Generation 40s – 四十世代

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退出UNESCO反映的「新單邊主義」

信報財經新聞
社評 社評
2017-10-14

美國總統特朗普對二戰後的國際政經秩序看不順眼已非新聞,從北約到歐盟到國際自由貿易協定如TPP(跨太平洋夥伴關係協定)都一一成為口誅筆伐的對象。到最近,狂人總統已不再滿足於以嘴巴和Twitter斥罵,開始付諸實質行動去改變甚至「拆毀」有關秩序。美國政府於周四宣布退出聯合國教科文組織(UNESCO),明年十二月底生效,令這個致力全球文物古蹟保育及文化交流的組織不但失去最重要的創會成員,更失去每年數以億元計的經費。

美國國務院解釋,退出UNESCO有幾個原因,包括組織有明顯反以色列傾向、開支過大及發展方向不對頭需要大規模改革等。在退出後,美國會保留觀察員身份提供專業意見,以示不會跟這個重要國際組織一刀兩斷。

特朗普政府批評UNESCO反以色列不能算完全沒有理由,畢竟這個組織二○一一年投票通過巴勒斯坦成為正式會員,變相認同巴勒斯坦作為主權國家的地位,開了聯合國屬下組織的先例;以色列固然不爽,作為以色列主要盟友的美國也不是味兒。事實上,前總統奧巴馬就因為UNESCO接納巴勒斯坦為成員而拒繳五億美元經費,以示抗議。

不過,美國跟UNESCO的恩怨情仇已經糾結多年,雙方並不純粹因為以色列而決裂。追本溯源,UNESCO於一九四五年由美國主催成立,本意是傳播西方特別是美國文化及意識形態,增強軟實力,向專權政府以至共產主義陣營施壓。但隨着七八十年代大量第三世界國家加入,美國的影響力大不如前,UNESCO逐漸成為批判西方文化霸權的先鋒,更一度提出打造「國際資訊新秩序」(New International Information Order)的口號,倡議建立非西方的傳媒網絡,為第三世界發聲。

到一九八三年,當時的列根政府忍無可忍,以UNESCO過分政治化及親蘇聯(俄羅斯前身)為理由宣布退出組織,震動國際社會。二○○一年爆發九一一恐襲後,小布殊政府為爭取不同陣營國家支持,才決定讓美國重新加入UNESCO。既有如此這般的前嫌積怨,加上美國重返組織後未能左右大局,包括影響下任總幹事的任命,破格的特朗普於是眼不眨、眉不皺說退就退。

更重要的是,特朗普退出UNESCO只是他厲行美國優先策略、重整二戰國際政治秩序的其中一步而已,「反枱」動作陸續有來。就以被視為戰後金融秩序基石的世界銀行為例,美國雖然因股權架構設計而保有重大決策否決權,但特朗普正準備向它開刀,不但堅決反對世界銀行的新一輪增資建議,並要求這組織改變貸款及資助政策,特別是要減少對中等收入國家如中國的援助及合作計劃。

本周末在華盛頓舉行的國際貨幣基金組織及世銀年會,美國代表肯定會全力推動特朗普的看法,呼籲改革,估計年會或陷入爭議,難有成果,還有可能引發中美之間的新一輪齟齬。

UNESCO、世銀以外,特朗普對美國過去簽訂的多邊協定(不管是政治抑或經濟層面)同樣是推翻的推翻,修改的修改,一股顛覆氣勢。伊朗核協議是經過美、歐、俄、伊朗等國多年斡旋及互諒互讓下才達成的,算是通過外交談判避免核武器擴散的罕有例子。可是特朗普卻一而再威脅不確認協議,且有意讓國會對伊朗施加新的制裁條款,惹起伊朗及其他國家反感,隨時令限核協議土崩瓦解。

此外,北美自由貿易協定(NAFTA)是美國、加拿大、墨西哥三國經輾轉談判在九十年代中達成,二十多年來令三國形成強固的經濟貿易共同體及產業鏈,也令製造業如美國車廠可用盡三地的好處,減低成本,提升競爭力。特朗普上台未幾便不斷要求大幅重寫這份互利互惠的協定,置貿易夥伴的合作及利益於不顧,甚至不惜威脅單方面退出協議。日前他會見加拿大總理杜魯多時,就即席公開說北美自由貿易協定問題甚多,「死不足惜」。

種種舉動清楚顯示,特朗普政府治下的美國正大踏步走向新的孤立主義、單邊主義,片面強調本國利益,無視國際合作及共存共榮關係。按這個趨勢發展下去,美國在聯合國、IMF、世界貿易組織的角色將面臨大變,從領導者、捍衞者變成顛覆者、破壞者,這不但會削弱得來不易的多邊合作框架,更有可能令國際政經秩序出現權力真空,各種爭議、矛盾更糾結難解!

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After the Vegas massacre and European terror attacks, is it safe for Hong Kong children to study abroad?

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-10-09
Mike Rowse says parents must strike a balance when deciding where children should study. Anxiety over American gun violence or terrorism in London can’t be the only factor

The recent tragic events in Las Vegas and spate of terrorist attacks in Europe will have all parents whose children study overseas pondering whether they made the right decision.

After all, Hong Kong has many fine schools and universities. Since we live in, by any measure, one of the world’s safest cities, why send our precious children thousands of miles away, where they might be in danger and we will see them less often? The counter arguments are familiar to all families on this path: some courses are not available here or are better taught elsewhere; living in another country is an enriching experience for most young people on top of any academic benefit; being apart from relatives and friends helps teach self-reliance and is an important step in the maturing process. Where the correct balance lies depends on individual circumstances.

My two teenage children were both leaning toward subjects not covered well or at all by Hong Kong’s tertiary institutions and, after research, felt the best options were in North America, with the UK as a possible fallback. Hence, our family has spent the last three summer holidays scouting suitable colleges for them. One visit to California actually included a side trip to Las Vegas, about a four-hour journey from Los Angeles by car. Press reports of the carnage there have also included some other alarming statistics. The Financial Times, for example, quoted Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit organisation, as saying there had been 274 mass shootings (in which at least four people were killed or injured) so far in 2017.

After weighing the alternatives, my daughter chose the University of California Los Angeles and started there last month. London would have been cheaper but she is studying film making and the proximity to Hollywood was too much of a draw. Would she have chosen differently if the Las Vegas mass shooting had come earlier? Highly unlikely, nor would I have sought to persuade her. Would London – scene of several terrorist incidents in recent years – be any safer?

An officer stands guard at a police cordon near a house in Newport, South Wales, on September 20, during investigations into the September 15 terror attack on a London underground tube train carriage. Photo: AFPImportant decisions in life should be taken on the overall balance of arguments. Provided we are not reckless in the thinking process and don’t ignore some highly relevant and probable adverse conditions, we have to accept that there is a degree of risk in all options. A slightly higher risk of being the victim of a gun crime in the US, or a terrorist attack in the UK, should not be the determining factors.

Similar mental juggling is needed when considering other life choices, such as involvement in sports. When my two (now adult) sons were growing up, both played rugby and football, as did most of their mates. Parents were relatively relaxed at that time about what were perceived as very remote prospects of serious injury. We now know much more about the dangers of incurring injuries in contact sports. Recent studies of the brains of deceased NFL players found evidence of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy in 99 per cent of cases.

When my daughter decided to play rugby, naturally the question arose as to whether to steer her toward a more gentle activity. Clearly there are dangers, as parents are reminded every time a child comes home bruised and limping. On the other hand, rugby is a very healthy form of exercise, and promotes camaraderie and team spirit. Moreover, coaches these days are much more alert to safety issues.

This combination of photos provided by Boston University shows sections from a normal brain, top, and from the brain of former University of Texas football player Greg Ploetz, bottom, with stage IV chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Photo: APThis once again comes down to balancing the factors and, without being reckless, reaching a reasoned decision. There are also family politics to account for. Parents of very young children are entitled to be fairly autocratic in making important decisions on behalf of their offspring. But, as children move into their teens and grow more mature, decisions become much more of a joint enterprise. Parents slip into the role of advisers, ensuring that all relevant issues have been considered. After that, they basically have to respect their children’s choices.

I won’t pretend this is a painless process. At moments of severe strain on the nerves, I find the occasional silent prayer, perhaps accompanied by a stiff drink, can provide some solace.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises.


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China’s rise is assured in our new world order, but not as a hegemon

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-10-13
Jean-Pierre Lehmann says though one major power dominated the past two centuries – Britain in the 19th and America in the 20th – in the 21st century, no single country will be calling the shots. Instead, the tussle for influence will be fiercest on the Asia-Pacific stage

During most of my working life, I have commuted physically and intellectually between western Europe and East Asia, where I spent part of my childhood and where I have over the years lived, studied, worked and taught. Of course, to get from one to the other, one has to traverse the Eurasian continent. Which is what I did. In the late 1960s/early 1970s, for example, I would take a ship from Portsmouth to Leningrad (as it then was), a train from Leningrad to Moscow, a plane from Moscow to Khabarovsk, a train from Khabarovsk to Nakhodka, a boat from Nakhodka to Yokohama, then, the final leg, a train from Yokohama to Tokyo.

I would occasionally stop for a few days along the way. The icy cold war atmosphere notwithstanding, the warmth (and liquidity: lots of vodka!) of Russian hospitality lived well up to its reputation. I had read in my teens lots of Russian literature, and was enthralled when I read 15 years ago that splendid history of Russian culture, Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes. That was 15 years ago, a year after China acceded to the World Trade Organisation. In the meantime, academically I remained an East-West guy.

I watched, totally bedazzled, the transformations occurring in the Asia-Pacific, especially the awesome developments in China. As a product of the mid-20th century, I was influenced by the view that the words “poor” and “Chinese” were synonymous. This was true not only in the West – whether in Europe or the United States – but also in Japan. The Chinatown in Yokohama, which I occasionally visited in the 1950s with my parents (who lived at the time in Tokyo), was poor. In the second half of the 1980s, when I was based in Tokyo, as rumours of a potential Chinese growth story began circulating and Japan was experiencing stratospheric growth, I found Japanese I spoke to quite dismissive.

By the beginning of this century, the China narrative has been dramatically transformed, as has its impact on the world. The global balance of economic power is moving from West to East, as the Atlantic centuries seem to be entering their concluding chapters and an Asia-Pacific century emerges in the 21st.

Europe’s clout has declined, economically, geopolitically and demographically, and will continue to do so. The US remains a formidable power, but its days of hegemony are reaching their end. The institutions that Uncle Sam put together after the second world war – the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the WTO – are becoming moribund. George W. Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its catastrophic consequences have undermined American geopolitical and moral leadership; while Donald Trump’s bombastic “America First” rhetoric provides a sort of tragic operatic finale. How embarrassing it must be for Americans to witness this Caligula-like figure drag the country down into barbarity. As Angela Merkel confirmed in her speech in Munich in May, the Western alliance, founded after the war by the US and the UK, is eroding.

The fact that the world is at a turning point is beyond dispute. Where it is turning to is another matter. Because the last two centuries have been dominated by one major global power – Britain in the 19th, the US in the 20th – there is an assumption that it must be someone else’s turn. (Presumably, China?)

In fact, as author Ian Morris compellingly argues in Why the West Rules – For Now, the history of the Eurasian continent – where civilisations flourished and history was made – was one of exchange, mutation and what we would call today, “multipolarity”. Rudyard Kipling’s famous “East is East and West is West” poem portrays a 9th-century imperialist view of the world, and does not correspond to historical reality. Throughout the millennia, Eurasian societies, emanating from five major civilisations (Chinese, Indian, Persian, Arabic and European), fought with each other, traded goods, sciences and ideas with each other, as they learned and borrowed from each other. There was no East and West, Europe and Asia. Arabic thought influenced the Renaissance; Confucian thought influenced the Enlightenment; India invented and developed the zero.

Things began changing with the rise of the Portuguese seaborne empire in the late 15th century. Initially incrementally, then, from the early 19th century on, rapidly and radically, Europe rose as virtually all of Asia declined. Europe’s “superiority” ensured Asia’s subjugation. This century is witnessing the resurgence of Asia; especially the rise of China as a global power. The idea, however, that the world was following a pattern and that China would emerge as the coming hegemon seems unconvincing.

Not clear as to where we’re now heading, I was intrigued when I read President Xi Jinping’s speech in Astana on September 7, 2013, in which he launched what has since become known as the “Belt and Road Initiative”.

I have made a considerable effort over the past four years to become more immersed in Eurasian and Central Asian historical patterns, contemporary dynamics and future prospects. I have travelled not just physically, but also intellectually across much of the Eurasian continent. This has included most recently an intensive week of discussions in Moscow with Russian interlocutors from different professions and generations (including a high-school class of 15-year-olds) to hear how they see the world.

Here, I wish to emphasise the concept that Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, introduced me to, and which I found very useful in constructing my new view of the world. Whereas recently, there has been much talk of whether Russia is pivoting to the East or maintaining its historical ties with Europe, Trenin speaks of a “360-degree vision, where Moscow serves as the central element of a new geopolitical construct: Eurasia writ large, aka Greater Eurasia”.

In this Greater Eurasia are the former great civilisations and great powers: China, India, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (especially Indonesia), the countries of Central Asia and the Levant, Russia, Turkey and the European Union. The EU’s past was integrated into that of Eurasia, and so, it would seem, will be its future. As Merkel implied in her speech in May, with Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the Western alliance has reached its twilight.

In this Greater Eurasian space, China clearly dominates. Its gross domestic product is roughly 10 times the size of Russia’s and more than five times the size of India’s. But for a number of reasons, there will be no Chinese hegemon comparable to the UK or US. China is unlikely to match the US in hard power, and its soft power is weak.

The UK and the US gained hegemony in part by waging brutal imperialist wars and enforcing exploitative subjugation on much of the world – in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Whether China can be different, whether it can achieve its “peaceful rise”, will be the dominant question this century. Greater Eurasia is full of exciting potential. It is also, however, a geopolitical cauldron. Whatever happens, the narrative of the 21st century will be written there.

Jean-Pierre Lehmann is emeritus professor at IMD, founder of The Evian Group, and visiting professor at the University of Hong Kong


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If Chris Patten truly cares for Hong Kong, he should fight for equal rights for British National (Overseas) passport holders

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-10-06
Albert Cheng says the BN(O) passport is a grievous wound inflicted by the British government, a betrayal of the people of Hong Kong. The test of the former governor’s fine words will be whether he can help right that wrong

Hong Kong’s last governor, Chris Patten, was recently in town to promote his new book, First Confession. Patten is a charming, energetic and experienced politician, and his polished speeches hold great fascination for his audience. This time, he praised Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for doing a better job than Leung Chun-ying, and eulogised the new generation for adhering to their principles.

Patten’s pertinent comments on Hong Kong’s political environment have won him worldwide applause. However, at a lunch organised by the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation, Patten seemed rather baffled by an issue raised by veteran democrat Emily Lau Wai-hing. She asked if Patten, a member of the House of Lords, would raise in Parliament the issue of giving the right of abode to British National (Overseas) passport holders. Patten promised to raise the matter when the issue of whether to count foreign students in the government’s immigration target was tabled again, but also reminded Lau not to overestimate the influence of the upper chamber. The underlying message was that there was nothing he could do.

The BN(O) issue has inflicted a long-lasting and grievous wound on the Hong Kong people. Originally, there were about 3 million British Dependent Territories Citizen (BDTC) passport holders (including people born before July 1, 1997 in Hong Kong, and naturalised British subjects). However, due the handover, the British government amended its constitution, changing the BDTC classification to BN(O), who do not have the right of abode in the UK.

The British government went back on its word and betrayed the Hong Kong people. In fact, after the June 4 incident in 1989, due to strong community pressure, it reluctantly granted 50,000 right of abode places for Hong Kong families. But people instead flocked to emigrate to the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and so on. The arrogant attitude of the UK government caused an apathetic response to the “right of abode” scheme and it ended up being underutilised.

The idea of a BN(O) passport is absurd. It comes with the same cover as any British passport but can be used only as a travel document. Holders have no right of abode in the UK and are not treated equally when passing through immigration. I visited Britain recently and, from my observation, British customs officers have absolutely no idea what a BN(O) passport is. They direct holders to the European passports line, where they have to queue at the “foreigners” counter.

If Patten truly cared about Hong Kong people, as he claims, he would spend more effort fighting for equality on behalf of BN(O) passport holders. In fact, in February 1997, now-deceased House of Lords member Lord Avebury put forward a private member’s bill – the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act – proposing that BN(O) passport holders who did not hold Chinese citizenship could register to be British citizens. At that time, Patten strongly urged the government to support the bill, which was subsequently passed. In 2009, Lord Avebury proposed an amendment to the British Nationality Act Section 4B, that any BN(O) who involuntarily lost the citizenship of other countries would automatically become a British citizen. The proposal was accepted by the Labour government.

In the past 50 years, tens of thousands of Hongkongers have gone to Britain to study, bringing huge economic benefits to the country. However, this summer, students bound for Britain were stranded in Hong Kong due to some errors made by the visa service provider. It has been a painful procedure.

It has been 20 years since Hong Kong’s return to China; “one country, two systems” has been deformed and the promised “ high degree of autonomy” has diminished. The Chinese government has been acting against the Sino-British Joint Declaration, sparking concerns among Hong Kong people. Many have already applied for extensions of their BN(O) passports as a last resort. Patten should keep his promise and join hands with other House of Lords members who are concerned about Hong Kong people’s rights, to allow BN(O) passport holders to be treated equally with other British passport holders. This is the least Patten can do.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.


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China has a vision of how to engage the world. The divided West needs one, too

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-07-06
Michael Clauss says the world is poised to usher in globalisation with Chinese characteristics – unless the US and Europe can come together to offer a strategy of their own that gives more protection to the defence of enforceable rules and human rights

China has a global strategy of engagement. The Belt and Road Initiative is only the most visible example. Its vision to create stability through development encompasses the European and Asian continents and large parts of Africa. Everywhere you see Chinese leaders travelling, you see giant pledges of further engagement, in Africa, Latin America and even Europe: more trade, more investment, and more scientific and people-to-people exchanges.

And on global governance, China has promised more engagement. It is contributing more to the UN, from UN peacekeepers to development funds. It has called for strengthening the World Trade Organisation as the core of an open multilateral trading system. It has also become more active in peace and security. In the Middle East and North Africa, China has stepped up its diplomatic activity. This has not resulted in more stability in, say, Libya, Syria or Yemen, but China at least is not part of the problem and, potentially, is part of a solution. In Afghanistan, its active diplomacy to create more stability has also not yet achieved lasting results but its profile has risen dramatically.

The accession of both Pakistan and India to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was a diplomatic triumph and might contribute to confidence-building. And China almost single-handedly keeps the BRICS format alive, despite considerable internal problems.

Are we at the threshold of a new era, a new age of “globalisation with Chinese characteristics”? What could this look like? Possibly prosperous, but more based on informal arrangements with strong hierarchy rather than enforceable rules adjudicated by independent bodies. Many, if not most, activities and new formats devised by China are China-centric.

On trade, but also ideas, information and cyberspace, China’s openness is limited while it uses a lot of muscle to open up others. China shuts out foreign competition in vital areas such as rail transport, medical devices, telecommunications and now the IT sector. As a result, trade deficits and one-sided investment relationships in favour of China, with such diverse countries as Vietnam, Pakistan, Malaysia, Poland and Serbia, are extreme. We Europeans would like to maintain a rules-based global order with equal rights for every country, big or small, and would like to avoid one-way streets.

China’s world view is coherent and predictable. It has a strategy of engagement and, in many cases, offers what is needed to create a prosperous and stable world. In the West, many zero in on real or perceived faults in the Chinese approach. But what do we have to offer?

Does the United States offer a coherent strategy? Do we see more US engagement in the world? Leaving the Paris climate accord means disengagement from a global solution to the world’s most dangerous problem. Intended deep cuts in development assistance and contributions to the UN would, if carried out, imply massive disengagement. Negative comments about the WTO, withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and threatening to leave other trade agreements even with its closest allies would imply disengagement from trade multilateralism altogether.

Meanwhile, Europe remains committed to the multilateral system led by the UN, to open trade with the WTO at its core, to development and the Paris agreement. Germany is fully behind this agenda. On many of these key goals and values, the growing convergence with China is evident. However, there are also areas where Europe does not see eye to eye with China.

The playing field for European companies in the Chinese market is anything but level, and tilting further. While China benefits more and more disproportionately from a completely open German and European investment market, it has not opened its own investment market, with the exception of some minor fields, where the government, inter alia, through unfair procurement, has successfully pushed foreign competition out of the market. There are significant, even growing disagreements on human rights. The emerging “Chinese intranet” is growing ever more isolated and ever better policed.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron meet the press at the end of a two-day European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, last month. Europe remains committed to the multilateral system led by the UN, and to open trade, development and the Paris climate agreement. Photo: EPA

But does Europe have a vision of its own to create stability in Africa, the Middle East and the still many underdeveloped parts of Asia? And how about Europe’s most important source of strength – unity? Just a few weeks ago, the EU, for the first time, failed to agree on a joint statement in the general debate of the UN Human Rights Council. Greece openly advertised that it was its delegation that broke EU unity. On trade, Hungary broke ranks with the EU by signing up to an unsatisfactory statement on trade at the Belt and Road Forum, despite the fact that trade is an exclusive competence of the union. On procurement rules and reciprocity on investment, EU solidarity becomes a rare currency where the promise of easy money looms, as the planned upgrade of the Belgrade-Budapest train link shows. There is evidence that a public tender was deliberately avoided so as to achieve the outcome desired by China.

When it comes to engaging the world, it seems that China is currently the only power that has both the will and the means to do so. The US has the means but increasingly lacks the willingness. Europe has good intentions but is grappling to develop a coherent strategy.

The West is losing its common vision on how to engage the world, with potentially disastrous results for the defence of global rules on equal market access, of human rights, of development and combating climate change. A unified West with a clear strategy and positive narrative to address the truly awful problems the world is facing is needed – not as a counterweight to China but as a respected partner to shape the global order together.

If China ushers in an era of “globalisation with Chinese characteristics” on its own in the coming years, the West will have itself to blame. It better not carp about it.

Michael Clauss is the German ambassador to China