hands, ‘communist’ China might display leadership most willing to embrace reform!

Consequences for the region, and major states outside the region, are diverse. From the perspective of the U.S., it needs to be highlighted that Japan and South Korea have pro-American governments. It can mean a strengthening in the future of the two American alliances with Asian powers, but not necessarily a tangible improvement in relations between Japan and Korea. These remain tainted by territorial and other historical disputes. Even as Japan’s Prime Minister Abe tries to reach out to Seoul, only few would risk making an argument that relations in the long run will be significantly improved.

At the regional level, Asian politics are influenced more by long-term changes more rather than immediate elections or party nominations. The key security challenge remains North Korea. A longitudinal analysis indicates that North Korean politics have been governed by internal dynamics rather than events in the region; moments of power transitions have been particularly mired in tensions. Even those governments that were ‘soft’ on North Korea may be later repaid with military incidents. On the other hand, more restrictive policies are not bound to elicit the bellicosity of Pyongyang. In other words, regional governments’ scope of reactions to North Korea is rather limited, regardless of their party colours.

Given military threats and tensions, stakes in Northeast Asia are so high that regional politics must focus on protecting peace and maintaining (fragile) stability; divisions along ideological or political lines are most likely to be reflected within the borders rather than regionally.

June 02, 2014

Choice or culture? China’s behaviour doesn’t find understanding

Kamila Pieczara | 2nd June 2014

China gave a performance that fell on hard ground in Singapore last weekend.

General Wang Guanzhong of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), calling upon time constraints, gave a speech–part of it improvised–that could only disappoint. General Wang, leading China’s delegation to the Shangri-La Dialogue, a security summit in Singapore, gave a speech of reassurance on China’s peaceful intentions, and then alienated the audience by calling criticism “unimaginable”.

Lack of imagination was instead visible in the speech. Even more so, it was visible in the General’s handling of questions. The Q&A part was the more fascinating part. Mr Demetri Sevastopulo of The Financial Times asked General Wang to explain what the “nine-dashed line” is; another question was for China to consider why so many Asian states choose to be U.S. allies. Neither of these questions became answered. Instead, a reference came to the over 2000 years of Chinese history. As if history were our only guide.

In many ways, it is just another occasion where China’s way of seeing the world so visibly clashes with those of, especially but not only, Japan and the US. The ‘Banyan’ blog of The Economist (http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2014/06/asian-security) was right to observe that China may no longer want to play by the rules of the West, and The Shangri-La Dialogue of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies is such a venue (the summit was hosted, for the thirteenth time, by Singapore). China is more and more visibly a solitary power. Could China achieve more by shaping its foreign policy in softer terms? China does not seem to think so. Even in dealings with smaller countries, such as Vietnam[1], China is not willing to make room for more imaginative foreign policy.

After the Shangri-La Dialogue, the image left by the Chinese delegation is that of a growing gap between ‘peaceful’ words in the Singaporean Shangri-La Hotel’s ballroom, and provocations at sea. It is likely to fall within the message that China gives to the outside world: ‘China is China, and the world can only accept that’. The part that surprises the most is whether China’s top-ranking officials truly do not understand the others’ reservations about China’s behaviour, for their culture is so different, or whether it is their strategic calculation to act this way. China is missing one opportunity after another to say something fresh.

Whether it is by choice or cultural impediment, China is not likely to win friends either way–not even in Asia, which can understand its culture and traditions.

In Singapore, the 13th Shangri–La Dialogue reflected tensions

Kamila Pieczara, 2.06.2014

2002 was the year of the crisis between Pakistan and India; it came to the brink of war.[1]

This was later also the year of the first Asia-Pacific summit convened in Singapore by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS): the Shangri-La Dialogue. The IISS chief executive Dr John Chipman informed the audience in this year’s Dialogue of this connection, showing that summit diplomacy can mean more than words to be, possibly, forgotten. (Another example he quoted was of the IISS’s Middle East Manama Dialogue 2013, where Chuck Hagel promised to foster links with the GCC countries, and followed up on that in 2014).

What could we expect from this year’s Summit? A ‘dialogue’ at the Shangri-La emerged between the China’s People’s Liberation Army General Wang Guanzhong (Deputy Chief, General Staff Department) and Chuck Hagel (U.S. Secretary of Defence), and between the Chinese representative and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. China took note of the indirect messages aimed at it in Shinzo Abe’s speech that approved of international law ‘at sea’, and of the direct message in Chuck Hagel’s statement: that the United States will “not look the other way” in response to China’s unilateral actions. Furthermore, the PLA general noted that Japan, in Shinzo Abe’s speech, went against the “spirit” of the Dialogue. This specific dialogue, or rather Wang’s responses, were spread over 3 days – Wang spoke on Sunday (1st June), while Abe gave his keynote address on the preceding Friday (30th May), and Hagel spoke on Saturday (31st May).

While many reports focus on this specific interaction of Gen. Wang with Mr Abe and with Mr Hagel, it would be unjust to subsume three intensive days to this one theme. Notable was the French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s speech, as he drew “lessons” from French engagement in Africa for the possible application in the Asia-Pacific. Of note was also discussion on crisis management in the region, with reference to the missing plane of Malaysian airlines (the MH370). Another “Asia-Pacific” power to participate was Russia, represented by Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov, whose speech curiously fell short of commenting on Ukraine.

While the Shangri-LA Dialogue was scene of many reproaches of major nations vis-à-vis one another’s behaviour, it is undisputable that these open statements serve transparency and exchange of information, rather than escalation of conflict.

As the opening dinner and Abe’s speech was attended by Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, the long history of Singapore’s place at the heart of Asian diplomacy became clear.

[1] Andrew C. Winner and Toshi Yoshihara, ‘India and Pakistan at the Edge,’ Survival, 2002, 44 (3).

March 20, 2014

(IISS–US) Discussion on Europe// On va parler de l'Europe

Writing about web page https://www.iiss.org/en/iiss-us/iiss-us-s-events/strategic-choices-for-the-eu-9ecd

Today Chairman of the IISS Mr. François Heisbourg is going to discuss the strategic choice for Europe. This Washington DC meeting will be led by Mr. Steven Simon, The IISS-US Executive Director.

See: iiss.org

Washington DC// today 1-2 PM (EDT)



A Washington DC cet après-midi, dans le bureau régional américain de l'IISS (l’anglais pour l’Institut international d'études stratégiques), on va parler du choix stratégique de l'Europe, avec M. François Heisbourg, le Président de l’Institut, et avec M. Steven Simon, le directeur exécutif de l’IISS, son bureau régional américain.

A voir: iiss.org

March 17, 2014

18 March 2014: The IISS Discussion Meeting, Continuing the Trident Debate

Writing about web page http://www.iiss.org/en/events/events-s-calendar/continuing-the-trident-debate-c961

Arundel House, London| Tuesday 18 March 2014, 12:30-2pm

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