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Archive for November 16th, 2012

To China via Malaysia: First Stop Fujian

(Batik Route Series: Introduction)

China-Asia map from 1389, Ming cartographer unknown, but it is based on far earlier world maps, either since lost or still buried in some tombs. The publishing date of the map is especially important because, before then, the Tang Chinese (618-907AD) had, other than the overland Central Asia Silk route, skip-hop along the coast line to arrive at southeast Asia then going onwards to India and beyond.

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This is the opening part in a series that follows on Muhyiddin Yassin’s recent statement in Australia that Malaysia could serve as a commercial, trade route (the term ‘gateway’ might be overly ambitious) to China, as well as Najib Razak’s idea of turning Malaysia into a geographic centre facilitating trade between the Indian subcontinent and East Asia.

Both ideas revisit – actually reconstruct – a trading relationship which once ran for 400-600 years starting from the Tang period, then picking up during Song dynasty 宋朝 960-1279 (read, for example, about South Sea No. 1) and culminating in the Ming dynasty rule of Yongle (永樂帝 1402-1424). It was then that Zheng He had visited the peninsula and elsewhere in southeast Asia, 1405-1433.

Peninsula Malaya, non-existent in statehood at the time, was at the intersection of this Indo-China sea trade which surpassed the overland central Asia Silk Route, made hazardous and constantly disrupted by roaming tribal bands. (Genghiz Khan was infamous among them.)

Two unrelated reasons account for the end of this trade that had placed the peninsula (Malacca especially) at the centre:

  • (a) A palace decision, reason or reasons unknown, taken ten years after Yongle’s death to end all state-sponsored sea voyages, even along the East China Sea corridor.
  • (b) The arrival of the Europeans to the Malacca Straits beginning with the Portuguese in 1511. The 21st century equivalent of this white, European imperialism is the presence of the US Pacific fleet, its aircraft carrier decks filled to the brim with fighter jets looking for an imagined enemy 8,000 nautical miles from home.

This year, specifically 1511 to 2011, marks a historical moment to reclaim a lost history that had been severed for 500 years by the arrival of European warships and rulers, followed by another 35 years of the American military invasions of Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea and its dominance over Thailand and the Philippines (completely pacified by Christian Spain, Christian Pinoys love Christian Yanks, especially if white).

China today has a new leadership, the Xi-Li Administration 习李体制, Xi for 习近平 Xi Jinping, age 59, and Li is 李克强 Li Keqiang, 57, respectively the incoming president and prime minister.

China is too large to handle in one gulp that western journalists pretend they can do but fail miserably by lying in their ‘reports’ – reports that are, in turn, swallowed whole, uncritically then recycled by the like Joshie Hong and Malaysiakini. Hence, this series begins geographically, with Fujian as a point of entry because, among the top seven persons in the Xi-Li Administration, one has worked there and one born there. This relationship between a place and people is important for reasons that are not political but cultural, and we shall leave it at that.

Fujian is also the motherland province for millions of Chinese in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand. It was where the Mings launched most of their extensive sea voyages, and it will be where much needed development is likely to get a sympathetic hearing from within the Xi-Li Administration.

The two key persons as follows.

Xi Jinping 习近平 (b. 1953) had held both party and governing positions in Fujian for 17 years from 1985. Because of Xi’s deep knowledge of Fujian, hence Taiwan, the Taiwanese are now looking to Xi for signs of any new directions in cross-straits relationship. They expect this to be positive.

Xi and Muhyiddin last met in Sept (above) at the China-Asean Expo in Nanning 南宁, capital Guangxi province (pop. 46 million), very mountainous, bordering Vietnam and home of the Zhuang people. Najib has visited the place and Malaysia has near exclusive rights to develop the huge Qinzhou Industrial Park nearby. MAS has connecting flights to Guilin and Nanning, the former a picturesque prefecture visited in droves by Malaysian Chinese.

Zhang Gaoli 张高丽 (b. 1946, above), ranked No. 7 in the national and party hierarchy, was born in Jinjiang 晋江, a county under the prefecture of Quanzhou 泉州 where its city namesake has the tomb of Zheng He. (Yes, the hanyu pinyin spelling is phonetically identical to Kuala Lumpur’s Jinjang ‘new village’ in Kepong hated by LoyarBurok’s Lisa Ng because it speaks Chinese.) Despite his position and his contribution to Guangdong’s economic transformation (including Shenzhen), Zhang has remained largely anonymous. This, it seems, is how he has preferred it.

A Xiamen University graduate (1965-1970), he has until recent years been managing the economic development of Shandong and was governor of Tianjin. Although a statistical economist, Zhang has wide experience in the oil and gas industry so that the South China Sea and its Asean producers, Indonesia and Malaysia in particular, would be important to him. His credo: talk less, do more.

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George Bush was once booed for chasing after the votes of certain racial and cultural groups. Obama is cheered for doing the exact same thing. – cited in the Spiked

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Two key points from the excerpts below:

  • Obama’s politics deliberately wrote off the white working class, the Democrats traditional support base, in exchange for the black vote, Latinos and women. Result: Obama collected only 39 pct of the white vote, coupled with a huge white abstention rate – 7 million didn’t turn up.
  • Obama’s propaganda then went on and on about equality of opportunities for all, non-discrimination, about a united America without blue or red states but, on the ground, polarisation ran far and wide, festered by a presidential campaign deeply racist. He was then praised as all ‘inclusive’ (the same language used by Pakatan politicians, Anwar Ibrahim, Elizabeth Wong, et al.)

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From Sean Collins at Spiked online. His assessment ‘America: the decline of politics, the rise of tribes’ merits reproduction but is retitled, with apologies.

The Rise of the New American Racism: Anti-White

The campaign to re-elect President Obama pursued this ‘new coalition’ strategy over the past year. Specific issues were raised to appeal to certain segments: raising immigration reform to appeal to Latinos, and warning that Republicans would take away contraception to appeal to young women. Obama’s Chicago-based operation created armies of data miners to assist the campaign in raising money, targeting ads, and learning more about swing-state voters. In a process referred to as ‘micro-targeting’, Obama’s team could identify different sub-groups of voters by geography, region and so on, and send them specific messages.

As we now know, the strategy worked to achieve its ultimate goal: returning Obama to the White House. In particular, the key groups in the new coalition voted strongly for Obama: 71 per cent of Latinos, 93 per cent of blacks and 67 per cent of unmarried women. The president was praised for building an ‘inclusive’ group, and in his victory speech he adopted the rhetoric of inclusivity: ‘I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or who you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight,you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.’

A comparison with the 2004 presidential election is instructive. In a number of respects, there are many similarities with 2012. George W Bush’s campaign manager at the time, Karl Rove, introduced micro-targeting of groups likely to vote Republican – the same techniques that Obama’s Chicago team used this year.  In that year, Bush won the popular vote by a slim margin, taking 51 per cent of the vote – the same percentage Obama won in 2012. But the popular interpretation of the outcome couldn’t be more different. Bush’s operation was seen then (and is still seen today) as an uninspiring, grind-it-out mobilisation of the base of the party at the exclusion of other voter segments, with the hope of getting 51 per cent of the votes. Rove’s methods were considered to be a case of making the best of a not-so-bright situation. In contrast, Obama’s victory is widely talked about as ‘inclusive’ and his operation is described as brilliant.

And yet, for all this rhetoric, the reality was that the Obama campaign did not seek to appeal to all groups equally. As Edsall wrote a year ago: ‘Democratic operatives for the 2012 election make it clear for the first time that the party will explicitly abandon the white working class.’ This was quite something when you consider that the party’s image historically has been to stick up for the working man. In the end, Obama won only 39 per cent of all white voters. And perhaps the biggest demographic factor in an election that was starkly divided demographically was a huge abstention rate among whites. Specifically, the number of white voters fell from 99million in 2008 to 92million this time around, while the number of non-white voters remained at similar levels to four years ago.

[P]andering to specific groups speaks to the lack of a message that can unify. This approach ends up promoting stereotypes of those groups, and treats them as if all they care about are ‘their’ issues. Abortion and contraception are important issues, but it is patronising to think that these issues are the only ones that matter to women. Pushing this angle too hard could lead to a backlash.

So, while Democrats dream of ‘enduring’ majorities into the future, the reality of how they (and the Republicans) have sowed social divisions in the US today gets overlooked. When he first entered national politics at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Obama offered a vision of one country: ‘There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America—there’s the United States of America.’ In his 2012 victory speech, he harked back to that theme when he said: ‘We remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.’

And yet, after the election, Obama oversees a country more divided than before. The red state/blue state divide has been further entrenched. Voting results became more polarised by race or ethnic group. Divisions are not a problem if they are based on ideas; but in today’s America, divisions are more about identity and they have a tribal quality. Obama and the Democrats are not solely to blame for this situation, but their electoral strategy has played upon and exacerbated these divides. Romney was rightly criticised for writing off the ‘47 per cent’, but Obama’s writing off of the white working class is somehow interpreted as ‘inclusive’.

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