ASIA MAIOR
The Journal of the Italian Think Tank on Asia
founded by Giorgio Borsa in 1989
Vol. XXV
2014
Engaging China / Containing China:
Asia in 2014
Edited by
Michelguglielmo Torri
and
Nicola Mocci
ASIA MAIOR
The Journal of the Italian Think Tank on Asia
founded by Giorgio Borsa in 1989
Vol. XXV
2014
Engaging China /
Containing China:
Asia in 2014
Edited by
Michelguglielmo Torri
and
Nicola Mocci
I LIBRI DI
EMIL
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Asia Maior is the journal of the «Asia Maior» think tank on Asia, founded
by Giorgio Borsa in 1989
Asia Maior’s Editor
Michelguglielmo Torri
Asia Maior’s Associate Editor
Nicola Mocci
Asia Maior’s Scientific Board:
Guido Abbattista (Università di Trieste),
Domenico Amirante (Università «Federico II», Napoli),
Elisabetta Basile (Università «La Sapienza», Roma),
Luigi Bonanate (Università di Torino),
Claudio Cecchi (Università «La Sapienza», Roma),
Alessandro Colombo (Università di Milano),
Anton Giulio Maria De Robertis (Università di Bari)
Thierry Di Costanzo (Université de Strasbourg),
Max Guderzo (Università di Firenze),
Franco Mazzei (Università «L’Orientale», Napoli),
Giorgio Milanetti, (Università «La Sapienza», Roma),
Paolo Puddinu (Università di Sassari),
Adriano Rossi (Università «L’Orientale», Napoli),
Filippo Sabetti (McGill University, Montréal),
Giuseppe Sacco (Università degli Studi Roma Tre),
Guido Samarani (Università Ca’ Foscari, Venezia),
Gianni Vaggi (Università di Pavia),
Alberto Ventura (Università della Calabria).
«Asia Maior»’s Governing Board
Marzia Casolari (President)
Enrica Garzilli
Nicola Mocci (Vice President)
Riccardo Redaelli
Michelguglielmo Torri (Scientific Director)
Contents
9Michelguglielmo Torri: Foreword: «Asia Maior» and its Asia
15 Francesca Congiu: China 2014: China and the Pivot to Asia
43Giulio Pugliese: Japan 2014: Between a China Question and a China
Obsession
99Marco Milani – Barbara Onnis: Penisola coreana 2014: «ombre»
all’interno e «luci» all’esterno
137Marco Vallino: Indonesia 2014: Joko Widodo e la sfida all’élite del
«new order»
151Stefano Caldirola: Malaysia 2014: Reforms and challenges in the
year of flight MH370
171Nicola Mocci: Cambodia 2014: The continuation of the Hun Sen-Sam
Rainsy political duel and the surge in social conflict
193Vitaliano Civitanova: Thailandia 2014: nascita di una dittatura nel
nome del re
207Piergiorgio Pescali: Myanmar 2014: un processo di democratizzazione
molto lento ma reale
223Marzia Casolari: Bangladesh 2014: old patterns, new trends
241Michelgugleimo Torri – Diego Maiorano: India 2014: the
annihilation of the congress party and the beginning of the Modi era
323Enrica Garzilli: Nepal 2013-14: breaking the political impasse
337 Danila Berloffa: Sri Lanka 2014: la continuazione del regime
autoritario e la crescente insoddisfazione popolare
369 Marco Corsi: Pakistan 2014: gli attacchi al governo di Sharif e le
tensioni con i militari 383Diego Abenante: Afghanistan 2014: political transition without democracy?
401 Matteo Fumagalli: Kyrgyzstan 2014: The painful march towards
the Eurasian Union as the lesser evil?
415 Fabrissi Vielmini: Kazakhstan 2013-14: surviving internal
difficulties, facing external challenges
449 Fabio Indeo: Turkmenistan 2014: security concerns and unfulfilled
diversification of export energy routes
Reviews
461Paolo Puddinu (a cura di): Un viaggiatore italiano in Borneo nel
1873, Il Giornale Particolare di Giacomo Bove (Parte I), Regione Pie-
monte, Provincia di Asti, Astigrafica 2014; Paolo Puddinu (a cura
di): Un viaggiatore italiano in Giappone nel 1873, Il Giornale Partico
lare di Giacomo Bove (Parte II), Ieoka, Sassari, 1999 (Nicola Mocci)
465Gupta Akhil: Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence and Poverty
in India, Durham, NC: Duke University Press 2012 (Sara Bonfanti)
468Tadd Fernée: Enlightenment and Violence. Modernity and Nation
Making, New Delhi: Sage Publications India, 2014, pp. LXVII/386
(Anadi Mishra)
472 Decolonization and the Struggle for National Liberation in India
(1909-1971). Historical, Political, Economic and Architectural Aspects/
edited by Thierry Di Costanzo and Guillaume Ducœur. Frank
furt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien: Peter Lang, 2014 (Marzia Casolari)
Foreword: «Asia Maior» and its Asia
This short foreword is an introduction both to the «Asia Maior» project
– namely a project which has been going on for a quarter of century – and
to the contents of the present volume, which is the latest – but, hopefully,
not the last – offshoot of this project.
At the end of November 1989, following the fall of the Berlin Wall,
Professor Giorgio Borsa, then the doyen of Italian historians working on
modern and contemporary Asia, became convinced that that momentous
event was bound to have powerful repercussions not only in Europe, but
also in the rest of the world, including Asia.1 Accordingly, he gathered
his pupils and some of the pupils of his pupils at the ISPI (the Italian
Institute for the Study of International Politics) of Milan, and created an
informal observatory which would keep track of the political and economic developments in Asia. The main task of the group was to publish a
yearly volume examining the political, economic, and, if necessary, social
developments of the main Asian countries and, periodically, of the Asian
countries of lesser importance.2
Both the group and the yearly volume took the name of «Asia Maior»
(which, for several years was spelled «Asia Major»).3 The name was de1
Professor Giorgio Borsa (1912-2002) was less a historian of modern Asia than a
world historian studying the deployment of processes such as the rise of nationalism and the making of the modern world in Asia. His most important work, La
nascita del mondo moderno in Asia Orientale. La penetrazione europea e la crisi delle società
tradizionali in India, Cina e Giappone (Milano: Rizzoli, 1977, 604 pp.), although untranslated into English, was extremely influential in Italy. In English, a synthetic
assessment of the part of Borsa’s work related to India and, more generally, his
quite important modernization theory is given in Michelguglielmo Torri, ‘Studies in Italy on Modern and Contemporary India’, Storia della Storiografia/History of
Historiography, 34, 1998, pp. 119-51. Borsa’s habit of seeing the history of Asia as
an integral part of the history of the world, researching the development in Asia
of processes which were relevant in the history of the West, made it easy for him to
realize that the fall of the Berlin Wall was bound to have worldwide consequences.
Indeed, Giorgio Borsa was among the very few contemporary observers to immediately grasp the significance of that event.
2
Of course, the major or minor relevance of most countries is not permanently
given, but depends on parameters subject to change.
3
As explained below, the term «Asia Maior» comes from Latin and, in Latin, the
«j» does not exist. The spelling with the «j», introduced in the title of the first vol-
Michelguglielmo Torri
vised by Borsa with reference to the fact that the ancient Romans used the
term «Asia Minor» to define modern-day Turkey. Accordingly, in Borsa’s
conception, Asia Maior was that part of Asia extending beyond its Mediterranean portion.4 In fact, for many years, the part of Asia on which the
attention of the «Asia Maior» observatory was focused was Monsoon Asia,
or what Italian scholars of Asia define as «Asia Orientale (Eastern Asia)»;
this is an area including not only China, Korea and Japan, but also South
and South-East Asia. Only later did «Asia Maior» gradually extend the
field of its analyses to encompass Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia. At
the beginning of the present century, «Asia Maior» (the group) came to
define Asia Maior (the geopolitical space) as comprising that part of Asia
which borders Turkey and the Arab countries on the eastern side, and the
Caucasian countries and Russia on the northern side.
The method applied in the analyses included in the yearly volumes was
that of the historian. Giorgio Borsa – who led the «Asia Maior» group until
his death in 2002 – was not interested either in more or less pedestrian political and economic chronicles or the presentation of more or less exhaustive sets of statistical and economic data – the usual stuff of so many yearbooks analysing a given country. On the contrary, what he wanted the «Asia
Maior» group to produce were analyses which distinguished from the sea of
facts what were, from a historical viewpoint, the key ones for understanding
not only the period under review, but also the long-term trends manifesting
themselves in the country under examination. This, of course, was not an
objective easy to reach, and, indeed, has not always been reached by Asia
Maior’s analyses. However, the continuous endeavour to see the present as
history in the making, and to understand it also by detecting its historical
roots, has always been the distinguishing mark of the «Asia Maior» school.
Not all the contributions published in Asia Maior in its 25-year history have
come up to the exacting standards set by Giorgio Borsa; however, enough
of them have been to retrospectively judge the Asia Maior endeavour as a
success. Indeed, it is now possible to go back to analyses published 10 or 20
years ago and see how the political and economic trends then elucidated
have played themselves out in the following years, up to the present. This
is a feat that has been made possible also by the fact that – following a rule
ume, was the result of the mistaken adoption of an anglicized spelling. Afterwards,
for reasons of continuity, the j-spelling was maintained up to the issue covering
2004.
4 As, by now, the reader has undoubtedly realized, in this introduction the term
‘Asia Maior’ is utilized in three different meanings: the observatory on Asia founded in 1989 by Giorgio Borsa; the geopolitical expression indicating a well defined
part of Asia; the journal published by the «Asia Maior» observatory. In the first case
(the observatory) the term is written between quotation marks; in the second case
(the geopolitical expression) is written in ordinary printing type and without quotation marks; in the third case (the journal) is written in italics.
10
Foreword
originally set by Giorgio Borsa, and scrupulously followed since then – in
the Asia Maior chapters there are no predictions, no more or less sophisticated «scenarios» regarding the future, but, quite simply and quite humbly,
though also quite importantly, the individuation of the relevant facts and
their organization in historical sequences.
The first Asia Maior volume was published in 1990, and, since then,
the publication of the yearly volumes has regularly been going on, the
sole exception being that of the year 2006, when no volume was published. That gap, however, was closed the following year, when, in 2007,
a double volume appeared, analysing the 2005-2006 biennium.5
Indeed, at the end of 2006, the informal group created by Giorgio
Borsa was transformed into a regular think tank, by a notary act. In that
occasion, the name «Asia Major» for both the think tank and the volume
was officially changed to «Asia Maior». By then, the original group of
scholars gathered by Giorgio Borsa in November 1989 had profoundly
changed, only one of its members – the author of these lines – still being part of it. A new generation of younger scholars had come to the
fore. Nevertheless, the structure of the yearly volumes, the basic philosophy of the group and the methodological approach had been kept
unchanged.
When Giorgio Borsa conceived and launched the «Asia Maior» enterprise, his plan was to publish a yearly volume written by Italian scholars and aimed at Italian educated public opinion. In other words, Asia
Maior’s target was made up of Italians, not only scholars and university
students, but diplomats, journalists, entrepreneurs and, more generally,
educated people interested in either Asian or international affairs. As a
consequence, Borsa wanted the yearly volume to be written not only according to the most exacting scholarly criteria, but in a clear language,
devoid of any academic jargon.
In course of time, Asia Maior, the yearly publication, came to be a
reference point among Italian scholars and was increasingly categorized
less as a yearbook than a scholarly journal. The process culminated in the
decision by the ANVUR (the Italian authority in charge of evaluating the
national system of higher education and research) to officially classify Asia
Maior as a class A journal in the field of Asian Studies.
Although, as noted above, the Borsa guidelines have been strictly
adhered to, in recent years, inside what had by then become a regular
think tank, the opportunity or, rather, the necessity to shift from Italian
to English as the medium of communication was debated. Eventually –
and I dare say inevitably – the decision was taken to shift from Italian to
English, in order to widen Asia Maior’s target from the Italian educated
public to the Italian educated public plus the world scholarly community
working on contemporary Asia.
A list of all the Asia Maior volumes is given in the appendix.
5
11
Michelguglielmo Torri
For reasons which need not detain us here, it was decided that such a
transition would be gradual, with the present volume being made up of
chapters in English with an Italian abstract, and chapters in Italian with
an English abstract.

Asia is not even a valid geographical expression: there are no clearcut geographical features which set Asia apart from Europe, something
which most geographers are well aware of.6 Much more important is the
fact that Asia has historically been the seat of several refined and complex
cultures/civilizations. Each of them is as close to or distant from the other
Asian cultures/civilizations as they are close to or distant from Western
culture/civilization.7 «Asian values», apart from being squarely based on
the Confucian tradition – and therefore alien to many Asian civilizations –
are nothing more than a felicitous catchword, a rhetorical device, without
much basis in the ground realities of Asia, not even in those parts of Asia
where, in the past, the Confucian tradition flourished.
To the lack of geographical and cultural unity we must add the lack
of economic unity. Asia Maior, as defined by the «Asia Maior» group, although more limited than geographical Asia, can nevertheless be divided
into at least two main areas: that part which is rich in natural resources
and scarcely populated, and the other part, which is poor in natural resources and densely populated. This division is strengthened by the fact
that the latter part is characterized by the presence of states with strong
and growing economies.8
Finally, to the lack of geographical, demographical and economic
unity characterizing Asia, one must add the lack of unity as far as the
political systems of the several Asian countries are concerned. In this perspective, there is no similarity between India and Iran; China and Japan;
the Philippines and Vietnam; Malaysia and Thailand, and so on. Indeed,
one could claim that practically all kinds of political regime are nowadays
present in Asia Maior, ranging from the biggest democracy in the world,
India, to the most bizarre dictatorship on the planet, North Korea.
6
E.g., Martin W. Lewis, Kären Wigen, The Myth of Continents. A Critique of Metageography, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
7
For a classical statement of this point, see William H. McNeill, The Rise of the
West. A History of the Human Community, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963,
and subsequent editions.
8
The exception to this categorization is Iran. Iran is densely populated, with a
relatively strong economic infrastructure (although put under pressure by the USsponsored economic sanctions), and is rich in natural resources.
12
Foreword

All the above, although well known, has been said to point out the difficulty of finding a unitary theme which can characterize the political and
economic developments in Asia, even in that lesser portion of Asia which
is Asia Maior, during the short period of time which is the chronological
framework of a single Asia Maior issue. However, although difficult, to
find a unifying theme for the yearly Asia Maior issues can be useful in conveying a clear image of the strongest political and economic forces at play
in the Asia Maior area during the period under review. For the present
issue, covering the year 2014, this unifying theme has been found with
reference to China.
Thanks to its economic weight, China exercises a powerful pull on
most Asian countries. This makes it imperative for the other Asian countries to adjust themselves to this pull. In each case, this adjustment is a
function of an uneasy blending of two contradictory strategies: engaging
China and containing China.
Engaging China means to become part of the China-centred economic
space; which brings obvious and, generally speaking, conspicuous economic
advantages for those nations willing to do it. But China’s increasing assertiveness, a function of its growing economic and military power, is seen as a
danger by many of its neighbours. Indeed, it is a danger that many Asian
countries bordering with China or, in any case, subject to its economic pull,
want to minimize by a policy of containment, based on armed might and
the building of a network of either formal or informal political and military alliances. This already complex situation is made even more complex
by the fact that there are two major powers, from outside this area, which
exercise a powerful gravitational pull on most (in one case) or many (in the
other case) of the Asia Maior countries: the USA and Russia respectively.
The USA, at least since Nixon’s opening to China, have appeared to
be constantly uncertain about engaging it, considering it as a «responsible
stakeholder»9 in the world order and an indispensable economic partner,
or, by contrast, containing it, by building around it a powerful inhibitory
framework, a function of the redeployment of US military might in the
Asia-Pacific area (a strategy which has lately taken shape in the «Pivot to
Asia» doctrine), and the building of a complex network of military agreements with the Asian countries neighbouring China and with Australia.
One part of this same containment strategy is usually considered to be
the US-sponsored attempt to implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership
agreement (TPP), creating a new free trade economic space encompassing most of the Asia-Pacific countries, and excluding China. However, it
As famously urged by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick in 2005.
9
13
Michelguglielmo Torri
can be argued10 that the final objective of the whole TPP exercise is less to
isolate China than to induce it to eventually enter the agreement, becoming part of a US-centred system.
Russia, for its part, has an equally complex relationship with Asia
Maior. This relationship is organized around two axes: one is the necessity
to maintain or reassert its influence in that part of Asia formerly belonging to the USSR; the second is the necessity to avail itself of the support of
China, avoiding the danger of becoming over-dependent upon it.
Of course, engaging China/containing China are the two contradictory forces which have been moulding the system of international relations
in Asia Maior for quite some time, and not only in the year under review.
However, the choice to highlight the working of these forces in the title of
the 2014 issue of Asia Maior is justified by the fact that some of its most important chapters are firmly focused on the examination of the relevance
of the China-centred dynamics characterizing international relations in
Asia. Indeed, this theme is dealt with particularly in the chapters focused
on China and Japan, but also – even if to a lesser extent – in those dealing with North and South Korea, Malaysia, Cambodia, India, Kirghizstan,
Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. But, of course, international relations, although important, are only part of the picture. As always in the Asia Maior
issues, a great deal of attention is given to the domestic reality of the single Asian countries, both at the political and economic level.
At the political level, the analyses included in this issue reveal that two
contradictory trends are apparent. On one side, 2014 has witnessed the
military coup which has put an end – at least for the time being – to democracy in Thailand. On the other side, limited but concrete progress on
the path to a full blown democracy has been seen in Myanmar and Nepal.
More significant, as far as democracy is concerned, have been the general
elections in India and the general and local elections in Indonesia. In
both cases, the elections have marked a turnaround in the existing political situation, even if, at this stage, it is not yet possible to accurately judge
the full extent of a change which, nevertheless, appears conspicuous.
Finally, at the economic level, this issue’s various chapters show that,
by and large, economic growth is once again on the rise. Although decidedly less impressive than before the beginning of the world crisis,
the economic growth of the major Asian countries is much faster than
that characterizing Western countries. This means that Asian economic
growth, in spite of being much slower than before, appears bound to alter
the economic – and therefore political – relationship between Asia and
the West.
m.t.
As done by Francesca Congiu in the chapter on China in the present issue.
10
14
China in 2014: China and the Pivot to Asia
Francesca Congiu
University of Cagliari
[email protected]
1. Introduction
Differently from the approach used in the previous essays on China
in Asia Maior, concerned especially with domestic politics, we have chosen
here to privilege some aspects of China-US relations in order to investigate Chinese domestic politics and political economy through such a
prism. The reasons for this preference lie mostly in the growing centrality this relation has acquired in the international geo-political and geoeconomic context as well as in regional contexts.
In the history of the two countries’ relations, China always represented
a main pillar in what a part of literature close to the International Political
Economy and the history of international geo-economic relations has defined as the United States’ long-term project of a capitalistic world order.1
At the turn of the 1900s, China already represented a very high potential
market, strongly limited by a powerful and authoritarian state. With the
advent of the communist government in 1949, that market became a lost
opportunity. Only after about 30 years of frozen relations, was that pillar
regained since 1979, that is, since the recovery of US-China diplomatic
relations. Nevertheless, the US free trade project continued to face Chinese barriers and to look for the best strategies to break them down.
In 2014, the relationship was marked by a substantial economic interdependence and by serious tensions at both economic and political levels.
In a regional context already marked by maritime disputes (in the South
and East China Sea) – which were still giving rise to high military tensions
among the countries of the area – the United States gave new life to their
Pivot to Asia while China pursued an assertive approach both on the geoeconomic and geo-political level. Both countries were carrying on those
1 Leo Panitch, Sam Gindin, The Making of Global Capitalism. The Political Economy
of American Empire, London, New York: Verso, 2012; Mark T. Berger, The Battle for
Asia. From Decolonization to Globalization, London: Routledge, 2004; Massimo Galluppi, Rivoluzione, controrivoluzione e politica di potenza in estremo oriente 1950-1975,
Napoli: L’Orientale, 2009; Joyce Kolko, Gabriel Kolko, I limiti della potenza americana. Gli Stati Uniti nel mondo dal 1945 al 1954, Torino: Einaudi, 1975.
15
Francesca Congiu
foreign policy approaches that had already emerged in the previous five
years.2 There is no doubt the two approaches were self-perpetuating and
it is not possible to establish a clear cause-effect connection between the
two of them, unless we do not undertake very focused research. Nonetheless, the complexity of this relationship is well-mirrored in the then
Deputy President Xi Jinping’s words in February 2012 during a speech
in Washington. Xi defined Sino-American relations as «a new type of major-power relations» (xin xing daguo guanxi). His aim was to re-balance a
relationship where an emerging major power aimed for equal treatment
while the other, still dominant, superpower tried to defend its position
by maintaining the asymmetric relationship the former wanted to challenge.3 Xi Jinping’s idea was fundamentally based on four key points: 1)
mutual understanding and trust; 2) respect for each other’s core interests;
3) cooperation for the benefit of both countries; 4) enhancement of cooperation and coordination in international affairs and global issues.4
The equal treatment issue also strongly emerged in the 2012 document by the then Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cui Tiankao (now
Chinese Ambassador to the United States) and Pang Hanzhao. The document refers to a mutual equality which does not necessarily challenge the
United States’ position: «Equality does not mean China will sit with the
United States on exactly the same status […] Instead, either of the two
countries should […] regard the other as an equal partner of dialogue
and cooperation, try to put itself in the other’s shoes, accommodate the
other’s concerns in a reciprocal manner…».5 On the other hand, in a 2013
paper by Wang Yusheng (former Chinese Ambassador to the Asia Pacific
Economic Cooperation Organization) the Pivot to Asia was perceived as
an American attempt at maintaining its hegemony over China. According to Wang, the US did not accept not being able to interfere in China’s
internal affairs anymore. China was indeed becoming so powerful that it
was able to effectively defend its territorial integrity and its sovereignty.
For that reason, the US needed to «[...] ‘re-balance’ so as to maintain their
2 Francesca Congiu, ‘La Cina sull’orlo di una crisi politica e internazionale. L’anno
del 18° congresso del PCC’, Asia Maior 2012; ‘Dal G2 al Pivot to Asia. Le trasformazioni del rapporto Cina-Stati Uniti (2009-2012)’, Francesca Congiu, Annamaria
Baldussi, Barbara Onnis (Eds.), Le trasformazioni della globalizzazione in Asia orientale:
nuove polarizzazioni e nuove gerarchie, Cagliari: Aipsa Edizioni, 2013.
3 Andrew J. Nathan, ‘The «New Type of Major Power Relationship»: An Analysis
of the American Response’, The 28th Asia-Pacific Roundtable, 2-4 June 2014, Kuala
Lumpur.
4 Xi Jinping, ‘National Committee on United-States-China Relations’, Policy Speech,
Washington, 15 February 2012 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioEzUQFFH0s).
5 Cui Tiankai, Pang Hanzhao, ‘China-US Relations in China’s Overall Diplomacy in
the New Era’, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 20 July 2012,
(http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjb_663304/zzjg_663340/bmdyzs_664814/
xwlb_664816/t953682.shtml).
16
Cina
absolute superiority». Interestingly, in his above mentioned analysis of Xi
Jinping’s definition, Andrew Nathan sees in the US’ use of international
law and in their pressure on China to respect those norms an instrument
aimed at defending their present hegemonic position.6 In this regard,
Wang Yusheng writes: «US leaders have repeatedly claimed that so long as
China abides by international rules and act like a responsible large country, U.S.-China relations will get better, stable or even become partners.
The question is: what are the ‘international rules’? [...]».7
In a long interview with Steve Inskeep of National Public Radio on
28 May 2014, US President Barack Obama underlined again how important it was to respect international norms, with specific reference to
maritime disputes in East Asia: «[…] what we [also] want is to be able
to strengthen and constantly reinforce international norms because we
believe, I believe, that America benefits when those norms are not only
being upheld by us individually but where all countries buy in, where
there is a sense that all of us benefit from some basic rules of the road.
And China now as a rising power needs to be part of that responsibility
of maintaining rules that maintain peace and security for a lot of countries». Later on, with regard to the countries involved in the disputes,
he pointed out: «[…] China is going to be a dominant power in Asia,
not the only one, but by virtue of its size and its wealth, it is going to
be a great power in Asia. We respect that. And we’re not interested in
containing it because we are in any way intimidated by China; we’re
concerned about it because we don’t want to see constant conflicts developing in a vital region of the world that also, you know, we depend
on in terms of our economy being successful. You know, those are a lot
of markets out there, we sell a lot of goods out there, and, you know, we
don’t want to see these conflagrations that can end up impeding, you
know, our own interests».8
In 2014, the United States’ intention to propose the so-called TransPacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) as a «model agreement» for all free
trade agreements emerged with greater strength than previous years.
This proposal could be considered as a part of a strategy to attract and
discipline China by engaging it in a macro-regional neoliberal dimension
as originally planned since the early 1900s.
Andrew J. Nathan, The «New Type of Major Power Relationship».
Wang Yusheng, Is it Possible for China and the U.S. to Build a New type Major-Country
Relationship?, ‘Chinese People Institute of Foreign Affairs’, the 107th Issue Spring
2013 (http://cpifa.org/en/q/listQuarterlyArticle.do?articleId=254).
8 Transcript And Audio: President Obama’s Full National Public Radio Interview (http://
www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/05/29/316475458/transcript-and-audio-president-obamas-full-npr-interview).
6 7 17
Francesca Congiu
2. The «Trade Issue» in US-China Relations: the US Perspective
Since US-China normalization, the extent of bilateral trade has significantly increased from $2 billion in 1979 to $562 billion in 2013. China
has become the US’ second biggest trading partner, third biggest export
market and main source of imports. Besides, China was the leading foreign holder of American bonds, which amounted to about $1 billion at
the end of 2014.9
It is worth emphasizing that the incomparable growth of the Chinese economy was, from the perspective of International Political Economy,
a transnational phenomenon of growing interdependence between the
Chinese market and international corporations, leading to the deeper
and deeper integration of China into a global economy dominated by
US corporations. In the first ten years of the 2000s the US continued to
dominate the strategic sectors of the global economy: the four biggest
corporations in the fields of hardware and software technology, aerospace
and military as well as oil production were American. And so were fourteen out of the sixteen biggest global corporations in the pharmaceutical
and healthcare industry and services and nine out of ten corporations
in the field of global financial services.10 Between 1995 and 2005, China
received a massive flow of foreign direct investments, as it was a favourite
destination in the subcontract supply chain of global production networks
and about two thirds of its export growth can be attributed to the Chinese
subcontractors of the American corporations.11
According to the 2013 report of the American Chamber of Commerce
in Shanghai, in spite of a GDP drop below 8%, China still represented a
growing market with a lot of potential for American companies. In 2012,
the United States exported goods to China for a total of $111.8 billion,
which is an increase of about 476% compared to 2001. According to the
report, these exports led to the creation of about 544,000 jobs in 2012
and the extent of such exports could not but grow thanks to the progressive expansion of the middle class and, consequently, of consumption:
«U.S. companies are well positioned and have an enormous opportunity
to tap China’s explosion of consumer growth capturing billions of dollars
[…]».12 The same potential was attributed to the services sector. American
9 Wayne M. Morrison, China-US Trade Issues, ‘Congressional Research Service’, 5
December 2014, p. 2 (https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33536.pdf).
10 Leo Panitch, Sam Gindin, The Making of Global Capitalism, pp. 283-300.
11 Pan Chengxin, ‘What is Chinese About Chinese Business? Locating the ‘Rise of
China’ in Global Production Networks’, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 18, 58, 2009,
pp. 15-20.
12 The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, Viewpoint. U.S. Competitiveness in China. Opportunities and Challenges in America’s Fastest Growing Overseas Market,
Shanghai, 2013, p. 4 (http://www.amcham-shanghai.org/amchamportal/infovault_
library/2013/viewpoint-2013-us-competitiveness.pdf).
18
Cina
pharmaceutical companies in particular took a special interest in the Chinese market. They foresaw that by 2017 this market would be second only
to the American one, for a number of reasons: the extension of health
insurance to 95% of the population; the middle class growth; the aging
of the population. The Chamber of Commerce stated that the Chinese
government policies were «creating a larger pool of prospective customers
for US healthcare products and services».13
The trade deficit was still strongly in favour of China. In the first eight
months of 2014 it increased 4.1% compared to the previous year to a
total of $216 billion.14 With regard to the investment sector, American
official data reported the foreign direct investment flow from China to
the United States to be greater than the inverse flow for the first time in
2014, while according to Chinese official data this overtaking had already
happened a few years earlier.15
From the viewpoint of US business and politics, the major issue concerning US-China trade relations was the Chinese incomplete transition
to a free trade economy. China’s entry into the international neo-liberal
system was thus unsatisfactory because of the pervasive role of the state.
The Chinese economic system was still a hybrid model that was frequently
defined as «state capitalism».16 The main targets of these critiques were the
Chinese state-owned companies (SOEs). Chinese SOEs were considered
extremely and unfairly competitive both in the Chinese domestic arena
and in the global market. Furthermore, as a result of Obama’s incentives
on direct foreign investment inflows, more and more Chinese SOEs were
active in the US domestic market and, as a matter of fact, constituted a
direct threat to domestic enterprises.
The 2012 report by the US-China Economic and Security Review
Commission (USCC) included a whole section on Chinese state-owned
companies and their impact on the US economy. The report emphasized
the contrast between privatization attempts over the course of the 1990s
and the opposite trend which has been particularly evident since the beginning of the 2008 global recession. Therefore, in recent years Chinese
SOEs were perceived more and more as political actors and strong and
unfair global competitors.
The report mentions a 2011 speech by the then Secretary of State,
Hillary Clinton, which well illustrates the official US viewpoint on China’s
economic system: «We confront a special set of strategic challenges from
the growing wealth in state hands today. Governments are entering markets directly through their cash reserves, natural resources, and business
Ibid., p. 10.
US and China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), 2014 Report
to Congress, November, 2014, p. 38.
15 Ibid., p. 62; Morrison, China-US Trade Issues, p. 16.
16 Ibid., p. 29.
13 14 19
Francesca Congiu
they own and control and they are shaping these markets not just for
profits, but to build and exercise power on behalf of the state».17 Among
the commission’s several witnesses, Washington lawyer Timothy Brithbill
stated that China «more than any other country has created massive stateowned and controlled national champions that will compete unfairly with
private enterprises […] the rise of state involvement in the global economic arena is a significant threat to pure free market system and the free
flow of private capital».18 Apparently, this system was to blame for a sort
of Keynesian tendency: «State-owned companies may not be required by
their government owners to pay taxes or dividends or even make profit if the primary goal of government owners is to provide employment
[…]».19 Furthermore, the Chinese political system, state interventionism
and autocracy were all equally considered a comprehensive global threat
to neo-liberalism and democracy: «State capitalism is the most formidable foe that liberal capitalism has faced so far […]. Across much of the
world, the state is trumping the market and autocracy is triumphing over
democracy».20
The competitiveness of Chinese SOEs was regarded as unfair for a
number of reasons: those companies had preferential access to Chinese
national banks (low interest loans and debt forgiveness); they were easily allowed government grants; they bought land at a lower price than
private companies; they had preferential access to and lower prices for
raw materials; and they had preferential access to public procurement
(China had not joined yet the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on
Government Procurement). Because of this, US corporations operating
within China were left at a disadvantage. For instance, the public procurement sector was an exclusive territory of local companies, and strategic
sectors like steel, telecommunications, oil and natural gas presented barriers to foreign investments. Basically, foreign goods, services and investments faced a general discrimination: «[…] there is typically no market
of 1.3 billion [people] for American exports and firms operating within
China; there is whatever the SOEs leave behind…[And] if considered
strategic, an entire sector can be closed [to imports]».21 The American
Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, for example, reported on the US
pharmaceutical and healthcare industry. According to the 2013 report,
China was trying to keep American companies out of its domestic market
in many ways: with regard to medical devices, China required standards
which were different from those recognized internationally; for what concerns drugs, many foreign treatments were not reimbursed and were thus
17 18 19 20 21 20
USCC, 2012 Report to Congress, November, 2012, p. 47.
Ibid., p. 57.
Ibid., p. 59.
‘The Visible Hand’, The Economist, 21 January 2012.
USCC, 2012 Report to Congress, p. 59.
Cina
not affordable to most of the population; clinics and hospitals could not
hire highly qualified personnel unless they had a perfect knowledge of
medical Chinese.22
These difficulties were also stressed in the report presented at the Congress by USCC in 2014 as well as in the reports presented by the US Trade
Representative (USTR) on China’s compliances with WTO requirements.
In particular in 2014, reference was made to an abuse of the Anti-Monopoly Law by Chinese authorities. This law had been introduced in 2007 and
entered into force in 2008. However, it was in the year concerned that the
representative institutions of the American as well as European business
communities noticed an inappropriate use of it aimed at hindering foreign companies’ economic operations and at creating favourable market
conditions for Chinese competitors.23 Among the investigated companies
there were Microsoft and Mercedes-Benz.24
A second fundamental reason for disagreement between the two countries, and a matter of concern for Obama’s government, was the intellectual property rights issue and relatedly, the one on cyber security. According to American analysts, cyber space was one of the mechanisms used by
China to steal industrial secrets, intellectual property rights, information
technology and other sensitive information. In May 2014, the Federal
US government took legal action for cyber espionage against a Chinese
state actor: five members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army against
which the US Department of Justice issued a 31-count indictment.25
3. China and the Pivot to Asia
During 2014, the US continued its Pivot to Asia, in spite of unavoidably
devoting its main attention both to the Islamic State and the Ukrainian
Crisis. This project emerged in the framework of the historical maritime
disputes among the countries of the area in the East and South China Sea,
which had gained a new impetus since 2010. The main goal of the Pivot is
to widen and fortify the United States’ presence in Asia by strengthening
established alliances with the countries of the region; negotiating for new
economic and military agreements with potential allies; and strengthenThe American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, Viewpoint: U.S. Competitiveness in China, pp. 10-11.
23 USCC, 2014 Report to Congress, pp. 59-63; US Trade Representative (USTR),
2013 Report to Congress on China’s WTO Compliance, December 2013, p. 2, (https://ustr.
gov/sites/default/files/2013-Report-to-Congress-China-WTO-Compliance.pdf);
Morrison, China-US Trade Issues, pp. 23-5.
24 ‘Multinationals Fret as China’s Antimonopoly Probes Intensify’, Financial Times,
6 August 2014.
25 Morrison, China-US Trade Issues, p. 40.
22 21
Francesca Congiu
ing multilateral initiatives.26 The Pivot project had two main components,
as in the best tradition of US foreign policy: the military and the economic factors.
3.1. An overview of the military factor
The Pivot called for a major shift of US military resources to the Asian
region, for the expansion of defence alliances and for an increase in American defence industry exports together with a more radical circulation of US
military training programmes. In particular, at the heart of the Pivot laid
the decision to increase the presence of US Navy fleets in the Asia-Pacific
area by 2020, concentrating more than half of naval resources in that area.
This would have resulted, and in part already had, in a major increase of
navy vessels, aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and littoral combat ships.
Their presence was already substantial in Singapore. The project also included an increased presence of the Navy Task Force, in particular in Darwin, Australia. The presence – expected to reach 2500 units – had already
gone from 200 marines in 2012 to 1150 in March 2014. Together with
naval forces, the Pivot also called for an increase in the presence of the air
force with fighters, jets, tankers, and bombers. Military bases hosting US
forces were situated in the following countries: India, Thailand, Malaysia,
Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea.27
In addition to these, there were countries generally collaborating with the
US for the sake of regional military security (even at embryonic stages):
Vietnam, Burma/Myanmar, New Zealand, and Taiwan.
In April 2014, during Obama’s tour of four Asian countries (Japan,
South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines), the United States and the
Philippines signed a ten-year defence agreement, which reaffirmed the
1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.28 In Japan, Obama made a public commitment to support Japan’s administration of the Senkaku islands (Diaoyu in
Chinese), disputed between China and Japan in the East China Sea: such
a declaration reassured Japan about the US’ willingness to defend the
islands in the event of a Chinese incursion. Likewise, military cooperation
agreements with South Korea were also strengthened in defence against
North Korea’s nuclear threats. A new military base for both South Korean
and American naval forces had already been established on the Jeju island at 500 km from China’s coasts.29
Francesca Congiu, ‘La Cina sull’orlo di una crisi politica e internazionale’; ‘Dal
G2 al Pivot to Asia’.
27 Vince Scappatura, ‘The US ‘Pivot to Asia’, the China Spectre and the AustralianAmerican Alliance’, The Asia-Pacific Journal, 12, 36, p. 3, 9 September 2014.
28 ‘Analyzing the US-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement’, The
Diplomat, 2 May 2014.
29 ‘So long, and thanks for all the naval bases’, The Economist, 28 April 2014; ‘U.S.
26 22
Cina
Moreover, the US and Vietnam’s defence cooperation was also significantly strengthened: almost forty years after the Vietnam War, the US announced they would lift their embargo on selling lethal arms to Vietnam
with the clear intention to improve its maritime security.30
On the Chinese side, the country’s assertiveness on a strategic-military
perspective had been clear since November 2013, especially on three occasions: the creation of an Air Defence Identification Zone in the East
China Sea in the context of the dispute with Japan over the Senkaku/
Diaoyu’s islands (November 2013); the attempts to block the Philippines’
supplies to its outpost (warship Sierra Madre) grounded on Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea (March 2014); and the placement of a
drilling platform, which was removed sooner than planned, in the South
China Sea waters disputed with Vietnam (May 2014). Ely Ratner, Senior
Fellow and Deputy Director of the Asia Pacific Security Program at the
Centre for New American Security interpreted China’s actions as follows:
«[…] China is changing the status quo in Asia because it wants and thinks
it can. Xi Jinping is a confident and powerful leader […] Mix in an economic slowdown and a healthy dose of nationalism and you have a recipe
for revisionism».31
Air Defence Identification Zones (better known with the acronym
ADIZ) are publicly-declared areas under state control for national security issues. They are established in international airspace adjacent to a
state’s national airspace, where any foreign aircraft is located and controlled. ADIZs are not clearly regulated by international law and cannot
impose any legal obligation on other states and their aircraft. However,
most states tend to accept requests by new zones. The Chinese Ministry of Defence announced the establishment of an ADIZ in the airspace
over areas claimed by China, Japan and South Korea (Senkaku/Diaoyu
islands) in November 2013.32 The spokesman for the Ministry of Defence
explained the establishment by stating that: «[…] the Chinese government sets up the East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone with
the aim of safeguarding state sovereignty, territorial land and air security,
and maintaining flight order. This is a necessary measure taken by China
in exercising its self-defence right. It is not directed against any specific
country or target […]».33 China’s decision was followed by the Secretary
and Philippines Agree to a 10-Year Pact on the Use of Military Bases’, The New York
Times, 27 April 2014; Vince Scappatura, The US ‘Pivot to Asia’.
30 ‘United States Lifts Vietnam Arms Embargo (With a Catch)’, The Diplomat, 3
October 2014.
31 USCC, 2014 Report to Congress, p. 239 and p. 245.
32 ‘Defense Ministry Spokesperson on China’s Air Defense Identification Zone’,
Xinhua, 3 December 2013.
33 ‘Defense Spokesman Yang Yujun’s Response to Questions on the Establishment
of The East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone’, Ministry of National Defense,
23
Francesca Congiu
of State John Kerry’s statement, describing China’s action as a «unilateral
action attempting to change the status quo in the East China Sea and thus
to increase tensions in the region». Two B-52s were then sent over the
claimed waters, ignoring the brand new ADIZ’s rules.34
A few months later, China attempted to block Philippine marines’ resupply of the Sierra Madre located in disputed waters with the Philippines
and placed an oil platform (Haiyang Shiyou 981) in waters also claimed
by Vietnam. The latter action in particular caused Vietnam’s strong reaction against China. The placement of the Haiyang Shiyou 981 – owned by
the China’s state-run China National Offshore Oil Corporation, but placed
by another state-run oil company, China National Petroleum Corporation –
was considered illegal by Vietnam because it was placed within Vietnam’s
exclusive economic zone without its permission. The situation became
even more serious after the collision between a Chinese coastguard vessel and a Vietnamese ship.35 Again, China’s action was defined by the US
Department of State as «unilateral and provocative» and part of a Chinese
attempt at undermining peace and stability in the region.36 According to
the 2014 report by the US-China Economic and Strategic Review Commission, the last case demonstrated how the People’s Republic of China
was using state-owned companies (oil companies in this case) to pursue
political and strategic objectives.37
3.2. An overview of the economic factor: TPP and China
In the course of 2014 negotiations on the agreement on free trade,
services and investment in the macro-region of the Asia-Pacific, also
known as TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), were going on. China was clearly
more and more interested in joining it.38 As already mentioned in previous Asia Maior volumes, the negotiations involved some APEC (Asia
Pacific Economic Cooperation) countries: Brunei, Chile, New Zealand,
Singapore, the United States, Australia, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico,
People’s Republic of China, 23 November 2013 (http://eng.mod.gov.cn/Press/201311/23/content_4476151.htm).
34 John Kerry, ‘Statement on the East China Sea Air Defense Identification
Zone’, US Department of State, 23 November 2013 (http://www.state.gov/secretary/
remarks/2013/11/218013.htm); ‘U.S. Sends Two B-52 Bombers Into Air Zone
Claimed by China’, The New York Times, 26 November 2013.
35 ‘Vietnam says China’s oil rig movement into South China Sea is «illegal», Reuters, 5 May 2014.
36 U.S. Department of State, Vietnam/China: Chinese Oil Rig Operations near the Paracel Islands, 7 May 2014 (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/05/225750.htm).
37 USCC, 2014 Report to Congress, p. 246.
38 ‘Will China Join the Trans-Pacific Partnership?’, The Diplomat, 10 October
2014.
24
Cina
Canada, and Japan. Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines
were also potentially interested. The initial draft originated in 2005 from
a joint initiative by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. However,
since their accession in 2008, the United States seemed to guide the negotiations.
The ultimate objective was to increase liberalization over the limits
provided and regulated by the World Trade Organization (WTO) so as
to dismantle all tariff as well as non-tariff barriers on the flow of goods,
services and capitals. TPP should also have contained rules going beyond mere access to markets. Not only were they in the WTO’s Uruguay
Round agreements but they also represented the base of US free-trade
agreements: protection of foreign investors’ interests (anti-discrimination
rules, expropriation rules and investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms); workers’ rights; environmental protection; intellectual property
rights; and financial markets rules, to name but a few.39
The Indian economist Palit Amitendu interprets the recent bilateral
and regional agreements but even more macro-regional agreements such
as TPP or TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), as clever
defence mechanisms set up by a hegemonic West seriously challenged by
large emerging markets. Amitendu states that emerging economies (such
as China and India) – even though still far from being able to dominate
global negotiations and to make their rules globally accepted – had the
power to resist the global trade rules forged by Western countries on the
base of their interests, making the WTO’s liberalization mechanisms a
dead letter.
TPP seemed to overcome such resistance, as it included matters which
had been left unresolved by the WTO (norms on work, environment and
intellectual property, to name but a few). Its composition, without China
and India’s input, seemed to reintroduce those conditions of economic
hegemony which the US was losing at a global level. The dimensions
of the US economy exceeded more than half the countries of the whole
block: US economic output constituted 3/5 of the total output of the involved countries. This made the US regain the negotiating power it was
losing mostly because of the growing Chinese and Indian competition.
Within TPP negotiations, it enjoyed a stronger position than in the global
context: it could use access to its market as a bargaining practice for pushing other economies to speed up the neo-liberal process. It goes without
saying that the definition of TPP’s terms, the conditions of negotiations,
the regulation of trade and even of the political economy of each country,
were modelled on the US global trade agenda, often at odds with the
‘Pivot to the Pacific? The Obama Administration’s «Rebalancing» Toward Asia’,
Congressional Research Service, 28 March 2012, p. 22 (http://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/
R42448.pdf); ‘Trans-Pacific Partnership: Time for Some American Hustle’, The
Diplomat, 11 March 2014.
39 25
Francesca Congiu
trade interests and with the needs of emerging markets.40 This is why
the American accession to TPP in 2008, significantly coinciding with the
beginning of the global economic crisis, can be considered the economic
factor of the Pivot: «[…] The TPP’s most important aims, [however], are
strategic. A deal would solidify U.S. leadership in Asia and, together with
the negotiations over a free trade pact in Europe, put the United States at
the center of a great project: writing the rules that will govern the global
economy for the next century…».41 We find the same strategic vision of
the TPP in an essay by Michael Froman, US Trade Representative since
2013, entitled The Strategic Logic of Trade. In the essay, Froman identified
the TPP as one of those strategic mechanisms aimed at re-balancing the
global trade system, upset by emerging economies which were re-modelling the international stage. With reference to Obama’s sentence «Just as
the world changed, this architecture must change as well», Froman pointed out that rules needed to be updated and that the TPP represented an
«unprecedented opportunity» to do so.42
At the end of 2014, the agreement had not yet been finalized and
many issues were still outstanding due to the concerns of involved countries and of the members of the US Congress as well. The latter, in particular, were puzzled by the fact that negotiations’ documents were still being
kept secret. Indeed, the Congress would not grant the US president the
so-called «Fast-Track» authority to negotiate free trade agreements (also
known as Trade Promotion Authority), which would have led to expedited
and non-amendable legislative procedures. The outstanding issues included intellectual property rights, regulation of state-owned enterprises,
liberalization of finance services, disciplines on agricultural production
and export subsidies, and the textile industry.43
The last TPP meeting in 2014 was held at the US Embassy in Beijing,
on the margins of the APEC summit which took place from 8 to 10 November (the last meeting of ministers would then follow in December).
From a diplomatic point of view, it was an occasion for the US government
to explicitly stress its global leadership.
In the framework of the APEC summit and of one of its major
scopes – the making of an integrated economic community in the Asia
Pacific and the liberalization of trade and financial services – China put
Palit Amitendu, The Trans-Pacific Partnership, China and India: Economic and Political Implications, Routledge, New York, 2014, pp. 1-10.
41 ‘A Pivotal Time for the US and Asia’, The Washington Post, 21 April 2014.
42 Michael Froman, ‘The Strategic Logic of Trade. New Rules of the Road for the
Global Market’, Foreign Affairs, November-December 2014.
43 Ian F. Fergusson, Mark A. McMinimy, Brock R. Williams, ‘The Trans-Pacific
Partnership (TPP) Negotiations and Issues for Congress’, Congressional Research
Service, 7 November 2014; ‘The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Negotiations and
Issues for Congress’, Congressional Research Service, 30 January 2015.
40 26
Cina
even more emphasis than it had done before on the realization of the
so-called FTAAP (Free Trade Area of Asia-Pacific). For a long time, regional
economic integration had followed several pathways, including the TPP,
the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, with negotiations
guided by China and involving ASEAN countries, Japan, South Korea,
India, Australia and New Zealand) and the FTAAP itself. None of them
precluded the other; however, China’s President Xi Jinping seemed to
endorse the realization of the bigger and more inclusive FTAAP which
involved all the twenty-one APEC members.44 On the other hand, in his
speech, Obama, while confirming that the FTAAP was to be the ultimate
objective of the process, pointed out that the APEC members had chosen
the TPP as one of the pathways to that objective; therefore, the TPP had
to be given priority over the other pathways: «[…] And I just met with several other members of the TPP who share my desire to make this agreement
a reality, we’re going to keep on working to get it done. For we believe that
this is the model for trade in the 21st century». APEC’s final statement,
the Beijing Agenda for an Integrated, Innovative and Interconnected Asia-Pacific, mentioned the FTAAP as «a major instrument to further APEC’s
regional economic integration agenda».45 The statement also set forth the
need for a further two-year «collective strategic study» on the FTAAP, to
report by the end of 2016.46
Broadly speaking, in the 2014 APEC summit and in Obama’s speech
in particular, US references to China seemed to come from a hegemonic
authority. Obama stated that «[…] the one constant – the one global necessity
– is and has been American leadership» and, almost in a patronizing tone,
that: «We want China to do well». He also took the chance to reiterate the
importance of a potential bilateral agreement on capital flow liberalization
between the two countries.47
The relationship between the economic Pivot and China was complicated. To summarize, in a way which does no justice to the complexity of
facts, we could say that the US was setting the conditions for China’s isolation – so that it could lose large portions of market share to the benefit
of competitors from its own area, such as Vietnam or Malaysia – in order
to achieve their ultimate goal: China’s incorporation into the TPP and its
adherence to much more binding rules than in the WTO, with significant
‘Xi urges faster APEC talks on China-backed free trade area’, Reuters, 11 November 2014; ‘APEC roadmap on FTAAP a historic decision: Xi’, Xinhua, 11 November 2014; ‘Xi Jinping: FTAAP not against existing free trade arrangements’,
APEC Press Release, 12 November 2014.
45 ‘2014 Leaders’ Declaration’, APEC Meeting Papers, Beijing, 11 November 2014.
46 ‘Remarks by President Obama at APEC CEO Summit’, The White House Press
Release, 10 November 2014; ‘Trans-Pacific Partnership Leaders’ Statement’, The
White House Press Release, 10 November 2014.
47 ‘Remarks by President Obama at APEC CEO Summit’.
44 27
Francesca Congiu
effects on the internal regulation of its own political economy. However,
all this would not be without consequences. According to Palit, China’s
accession to the TPP would have reduced the US’ negotiating power and,
from the inside, would have determined a necessary transformation of the
agreement’s perspectives and terms.
Several documents express the interest in China’s incorporation into
the TPP with the aim of regulating a situation which was detrimental to
the US’ economic interests. This is particularly clear in the 2012 USCC
report in the above mentioned section on state-owned companies. The
report states that, in order to press China to carry out a thorough reform
of Chinese state-owned companies, Obama’s administration had adopted
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD)
principle of «competitive neutrality», and that such a principle was to
be included in the TPP accession criteria, in the expectation that China
would join: «While China is not a participant, the Obama Administration
plans to invite China to join, providing that Beijing is willing to comply
with the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement». The principle required state-owned companies to be ruled as private companies, so
as to eliminate their competitive and unfair advantages.48
In her works on the TPP, Jane Kelsey, professor of Law at the University of Auckland, suggests that it was the first time that the SOE’s issue was
part of the negotiations for a free-trade agreement and that the ultimate
target was to lay the foundations for a new global set of rules applying to
all free-trade agreements, including bilateral or multilateral negotiations
with the People’s Republic of China. In this respect, the author referred to
a statement by Obama’s spokesperson at the TPP leaders’ meeting on the
fringe of the APEC leaders’ meeting in Honolulu in 2011: «[…] the President talked about establishing international norms that would be good
for the United States, good for Asia, good for the international trading
system – good for any country in dealing with issues like innovation and
the discipline of state-owned enterprises, creating a competitive and level
playing field».49 She also pointed out that most of the TPP’s rules on stateowned companies were still secret and that six trade associations were
working on the text together with the American Chamber of Commerce.
As pointed out by Michela Cerimele,50 information on the treaty’s text was
made available by WikiLeaks, which, between 2013 and 2014, published
the drafts of some chapters on intellectual property and environmental
protection. At the end of 2014, no draft was available on state owned
companies’ discipline. According to Kelsey, the reform model was based
USCC, 2012 Report to Congress, p. 70.
Jane Kelsey, ‘The Trans-Pacific Partnership as a Lynchpin of US Anti-China
Strategy’, Foreign Control Watchdog, 128, 2011, p. 22.
50 Michela Cerimele, ‘Il 2013 vietnamita tra liberismo economico e autoritarismo
politico: l’anno dei paradossi’, Asia Maior 2013, pp. 303-328.
48 49 28
Cina
on models from Australia, New Zealand and the US. It was not a reform
aimed at a rapid privatization; however, in order to pave the way for this
last scope, the proposed rules would transform state owned companies
into private corporations.51
As we will see in the next section, and as it is clear from the previous
essay on China in the previous volume of Asia Maior,52 Beijing did not
have a unanimous position on the TPP, as well as on the general guidelines for the domestic political economy. However, in the course of 2014,
the Chinese government’s official stance expressed deep interest on the
agreement, provided that a fair trade environment was ensured and that
the WTO’s central role in a multilateral trade system was preserved. These
were the key-points of a speech made by the Premier Li Keqiang, in Hainan, at the Boao Forum opening ceremony in April 2014. Besides declaring
his interest in the TPP, he also stressed that the structural adjustments put
forward by developed countries in the context of the economic crisis, had
added uncertainty for developing countries. Furthermore, he reiterated
the fundamental importance of solidarity in Asian regional economic integration in a joint effort to build a mutual support system for the emerging economies of the area. According to Li, one of the macro-regional
agreements which could grant such an evolution was the RCEP because it
was based on a purely Asian industrial, economic and social model.53
The same interest in the TPP was shown in October 2014 by the Deputy Minister of Finance, Zhu Guangyao, in a talk at the Peterson Institute
for International Economics in Washington. Zhu stated that China «understood» and «welcomed» the high standards of the TPP and that such
a stance matched the economic goals of the structural internal reforms
pushed through by Xi Jinping and confirmed in the statement of the
Third Plenary Session of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Central Committee. As happened in the 1990s when the interest in joining the WTO
had galvanized economic reforms under Jiang Zemin, in 2014 advocates
for reforms believed that the possibility of joining the TPP would boost
structural reforms, including SOEs’ reform. In these official communications, international trade negotiations and internal economic reforms
seemed thus to be strongly linked and complementary. Besides, Zhu reiterated China’s commitment to a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT). How51 Jane Kelsey, The Trans-Pacific Partnership as a Lynchpin of US Anti-China Strategy,
pp. 21-29; The Risks of Disciplines on State-Owned Enterprises in the Proposed TransPacific Partnership Agreement, ‘It’s our Future’, September 2013 (http://www.itsourfuture.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Kelsey-TPP-SOE-paper.pdf).
52 Francesca Congiu, ‘«Due sistemi politici, un’economia»: autoritarismo cinese
e democrazia taiwanese alle prese con il neoliberismo’, Asia Maior 2013, pp. 339368.
53 ‘Full text of Li Keqiang’s speech at opening ceremony of Boao Forum’, Xinhua,
10 April 2014.
29
Francesca Congiu
ever, he also underlined that the key question for the BIT as well as for
the TPP was on «how high those standards would be». China was facing
serious domestic challenges and was therefore forced to keep some key
economic sectors off-limits to foreign and/or American investment.54
3.3. China’s «peripheral diplomacy» (zhoubian waijiao)
In an overview of the dynamics which linked the US Pivot to Asia and
China, we should not omit a reflection on China’s «peripheral diplomacy», which cannot be dealt with in a single section because of its wide,
complex and deep-rooted developments in several fields and countries.
Therefore, here we will only consider some issues that emerged between
2013 and 2014.
«Peripheral diplomacy» has been officially adopted by the People’s
Republic of China – with more emphasis than in the past, when China,
however, already paid a great deal of attention to neighbouring countries
– since October 2013. Between 24 and 25 October 2013, China’s Communist Party organized the first Work Forum on Chinese Diplomacy Toward the
Periphery. Such high-profiled and wide forums on foreign policy had not
been held since 2006. All members of the Politburo Standing Committee, several authorities of the Central Committee, State Councillors, the
Foreign Affairs’ Working Leading Group, and some Chinese ambassadors
took part in the forum. Basically, the Forum’s official objective had been
to improve Beijing’s relations with neighbouring countries from different points of view: economic, political and cultural. These intentions had
been already expressed at the 18th Party Congress in 2012 and reiterated
on several occasions by the Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, who stated that
relations with countries on China’s periphery had become the «priority
direction» for foreign policy.55
At the Forum, Xi Jinping outlined the objectives and guidelines of
such good neighbourhood foreign relations. Xi stressed the necessity
to strengthen good neighbourhood relations and cooperation; he also
stressed the importance of national sovereignty, security and development; and he reiterated the necessity to consolidate political and economic relations with countries on the periphery. To achieve such objectives, Xi provided the following guidelines: 1) enhancing political good
will; 2) deepening regional economic integration; 3) increasing China’s
cultural soft-power; and 4) improving regional security cooperation.56
54 ‘Will China Join the Trans-Pacific Partnership?’, The Diplomat, 10 October 2014;
‘UPDATE 1-China’s Zhu: Asia-Pacific trade deal would be incomplete without Beijing’, Reuters, 8 October 2014.
55 ‘Diplomacy Work Forum: Xi Steps Up Efforts to Shape a China-Centered Regional Order’, China Brief, 13, 22, November 2013.
56 Ibid.
30
Cina
Michael Swaine points out that in the framework of Xi’s policy guidance
the economic sphere was actually given a particular emphasis.57
A number of PRC’s foreign policy actions can be described as zhuobian diplomacy: these include of course the «Silk Road Economic Belt»
and the «21st Century Maritime Silk Road». The public announcement
of the two projects dates back to the end of 2013. The first project was
started during President Xi Jinping’s trip to Kazakhstan in September
2013. On that occasion, in a speech delivered at Nazarbayev University in Astana, Xi proposed the establishment of a new Silk Road along
the old trade routes which could connect the coasts of North China and
Europe through Central Asia and the Middle East, in a joint effort to
enhance regional economic and cultural integration. For that purpose,
representatives from 24 cities in China, from Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan signed an agreement
to establish the Silk Road Economic Belt.58 One month later, Xi introduced the «21st Century Maritime Silk Road», joining in a cooperative
effort the maritime interests of China and ASEAN countries in particular,
reaching to the Mediterranean Sea and the African coasts through the
Indian Ocean. Among the implications connected to the establishment
of these two commercial routes, there was the development of a variety of
infrastructural projects shared by the nations involved: for the benefit of
those countries, China launched the so-called Asia Infrastructure Investment
Bank. The Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of the
bank was signed in October 2014 by 21 countries (Kuwait, Qatar, Oman,
in West Asia; Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, in Central Asia; Pakistan, India,
Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in South Asia; Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei, the Philippines and
Vietnam in South-east Asia, China and Mongolia in East Asia) and Beijing
was chosen as its headquarters. The bank was expected to start its activity
by the end of 2015. One month later, at the APEC meeting, Xi announced
the establishment of a special fund to finance the «Silk Road Economic
Belt» and the «21st Century Maritime Silk Road», with a $40 billion initial
contribution.59
The zhoubian waijiao diplomacy was further enriched by two other actions which aimed at favouring the development of involved countries’
rural zones, especially through the implementation of infrastructure
Michael D. Swaine, ‘Chinese Views and Commentary on Periphery Diplomacy’, China Leadership Monitor, 44, Summer 2014 (http://www.hoover.org/research/
chinese-views-and-commentary-periphery-diplomacy).
58 USCC, 2014 Report to Congress, p. 234; ‘President Xi Jinping delivers speech
at Nazarbayev University’, CCTV, 8 September 2013 (https://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=dHkNzMjEv0Y).
59 ‘China to Contribute $40 Billion to Silk Road Fund’, The Wall Street Journal, 8 November 2014.
57 31
Francesca Congiu
projects such as: the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor and the China-Pakistan economic corridor.60
Those projects complemented the above mentioned plans of regional
economic integration and liberalization (RCEP and FTAAP), and with
other integration and liberalization regional contexts pursued by China:
ASEAN + 1 (China); ASEAN + 3 (China, Japan and South Korea); the
East Asian Summit; the bilateral negotiations with South Korea; and the
trilateral negotiations, including Japan.61
Clearly, China’s approach was well-rounded, to the point of making
it problematic to define the boundaries of «peripheral diplomacy».62 We
should not forget China’s efforts to promote the international use of the
renminbi for regional transactions on several levels and its contribution
to the New Development Bank established in July 2014 by the BRICS
countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). The bank was intended to finance infrastructure projects in developing countries and
Shanghai was chosen as its headquarters. China contributed 41% of the
initial contribution, which amounted to $50 billion, thus gaining a significant negotiating and controlling power in this new international financial
institution.63
4. Taiwan, Hong Kong and Beijing’s attitude: the Sunflower Movement and
the Umbrella Movement
Beijing’s stance in relation to Taiwan and Hong Kong had different
historical features from its stance in relation to the overall regional context; however, it fitted well into regional economic integration projects.
During the last five years, in Taiwan a strong opposition movement has
started against the integration projects guided by Beijing. In particular,
between 2013 and 2014 the so-called «Sunflower» movement (taiyanghua
xieyun) led to the occupation of the Parliament and the Central Government between March and April of the same year.64 At the end of the year,
the Sunflower Movement obtained an important political result: the Guomindang’s (GMD) defeat in November’s local elections and the victory of
Li Keqiang, ‘Report on the work of the government. Delivered at the Second Session of the Twelfth National People’s Congress on March 5, 2014’, Xinhua, 14 March 2014, §2 (http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/special/2014-03/14/
c_133187027.htm).
61 ‘China-Japan-South Korea Hold FTA Talks Despite Political Tension’, The Diplomat, 5 March 2014; ‘China says FTA with South Korea may be effective in 2015’,
Reuters, 17 November 2014.
62 Michael D. Swaine, Chinese Views and Commentary on Periphery Diplomacy.
63 ‘Brics Agree to Base Development Bank in Shanghai’, The Wall Street Journal,
15 July 2014.
64 Francesca Congiu, ‘Due sistemi politici un’economia’, pp. 356-364.
60 32
Cina
the independence party (Democratic Progressive Party – DPP). The GMD
only won six out of the 22 local seats and, what was even worse, lost Taipei, after having governed it for 16 consecutive years.65 The movement saw
Hong Kong as a negative example of economic integration with China.
It was argued that since the signing of the free trade agreement between
the special administrative region of Hong Kong and the PRC (known as
CEPA – Mainland Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement)
in 2003, there had been an increase in Hong Kong’s economic dependence
on China, social-economic divide and the possibility for Beijing’s government to influence the composition of the Hong Kong political arena.66
The latter point was particularly clear in Hong Kong’s political dynamics and it was basically at the root of the Umbrella Movement that
emerged in mid-2014. If at the heart of the principle «One Country-Two
Systems» there had always been the CPC’s commitment to refrain from
political intervention in the region, the CEPA provided an open and legitimate platform for a more intensive dialogue between the CPC and the
region’s political and business elites, so as to allow Beijing a more direct
control over the local political system.67
While Beijing has absolute authority in Mainland China, this is not the
case with Hong Kong. Since 1997, the CPC has to comply with a multiparty political system and an active and independent civil society, which since
the early 1990s has been organizing protests pushing for the democratization of the electoral system. The Hong Kong electoral system does not
yet allow a direct election of the Chief Executive and Legislative Council.
The Basic Law provided for the legal ground of such a democratic reform
without establishing a fixed deadline. The main request of the so-called
«Umbrella Movement», started in 2014 mainly by Hong Kong students,
remained the call for universal suffrage.
Beijing’s strategy towards Hong Kong has always been based on the
construction of a political-economic axis. Since the early 1990s, the CPC
has been co-opting Hong Kong’s trade and financial corporations, thus
giving rise to a loose pro-China political alliance, whose main expression
was the 10,000 members strong Democratic Alliance for the Betterment
of Hong Kong (DAB). Such corporations were also the main components
of the Preparatory Committee set up in 1996, which then created the
Electoral Committee, currently with 1,200 members. The distinctive feature of the Electoral Committee is its representative composition divided
between geographical constituencies and functional constituencies. The
latter represent professional interest groups, granting big commercial
65 ‘Why the KMT failed in Taiwan’s local elections’, The Diplomat, 9 December
2014.
66 Samson Yuen, ‘Under the Shadow of China’, China Perspectives, 2, 2014, pp.
70-72.
67 Ibidem.
33
Francesca Congiu
and financial corporations a privileged position in the electoral arena,
while allowing the CPC to control a large number of seats. The calls for
universal suffrage aim at reforming such a system as it does not represent
the majority of the population. Alongside a call for merely procedural
democratic reforms, some see the need to resist the advance of China and
its economic integration process, thus keeping a certain degree of business autonomy.68
During protests in 2014, Beijing strengthened its bond with Hong
Kong’s business community through an intensive exchange of visits. In
particular, Xi Jinping welcomed the larger Hong Kong delegation since
the signing of the CEPA (2003). Among the 60 members of the delegation, there were the President of the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce,
the Chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, and Li Kashing, the richest businessman in the whole of Southeast Asia.69
The strengthening of control over Hong Kong also took place on a
more formal basis. In March 2014, in Li Keqiang’s Work Report delivered to the National People’s Congress, references to Hong Kong’s special autonomy were removed. Not to mention the fact that in June, the
State Council issued a White Paper on the «One Country-Two Systems’
Principle», stating that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was
under China’s sovereignty and stressing the importance of a closer economic cooperation.70
Finally, in August the National People’s Congress took a decision on
universal suffrage, prompting further protests. The decision provided for
universal suffrage to be adopted in the 2017 Chief Executive elections,
reaffirming, however, a hypothesis already partially made in 2007: the
establishment of a nominating committee, with the task of nominating a
shortlist of candidates by qualified majority voting. In choosing the candidates, the Committee should give priority to an effective and proved
«love for the country».71
‘Fight against universal suffrage is all about money’, South China Morning Post,
27 February 2015.
69 ‘Xi reassures HK of stability’, China Daily, 23 September 2014.
70 Samson Yuen, ‘Under the Shadow of China’, China Perspectives, 2, 2014, p. 74;’
Full text: ‘Chinese State Council white paper on ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy
in Hong Kong’, South China Morning Post, 10 June 2014.
71 Francesca Congiu, ‘Il partito alla ricerca di un compromesso. La «società armoniosa» nella Cina di Hu Jintao’, Asia Maior 2007; Full text: ‘NPC Standing Committee decision on Hong Kong 2017 election framework’, South China Morning Post,
31 August 2014; ‘Beijing to 2017 candidates: You don’t have to love us - but you
can’t oppose us’, South China Morning Post, 19 September 2014.
68 34
Cina
5. Authoritarianism, economic reforms and rule of law
On the domestic level, the situation reflected the same conditions and
trends registered before 2014: high social conflict; authoritarian and repressive rule; an emphasis on the unity of the Party and on the rule of law;
very gradual structural economic reforms.72
Under the big cover of the «rule of law», in an institutional form, three
main tendencies of Chinese politics seemed to melt together: economic
liberalization, authoritarian means of control and repression, centralization of powers in a single person.
5.1. Conflict and control
In terms of social conflict, although it is very difficult to refer to reliable and updated figures, it will suffice to rely on the report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on the year 2012, mentioned in the 2014
USCC report, to state that each year there were about 100,000 social protests.73
No or low compensations for rural land expropriations, working conditions in factories, ethnic-religious issues, bad environmental conditions,
and corruption, the latter seen as the primary cause of all other problems,
were the main reasons for social protests.
For what concerns expropriation, a recent report by the World Bank
states that, in China, compensation for land requisition was no more
than 15-20% of the market price.74 At the same time, labour protests,
also in the wake of a greater awareness of labour rights resulting from
the 2007-2008 Labour Contract Law, were a constant concern in industrial China. The main reasons for the several illegal strikes were low
salaries, the demand for overdue payments and social security, factory
closures and production reallocations, and bad working conditions. In
April 2014, one of the largest strikes in the history of China’s labour
movement took place in Dongguan, against the Yue Yuen Industrial
Holdings – the giant Taiwanese manufacturer of sport shoes and supplier of big brands such as Nike and Adidas. The protest involved about
40,000 workers and was organized by non-governmental labour rights
organizations with little involvement of the official trade union. The
Francesca Congiu, ‘Il ritorno dello stato centrale e le implicazioni per la politica
interna e estera cinese’, Asia Maior 2011; ‘La Cina sull’orlo di una crisi politica e
internazionale. L’anno del 18° congresso del PCC’, Asia Maior 2012; ‘«Due sistemi
politici un’economia»: autoritarismo cinese e democrazia taiwanese alle prese con
il neoliberismo’, Asia Maior 2013.
73 USCC, 2014 Report to Congress, p. 348.
74 Shijin Liu, Jun Han, et al., Urban China: Toward Efficient, Inclusive, and Sustainable Urbanization, World Bank, June 2014, p. 27.
72 35
Francesca Congiu
protests ended with the fulfilment of some requests, but also with the
detention of the main organizers.75
In the course of 2014, tension was also very high among ethnic minorities. Starting from October 2013 until September 2014, a series of violent
episodes took place, officially or unofficially attributed to Uighur separatism. In October 2013, a car exploded in Tian’anmen Square; in March
2014, a group of knife-wielding people killed about 30 people; in April a
bomb went off in a train station of Urumqi, in Xinjiang; the same thing
happened one month later, in a market; in July, violent clashes between
police forces and the local population took place in a Xinjiang county;
finally, in September, a number of explosions occurred in one single day
in different places in Bugur, in the Xinjiang province.76
As it had been for a long time, the serious environmental situation,
mainly attributed to local corruption, was another reason for several
social protests. In early 2014, particularly violent protests took place in
the city of Maoming in the Guangdong province, against the local government. The Maoming government had allowed some petrochemical
companies to expand their projects for the production of paraxylene, a
chemical extracted from petroleum, used in the manufacture of plastic
bottles or polyester. The protests involved more than 10,000 people and
were violently repressed by the local police.77
Two further aspects fomented and increased social protests: on one
hand, the increasingly significant growth of the middle class; on the other
hand, the extreme proliferation of social networks’ users among young
Chinese. The enlarging of the middle class produced higher life education standards’ expectation and also higher levels of education which
could not find a good match in the domestic labour market in terms of
adequate job offers. This led to high levels of unemployment and discontent among young graduates who usually canalized and organized their
discontent throughout social networks.78
Xi Jinping dealt with social conflicts by tightening social control. The
political institutions dealing with internal security – namely the Ministry
of Public Security and the police - were brought together with the military,
‘Waging Nonviolence: A striking pose – labor resistance explodes in China’,
China Labour Bulletin, 2 May 2014.
76 ‘Chinese police hunt for two Xinjiang men after deadly Tiananmen car crash’,
The Guardian, 29 October 2013; ‘Chinese court sentences three to death for railway
station knife attacks’, The Guardian, 12 September 2014; ‘Urumqi car and bomb
attack kills dozens’, The Guardian, 22 May 2014; ‘Dozens of Uyghurs Killed in Xinjiang clashes’, Asia Times, 30 July 2014; ‘China’s Xinjiang region hit by series of
explosions’, The Guardian, 22 September 2014.
77 Lee Kingsyhon, Ho Ming-sho, ‘The Maoming anti-PX protest of 2014’, China
Perspectives, 3, 2014.
78 Barry Naughton, ‘China’s Economy: Complacency, Crisis, and the Challenge of
Reform’, Daedalus, 143, 2, Spring 2014, pp. 14-25.
75 36
Cina
in a newly formed and pervasive social control apparatus. For its part, the
CPC Propaganda Department dealt with media censorship, supported by
a specific Internet control organization, the Central Internet Security and
Informatization Leading Group (zhongyang wangluo anquan he xinxi hua
lingdao xiaozu). This working group had been created in February 2014 by
Xi, who chaired it himself; a fact that witnesses to how destabilizing the
Internet was perceived by the central leadership.79
For three years in a row, from 2011 to 2013, the increases in the internal security budget exceeded those in national defence. In March 2014,
the National People’s Congress, differently from what had been the case
in the previous years, did not make public the overall increase in the internal security budget. Of course, this by itself makes one suspect that it
was indeed conspicuous.80
Furthermore, Xi chaired the Central National Security Commission,
the highest body in the whole apparatus for social control, also established by his administration.
However, the PRC’s authoritarian regression was not the only strategy implemented by the Chinese leadership to face increasing social instability. A further instrument adopted by the government was the anticorruption campaign. In last year’s chapter on China in Asia Maior, the
fight against corruption had already been defined as a «CPC political
instrument»; a judgment which cannot but be confirmed by the 2014 political dynamics. The fight against corruption enthusiastically carried out
by Xi, represented an instrument for political legitimacy as well as for the
internal party stability. On the latter level, it was a way to hold the Party
together under Xi Jinping’s rule through the removal of members of rival political factions who did not adhere to Xi Jinping’s line. The Party’s
unity was considered essential to maintain social stability. In December
2014, Zhou Yongkang, a leading member of the Party, holding important charges in both the national security apparatus and the state-run oil
sector, was expelled from the Party and arrested on charges of corruption and disclosure of state secrets.81 Before Zhou’s awaited expulsion, six
high level officials were also expelled from the Party. Three of them belonged to the Central Committee: Li Dongsheng, Yang Jinshan (former
Deputy Commander of the Army) and Jiang Jiemin (former executive
of China Petroleum Corporation). The other three were alternate members:
Wang Yongchun (former Vice-President of PetroChina), Li Chuncheng
(former Party chief in the Sichuan province), and Wan Qingling (former
‘Zhongyang wangluo anquan he xinxi hua lingdao xiaozu chengli: cong wangluo daguo mai xiang wangluo qiangguo’, Xinhua, 27 February 2014.
80 ‘China withholds full domestic-security spending figure’, Reuters, 5 March
2014.
81 ‘Unity crucial to realising reform’, South China Morning Post, 2 October 2014;
‘Zhou Yongkang arrested, expelled from CPC’, Xinhua, 6 December 2014.
79 37
Francesca Congiu
Guangzhou Party secretary). As specified above, the main targets of this
campaign were the leading exponents of the state companies’ network,
which adhered to a state-controlled approach to political economy.82
5.2. Economic reforms and rule of law
Unlike the previous leadership generations which entrusted the prime
minister in office with the leadership of political economy, Xi Jinping also
took over the presidency of the so-called Reform Leading Small Group,
constituted in 2013. However, at the end of 2014 Xi’s structural reform
plan was still at an embryonic stage.83
One of the first among the very few reforms which, after having been
set out in the 2013 Third Plenum Communiqué, were carried out in
2014 was the fiscal reform. In particular, the new rules provided for the
taxation of multinationals’ profits, even retroactively, thus prompting a
number of investigative procedures against international tax avoidance.84
At the same time, albeit gradually, the controversial reform of state-owned
companies continued to be implemented, even if these were still the subject of an intense internal debate. The reform aimed at bringing about
the introduction of private investments in and the opening to private
shareholders of public sector firms, creating a «mixed-ownership». The
main advances in this direction were achieved at a local level, especially
in Shanghai, Chongqing and Guangdong. Shanghai’s local government
had already planned to open up about 60% of state-owned companies
under its jurisdiction to private investments.85 A similar reform plan, by
way of pilot projects, also covered state-owned companies controlled by
the central government operating in «strategic» sectors such as oil and
pharmaceuticals, to name but a few.86 The reform also provided for a set
of rules which would make the scheme of state-owned companies much
more similar to private ones, in line with international requirements, as
specified above.87 In 2014 the reform of the top executives’ salaries and
Francesca Congiu, ‘«Due sistemi politici un’economia»’, pp. 341-349; ‘Anti-graft
war has to be carried on’, China Daily, 30 December 2014; Special Report: Fear and
retribution in Xi’s corruption purge, Reuters, 24 December 2014.
83 Barry Naughton, ‘It’s all in the Execution: Struggling with the Reform Agenda’,
China Leadership Monitor, 45, 2014.
84 ‘China to prevent foreign companies from avoiding tax’, Xinhua, 2 December
2014.
85 ‘China kicks-off second round of privatization’, Financial Times, 10 August 2014;
‘Over 20 Chinese provinces map out SOE mixed-ownership reforms’, Xinhua, 31
December 2014.
86 ‘China state-owned firms chosen for reform plan’, The Wall Street Journal, 15
July 2014.
87 Barry Naughton, ‘«Deepening Reform»: The Organization and the Emerging
82 38
Cina
extra-benefits in the state-owned companies was taken up and approved
by the Politburo.88
The conversion of the Chinese economic model in 2014 was a long
and complex process. On one side, the government was making use
of the anti-corruption campaigns to pave the way for liberal reforms
and to break the control on the public sector by those political factions
which opposed the government. On the other side, the government was
trying to build a new model on solid legal bases. At the end of the year,
at the Fourth Plenum of the 18th Party Congress, the rule of law issue
(yifa zhiguo – «governing the country by law») and the importance of the
respect for the Constitution became central in the domestic political
debate, after having been put aside in 2012 and 2013. Before 2012, the
official debate on the rule of law and on the constitutional values had
indeed brought the emergence and strengthening of liberal movements
among Chinese intellectuals, demanding deeper political liberalization.
However, between 2012 and 2013, the central leadership rejected these
requests and launched a vehement campaign against the «polluting» influence of Western values and for the consolidation of the Party unity.89
Nonetheless, in 2014, the official debate on the rule of law was back. On
23 October 2014, the Party approved the so-called Decision Concerning
Some Major Questions in Comprehensively Moving The Country According To
The Law Forward (zhonggong zhongyang guanyu quanmian tuijin yifa zhiguo
ruogan wenti de jueding), thus giving an immediate and great centrality in
the reform plan to the restructuring of political institutions, a fact that
was bound to trigger a process of formal and procedural emancipation
from the Party.90
In an official release, the Chinese news agency Xinhua underlined that
the rule of law was the key to liberal economic reforms. Apparently, this
specific plan of reforms was aimed primarily at reducing the Party’s as
well as the state’s intervention in economic matters. These measures were
considered a valid deterrent against corruption which was seen as essentially a consequence of the excessive economic power wielded by political
officials. Furthermore, the rule of law would pave the way for the effective
action of the market. In fact, according to Xinhua:
«Facing mounting downward pressure and a painful economic
transition, promoting rule of law has raised high hopes of an orderly
and effective market that might offer new dividends for the Chinese
economy. This is especially true since almost all the pains currently
Strategy’, China Leadership Monitor, 44, 2014.
88 Barry Naughton, ‘It’s All in the Execution’.
89 Francesca Congiu, ‘Due sistemi politici un’economia’, pp. 353-56.
90 ‘Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu quanmian tuijin yifa zhiguo ruogan wenti de
jueding’, Xinhua, 28 October 2014.
39
Francesca Congiu
suffered by the Chinese economy – ranging from overcapacity, real
estate bubbles, risks of local government debts and shadow banks, to
restricted growth in non-public sectors and insufficient innovation
– could find their roots in excessive administrative interference,
corruption and unfair competition, all of which are the result of the
lack of rule of law».91
In fact, the Decision Concerning Some Major Questions state: «To ensure
that the market play a decisive role in the allocation of resources and to
give rein to the role of government even better, we must make protecting
property rights, upholding contracts, unified markets, fair exchange, fair
competition and effective supervision into basic orientations […]». The
text continues by stressing the need to protect both public and private
forms of property rights.92
Nonetheless, the release continued: «past shadows of the ‘rule of man’
are not easily shaken off» both in the Party and in the state still tainted with
that «obsolete ‘above-the-law’ privilege mentality».93 Ironically and paradoxically, Xi’s ruling methods seemed like a new institutionalized version
of the old Mao and Deng’s charismatic and informal authoritarian leadership. Xi already seemed far away from the new collective and impersonal
leadership model started by Jiang Zemin and masterfully continued by Hu
Jintao. Xi was taking the party from a depersonalized political power and a
collective leadership model to a strong and marked political centralization,
legitimized by a process of legal institutionalization. After becoming Party
Secretary and President of the People’s Republic of China, he immediately
took over the presidency of the Central Military Commissions of both Party
and state, unlike his predecessors. He also chaired several important «Small
Leading Groups», on political economy, on Internet security, on foreign
affairs. At the same time, the Decision On Certain Major Questions In Comprehensively Moving The Country According To The Law Forward basically put
the Party above the law. In the Beijing political rhetoric, the Party’s rule
– strengthened by a radical anti-corruption campaign and a self-discipline
process promoted since 2013 – was not in conflict with the establishment
of a rule of law, promoted, after all, by the Party itself: «Persisting in the
leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. The leadership of the Party is
the most essential trait of Socialism with Chinese characteristics, and is the
most fundamental guarantee for Socialist rule of law […]», stated the Decision Concerning Some Major Questions.94
‘Xinhua Insight: CPC convenes first plenum on «rule of law» in reform, antigraft drive’, Xinhua, 20 October 2014.
92 ‘Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu quanmian tuijin yifa zhiguo ruogan wenti de
jueding’, cit., sez II, § 4.
93 ‘Xinhua Insight’.
94 ‘Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu quanmian tuijin yifa zhiguo ruogan wenti de
jueding’, sez I.
91 40
Cina
***
Il presente capitolo analizza l’evoluzione politica ed economica della Cina nel
corso del 2014 prendendo come punto di partenza alcuni aspetti delle relazioni
Cina-Stati Uniti. È attraverso tale prisma che vengono lette la politica interna e le
scelte di politica economica del governo di Xi Jinping.
Nel 2014 il rapporto tra i due paesi è stato contraddistinto da un’elevatissima
interdipendenza economico-commerciale e da profonde lacerazioni sia sul piano
economico sia su quello politico. In un contesto regionale già profondamente segnato
dalle dispute marittime nel Mare Cinese Orientale e nel Mare Cinese Meridionale,
gli Stati Uniti davano vigore al ridispiegamento della propria presenza nell’area
Asia-Pacifico (il cosiddetto Pivot to Asia), mentre la Cina perseverava nel suo
atteggiamento assertivo sul piano geo-economico e su quello geo-politico.
Da un punto di vista generale, il Pivot to Asia, in corso dal 2010, si è articolato
nel rafforzamento delle alleanze già esistenti con i paesi dell’area, nel rinserrarsi
dei rapporti economici e militari con nuovi e potenziali alleati, nel rafforzamento
delle iniziative multilaterali. Sul piano militare, il Pivot ha trovato espressione nel
ridispiegamento delle risorse militari americane nell’Asia-Pacifico, nell’espansione
delle alleanze difensive, nell’aumento delle esportazioni di armi americane e nella
diffusione dei programmi USA di addestramento militare. Sul piano economico, il
Pivot ha trovato espressione nel tentativo di realizzare il Trans-Pacific Partnership
Agreement (TPP - il partenariato trans-pacifico di libero scambio). Proprio
nell’anno in questione, emergeva con più forza l’intenzione da parte degli Stati
Uniti di proporre il TPP quale «accordo modello» per tutti gli altri accordi di libero
scambio con il palese tentativo di attirarvi la Cina (facendole temere di rimanere
isolata), al fine di incardinarla, disciplinandola, in una dimensione totalmente
neoliberista.
Da parte cinese, l’assertività del paese sul piano strategico-militare nell’area
regionale asiatica si era manifestata, a partire dal novembre 2013. Tuttavia, al
tempo stesso, Pechino, attraverso la cosiddetta diplomazia periferica, aveva anche
cercato di ampliare e di rafforzare la propria rete di collaborazioni e alleanze, in
particolare attraverso la costituzione sia della «cintura economica della via della
seta», sia della «via della seta marittima del 21° secolo». Correlato alla nascita delle
due vie commerciali, vi era, inoltre, lo sviluppo di diversi progetti infrastrutturali
condivisi fra i vari paesi attraverso i quali si articolavano le due.
41
Japan 2014: Between a China Question and a China Obsession1
Giulio Pugliese
Heidelberg University & Pacific Forum CSIS Non-Resident Fellow
[email protected]e
1. Introduction
Events in 2014 confirmed the centrality of Prime Minister Abe Shinzō
in Japan’s political landscape, in line with the expectation of the previous
year’s analysis.2 Following the landmark Cabinet decision allowing the
exercise of the right of collective self-defense, much-coveted by the Prime
Minister, and the insistence on expansive monetary and fiscal measures
under the rubric of Abenomics, Abe secured his place in post-war Japanese history as one of the country’s longest-lasting and most consequential Prime Ministers by calling and winning snap elections for the Lower
House in mid-December. In all likelihood, Abe’s mandate at the helm
of Nippon-maru (the Japanese ship of state) will continue until late 2018,
when his second consecutive, and traditionally final, term as LDP President will coincide with the call for new general elections.
On the diplomatic front, Abe was able to meet Chinese President Xi
Jinping without caving in on Chinese requests for Tokyo’s acknowledgement of the existence of a territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. At the same time, the joint statements accompanying that informal
bilateral summit failed to resolve the multiple Sino-Japanese «games of
chicken» over the disputed islands. Rather, Beijing merely signaled a tactical desire to avoid further escalation with China’s prosperous, powerful
and increasingly assertive neighbor. In the author’s view, China’s softened
stance also resulted from a hardening of the U.S. position and the forthcoming security guidelines governing the U.S.-Japan alliance.
Through an extensive use of primary source materials including official documentation, first-hand interviews with Japanese and foreign
1 This research has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the
Japan Foundation and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the
unwavering hospitality of Prof. Kitaoka Shinichi. I also wish to thank Akita Hiroyuki, Christian Wirth, Niall Coen, Matsubara Jikichirō, Maddalena Poli, Ronald
Dore, Maria Paisley, Alessio Patalano, Sebastian Maslow and Karl Gustafsson for
their valuable comments and support. All errors are my own.
2 Giulio Pugliese, ‘Giappone: il ritorno di Abe’ (Japan: Abe’s Comeback), Asia
Maior 2013, pp. 409-444.
Giulio Pugliese
policy-makers, and original analyses this article concentrates on the SinoJapanese rivalry, focused on the standoff over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and beyond. It will explore how a rising and assertive China
has shaped Japan’s strategic options, not only in the realm of foreign and
security policy, but in the domestic politico-economic landscape as well.
After all, Abe’s desire to build a strong Japan and to confront China’s ascent, explicitly rested on an appreciation of the cross-fertilization between
the domestic and international realms. As Abe said in a December 2014
interview with The Economist: «for the past 20 years, [Japan] has stagnated.
During that time, we've seen the emergence of other strong global players. And so there is no way that we can separate our domestic policies
from our diplomacy. We have to have a strong economy to have a strong
diplomacy; and with strong diplomacy and a strong foreign policy, we
can in turn ensure peace and stability in the region. And in the international community, our stronger influence will ensure smoother progress
in [building relations and] getting things done».3
Notwithstanding veiled references to Beijing in official statements, I
argue that Japanese policymakers were almost obsessively driven by the
need to balance China’s ascendance, as a means to mollify Beijing’s position at the negotiating tables. As recounted last year, the Prime Minister was the driving force to bring about consistent and successful policy
change.
This essay devotes attention to the Abe administration’s international
and domestic responses to the China challenge. The first section introduces the nature of the ongoing Japan-China spat over the contested islands through a brief historical account. The second section analyzes the
evolution of the Japanese government’s foreign and security strategy in
2014, tracing back the origins of this strategy not just to Abe’s and Yachi
Shōtarō’s worldviews, the original subject of last year’s essay, but also to
their past responses to and encounters with Beijing. Here I also analyze
Abe’s major security reforms, such as the highly consequential Cabinetled constitutional reinterpretation allowing the exercise of collective selfdefense (CSD). Consequently, I evaluate Japan’s foreign policy, and focus
on Japan’s relations with the U.S. and Australia, with whom it enjoys the
closest security relations. The third section introduces an extensive and
original analysis of the Japanese government’s increased international
and domestic public relations efforts vis-à-vis China, partly in reaction
to Beijing’s own attacks on Japan. Here I also provocatively claim that
a «governmental-institutional-media complex» preoccupied with Japan’s
territorial claims and China’s assertive behavior deliberately facilitated
an increasingly hostile tone towards China. Finally, the last section briefly
assesses the significance of Japan and China’s negotiated parallel statements, which paved the way to the Abe-Xi APEC meeting, and addresses
3 ‘Shinzo Abe talks to The Economist’, The Economist, 5 December 2014.
44
Giappone
the tenability of a Sino-Japanese «cold peace» in light of the previous
insights.
2. A Fistful of Rocks: The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute, Mirror of Shifting
Axes of Power
In order to contextualize the heated Sino-Japanese standoff, this section provides a brief historical account of the island dispute with concomitant attention given to the broader structural changes affecting bilateral
relations. The Senkaku Islands, known in China as Diaoyu Islands, consist
of five islets and three barren rocks in the East China Sea contested by
Japan, the People’s Republic of China (henceforth China) and the Republic of China. Neither China nor Japan’s sovereignty claims based on
history are rock-solid and the historical grey zones help corroborate the
respective national narratives, although Japan presents a stronger claim
on the basis of international law, given its consistent effective control of
the contested archipelago.
In January 1895, during the tumultuous final stages of the first SinoJapanese war, the victorious Meiji government quietly incorporated the
Senkaku as terra nullius (vacant territory), and placed them under the
jurisdiction of Okinawa Prefecture. However, China claims that Japan surrendered the Diaoyu as part of Taiwan following World War II, in line
with Tokyo’s acceptance of the 1943 Cairo Declaration. According to its
provisions, territory acquired by Japan from the Qing dynasty shall be restored to China. Thus, China claims that Japan obtained the archipelago
only in April 1895, under the Treaty of Shimonoseki, with the island of
Formosa, or Taiwan. Documentary evidence disproves that the Senkaku
have been Japan’s «inherent territory,» since the Meiji government had
waited for the final stages of the Sino-Japanese war to secretly incorporate
the islands, and since the Japanese government had never made the act
of incorporation public. Indeed, Japanese documents prove that prior to
late December 1894 Tokyo exerted caution over asserting its claims over
the Senkaku Islands for fear of provoking Qing China.4 The Meiji government’s caution and its calculated silence over the act of incorporation
weakens Japan’s historical claim over the islets.
On the other side, protracted and effective administration by Japan
throughout most of the 20th Century vindicates Tokyo’s claims in light of
international law. Since it excluded the Senkaku Islands from Chinese
maps, China implicitly acknowledged Japanese sovereignty until 1971.
4 Reinhard Drifte, «The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands territorial dispute between Japan
and China: between the materialization of the ‘China threat’ and Japan ‘reversing
the outcome of World War II’?», UNISCI Discussion Papers n. 32, May 2013, pp.
12-13.
45
Giulio Pugliese
This was one year before the end of the U.S. exclusive lease over the Okinawan archipelago, which Washington had obtained through the post-World
War II San Francisco Peace Treaty. In 1972 the U.S. returned the Senkaku
to Japan along with the Ryukyu Islands. As mentioned, China’s late claim
to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in 1971 was partly a response to the end of
the lease by the U.S., but it was also a reaction to the recognition of possibly rich hydrocarbon reserves in the East China Sea around the Senkaku
Islands. Strengthening Japan’s claim, according to the provisions of a
1972 U.S. Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) the Japanese government
has been granting the U.S. a lease over two Senkaku islets to use as a firing
range.5 Together with the 1972 reversion, these facts seriously question
Washington’s neutral stance over the territorial row, and corroborate the
Japanese government’s claims on the basis of international law.
At the same time, the Japanese government demonstrated flexibility
to facilitate the swift normalization of diplomatic ties with mainland China
in 1972. Back then, Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei responded to Premier
Zhou Enlai’s call for «shelving» (tana-age) the issue of territorial sovereignty
with an «unspoken understanding» (anmoku no ryōkai) that had continued
to guide Tokyo’s stance over the territorial dispute. But, eventually the
Japanese government refused to acknowledge the existence of this unofficial understanding or that this had guided Japanese policy since 1972.
It used this denial to negate that there ever was, nor is, any territorial dispute. The islands were Japan’s. Period. However, evidence –including oral
testimonies by former Japanese diplomats– has proven otherwise.6 In late
December 2014 a declassified British government document provided an
authoritative confirmation of the existence of the tacit Sino-Japanese understanding over the disputed islands. In 1982, none other than Prime
Minister Suzuki Zenkō detailed the gentlemen’s agreement between the
Japanese and Chinese leadership to Margaret Thatcher, who was seeking
advice on the conduct of negotiations concerning the reversion of Hong
Kong to China.7 Moreover in 1978 when the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Tokyo and Beijing was being reviewed, Japan reiterated this
tacit understanding during the negotiations. It brought clear benefits to
both sides. A weak China was content with Japan’s indirect acknowledgement of the existence of a dispute, while Japan would quietly extend its
effective control over the Senkaku, cementing the legal foundations of its
claim and avoiding a row with its economically attractive neighbor. More
5 ‘Experts: Treaties Complicate US Position in China-Japan Islands Dispute’, Voice
of America, 5 September 2012.
6 ‘Kuriyama Takakazu: Genjō iji – sōhō ga doryoku wo’ (Kuriyama Takakazu: Efforts
from Both Parties in Preserving the Status Quo), Asahi Shinbun, 31 October 2012.
7 Susumu Yabuki, «Senkaku ‘tana-age’ Sacchā-Suzuki kaidan no kiroku ni tsuite»
(On the Minutes of the Thatcher-Suzuki Talks), 3 January 2015, (http://chikyuza.
net/archives/49765), accessed on 18 January 2015.
46
Giappone
importantly, both states had a common interest, albeit not with the same
priority, in countering the Soviet Union’s influence in East Asia. In other
words, post-1972 Sino-Japanese cooperation reflected the imperatives
of international politics, as both parties never seriously undermined the
tacit agreement throughout the end of the Cold War.
Importantly, discreet efforts at maintaining the 1972 status quo progressively eroded due changes in the domestic and international environments taking place after the end of the Cold War in 1991. Japan’s
slow growth as an advanced and mature economy contrasted with China’s
ever-more confident rise in economic and political terms. Thus, following
the collapse of the Soviet Union, China progressively enjoyed increased
strategic latitude in East Asia. On the other side, Japan’s continued reliance on the United States’ support gradually gave way to a more assertive foreign policy concerned with defending core maritime interests.
The changed strategic landscape also favored the resurgence of nationalistic tides, to such an extent that rising nationalistic waves of different
intensity, origins, and impact had rocked bilateral relations since the early
1990s.8 Thus, for instance, China’s 1992 Law on Territorial Sea and the
Contiguous Zone explicitly included reference to the Diaoyu Islands as
part of Chinese national territory. Tokyo sternly protested the claim, but
consistently avoided a rupture to the status quo for the reasons mentioned
above. Further on, the early 2000s witnessed a quiet bilateral standoff
over the extraction of hydrocarbon resources in the East China Sea, the
dispatch of a growing number of oceanographic research vessels there,
and the November 2004 incursions of Chinese submarines in Japanese
territorial waters.9 These negative developments coincided with the progressive chilling of political interaction, brought on by mounting nationalistic outbursts and by Prime Minister Koizumi Junichirō’s repeated visits
to the controversial Yasukuni shrine.
Conversely, in the mid-2000s, the consolidation of the Hu Jintao and
Wen Jiabao leadership coincided with China’s substantial openings to Japan, since they both favored stable good-neighborly relations. According to David Lampton, Hu and Wen were informed by a «cooperative
internationalist» outlook, to concentrate on the adjustment of domestic
inequalities while maintaining high economic growth. Thus, the creation
of a «harmonious society» (hexie shehui) had to be linked with a «harmonious world» (hexie shijie), for pragmatic and realistic purposes. To this
end, the most outstanding point of friction in China’s new diplomatic
8 Giulio Pugliese, «The Resurgence of Nationalism in China and Japan: A Comparative Analysis», Orientalia Parthenopea, vol. X, Orientalia Editrice, Napoli, pp.
209-222.
9 James Manicom, Bridging Troubled Waters: China, Japan, and Maritime Order in the
East China Sea, Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014, pp. 121-165.
47
Giulio Pugliese
outlook, namely, its relations with Japan, needed to be corrected.10 The
Japanese government took advantage of this window of opportunity to
inaugurate in 2006 a Sino-Japanese détente that rested on a framework
of tit-for-tat cooperation: the awkwardly named «Japan-China Strategic,
Mutually Beneficial Relationship» (nicchū senryakuteki gokei kankei, henceforth SMBR).11 Within the SMBR framework, the Japanese government
successfully pushed for an agreement in principle on the joint development of gas fields in the East China Sea, announced in June 2008. While
not touching upon the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, this agreement constituted a major Japanese victory at the negotiating table, since it suggested
China’s implicit acknowledgement of Japan’s claims over the demarcation of the two countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones in the East China
Sea. In his memoirs, then Administrative Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Yabunaka Mitoji argues forcefully for the «significant importance
of this agreement to Japan, in light of (China’s) acceptance of Japan’s
long-standing claims». A similarly proud account of the bilateral negotiations transpires from the biography of then Foreign Minister Kōmura
Masahiko.12 Yet, in what marked a setback for Sino-Japanese relations,
the Chinese Marine Surveillance agency stationed two vessels in the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands for nine hours in December 2008.13
This first ever such intrusion by Chinese official vessels into the territorial
waters of the Senkaku Islands probably represented a reaction by hawkish
minority political factions and interest groups against the major concessions announced in June 2008. The vessels had appeared just before the
inaugural Japan-China-South Korea trilateral summit that took place in
Fukuoka, Japan, to the surprised consternation of Premier Wen Jiabao.
As the 2008 agreement failed to materialize into a bilateral treaty
and tensions rose, the Japan-China SMBR framework progressively
turned into an empty slogan. In fact, China’s assertive maritime policy,
Japan’s mismanagement of the 2010 crisis and the badly-timed 2012
nationalization of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands – both at the hands of the
Democratic Party of Japan-led (DPJ) administrations – gave the mortal
blow to the status quo premised on the afore-mentioned «unspoken unDavid Lampton, The Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money, and Minds. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008, pp. 8-36; 14-15.
11 The full, official name is even more cumbersome: Japan-China Mutually Beneficial Relationship Based on Common Strategic Interests (nicchū kyotsu no senryakuteki rieki ni rikkyaku shita gokei kankei).
12 Mitoji Yabunaka, Kokka no meiun (The Fate of the Nation), Tokyo: Shinchōsha,
2010, pp. 148-149. Eiji Ōshita, Kōmura Masahiko: ‘Shin no kokueki wo’ (Kōmura Masahiko: For the Sake of the Real National Interest), Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, 2010,
pp. 251-255; 157-159.
13 Yoshikazu Shimizu, ‘Taigai kyōkō shisei no kokunai seiji’ (The Domestic Politics
of a Hard-line Foreign Policy), Kokubun Ryōsei (ed.), Chūgoku wa, ima (China, at
Present), Tokyo: Iwanami Shinsho, 2011, pp. 11-16.
10 48
Giappone
derstanding». The Kan Naoto administration’s decision to press charges
against a Chinese fisherman, who was responsible for intruding in the
Senkaku/Diaoyu waters and ramming his boat against two Japan Coast
Guard (JCG) vessels, constituted an important step backward for bilateral
relations. This incident cornered the Hu administration down the pathway of economic and political retaliation. In fact, China’s muscle-flexing
over the incident and its total misrepresentation in the state-run media,
according to which it was the JCG vessels that rammed into the defenseless trawler, highlighted the growing clout of nationalistic hardliners in
Beijing. 14 Indeed, Japanese and U.S. China-watchers trace back China’s
assertive behavior to late 2009, when the country overtook Japan as the
world’s second wealthiest economy. Sustained high-level economic growth
in China and the dismal state of its post-financial crisis competitors, most
notably the U.S., served only to strengthen Chinese policymakers’ confidence in regional security matters or, more simply, to embolden hardline
interest groups that were previously a minority.15 It is worth noting that
Beijing’s retaliatory measures paid off: the Japanese government backed
down by restituting the boat and by releasing the captain back to China
without a formal indictment. More recently, on September 11, 2012 the
Japanese government announced the acquisition of three of the Senkaku
Islands from a private Japanese citizen. While the aim was to thwart plans
to build on the islands launched by former Tokyo Governor Ishihara
Shintarō, the Noda Yoshihiko administration wholly mismanaged it and
simply provoked the Chinese charge of aggressive nationalization – the
more so since the announcement came just two days following a bilateral
meeting between Hu and Noda on the sidelines of APEC, several days
before the anniversary of the Mukden Incident (September 18, 1931),
and only two months before the delicate leadership transition staged during the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
As a consequence, the nationalization served only to legitimize bolder
14 An authoritative and detailed account on the 2010 incident that does not spare
criticism to both sides is: Akio Takahara, ‘The Senkaku fishing trawler collision
incident, September 2010’, Akikazu Hashimoto, Mike Mochizuki and Kurayoshi
Takara (Eds.), The Okinawa Question: Futenma, the U.S.-Japan Alliance and Regional
Security, Okinawa: Nansei Shoto Industrial Advancement Center, 2013, pp. 91102.
15 Gō Itō and Akio Takahara, ‘Minshutō seiken tanjō ikō no nicchū kankei 20092012’ (Japan-China Relations After the Inauguration of the DPJ Government;
2009-2012), ed. by Akio Takahara and Ryūji Hattori Nicchū kankei-shi 1972-2012: I
Seiji (History of Japan-China Relations 1972-2012: Politics), Tokyo: Tōkyō Daigaku
Shuppankai, pp. 488-489. Jeffrey Bader, Obama and China’s Rise, Washington DC:
Brookings Institution, pp. 69-82. For a provocative, albeit fallacious, alternative
point of view: Björn Jérden, ‘The Assertive China Narrative: Why It Is Wrong and
How So Many Still Bought into It’, Chinese Journal of International Politics, Spring
2014, 7, 1, pp. 47-88.
49
Giulio Pugliese
and more assertive Chinese action. Ever since September 2012, China
has sent naval and aerial forces in the proximity of disputed waters on
a regular basis, with the aim of challenging Japan’s effective control and
pressuring Tokyo publicly to acknowledge the existence of a territorial
dispute. This stance was symptomatic of China’s new-found willingness
to abandon a cautious foreign policy course and make fuller use of the
leverage provided by its might and its wealth, to maintain its territorial
integrity. Japanese policymakers would not accede to Chinese demands to
reverse to the status quo ante or acknowledge the existence of a dispute and
instead embarked, under the new Abe administration, into a quiet «game
of chicken» characterized by steady reciprocal escalation.
3. Standing Up to China: Abe and Yachi’s China Strategies
Within the above-sketched broader structural changes, I posit that
Abe’s political leadership effectively stirred the rudder of Japan’s foreign and security policy into a definite course. I find that the late 2012
comeback of Abe Shinzō witnessed the re-enactment of security strategies aimed at balancing China’s rise, strategies that were almost identical to those pursued under his first administration and under his oversight as Koizumi’s Chief Cabinet Secretary.16 The Abe administration’s
foreign policy executive centered on the figure of Yachi Shōtarō, who had
served as Administrative Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs between 2005
and 2008, and subsequently as special advisor to the Cabinet and Japan’s
first National Security Advisor.17 The impressive consistency and impact
of their foreign and security initiatives, which I will detail below, underlines the undisputed role of human agency, with its idiosyncrasies and
cognitive structure in the Japanese decision-making process. In addition
to Abe and Yachi’s own personal leaning, the subject of last year’s essay,
this section demonstrates that their earlier personal interaction with
Beijing in the mid-2000s informed the same maneuvering following their
ascendance to power. For this reason, I sketch an original, brief and preliminary historical reinterpretation of the road to the 2006 Sino-Japanese
political détente on the basis of new documentary evidence and first-hand
accounts.
16 Foreign Minister Asō was in the driver’s seat of many diplomatic initiatives during Abe’s tenure as CCS, but Abe showcased active engagement in a variety of
diplomatic initiatives, such as Japan’s deepened overtures to India «SECRET, U.S.
Embassy in Tokyo, ‘The Ambassador’s lunch with Administrative Vice-Minister
Yachi’», 26 May 2006 (http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/05/06TOKYO2940.html), accessed on December 15, 2014.
17 For details on Abe’s foreign policy executive, which includes Yachi’s right-hand
man Nobukatsu Kanehara, please refer to: Giulio Pugliese, ‘Giappone: il ritorno di
Abe’, Asia Maior 2013, pp. 409-444.
50
Giappone
Given Abe and Yachi’s shared conservative colors, their self-confidence in the management of diplomatic affairs, their ill-concealed preference for a strategic Realpolitik, and their almost presidential conduct
of foreign policy – one that was often clouded in secrecy and premised
on room bias – to me the relationship appears similar to the historical collaboration of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, although Abe
likely depended more than the former U.S. President on the input provided by his external advisors.18 Diplomatic propriety required Abe and
Yachi to insist publicly on the «(international) rule of law,» «engaging
China» and «leaving the door open for dialogue with» China, but Abe
and Yachi’s writings indicated a clear preference for power politics, deterrence and coercive diplomacy as useful tools to mollify Beijing’s positions.19 The late Japanese diplomat Okazaki Hisahiko, whose traditional
strategic and geo-political thinking impacted greatly on both Abe and
Yachi, once remarked: «[take] the 2006 Arc of Freedom and Prosperity
(detailed below), it does not mention China, but clearly aims at encircling China. [That’s] just like the 1907 Triple Entente, which aimed at
encircling Germany, but has no explicit reference to Germany».20 Like
Nixon and Kissinger’s overtures to the USSR, Abe and Yachi were the
unlikely candidates for inaugurating the 2006 détente with Japan’s main
strategic adversary; the Japan-China SMBR détente had its own set of
linkage policies, but rested on the solid foundations of power politics.
Both the English and Japanese literature fail to appreciate the undercurrents of power politics behind the inauguration of the SMBR, with
the partial exception of China scholar Anami Yūsuke, who nonetheless
joins the chorus of scholars who identify Japan’s China policy back in
18 For a brief and updated biographical sketch of the Nixon-Kissinger partnership, please refer to: Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: partners in power, New
York: Harper Collins, 2007, especially pp. 89-103. Historical research has demonstrated that Nixon was on an equal, if not higher, footing with his National Security
Advisor, for instance, on Kissinger’s much-vaunted decision to open up relations
with China in order to provide Washington with greater flexibility in the conduct of
U.S.-Soviet relations. Margaret MacMillan, Nixon and Mao: the week that changed the
world, New York: Random House, 2007, pp. 3-18.
19 See for example: Shōtarō Yachi (Ed.), Nippon no anzen hoshō to bōei seisaku (Japan’s Defense and Security Policy), Tokyo: Wedge, 2013. Shinzō Abe and Hisahiko
Okazaki, Kono kuni wo mamoru ketsui (Resolute in Defending this Country), Tokyo:
Fusōsha, 2009. Shōtarō Yachi and Tomohiko Taniguchi, ‘Sōgōteki nichibei anzen
hoshō kyōryoku ni mukete’ (Towards Comprehensive Japan-U.S. Security Cooperation), Aratana kokusai junjo ni okeru sōgōteki nichibei anzen hoshō taisei kōchiku no
kanōsei (The Possibility of Constructing Comprehensive Japan-U.S. Security Cooperation in a New International Order), Waseda Daigaku nichibei kenkyū kikō,
Tokyo: 2010, pp. 109-135.
20 Interview with late Ambassador Okazaki Hisahiko, 20 August 2013, Tokyo.
51
Giulio Pugliese
2006 as mainly a policy of China engagement.21 In fact, if there ever was
engagement, it came from a conciliatory Hu administration.
Indeed, China’s conciliatory stance towards Japan in the mid-2000s I
see as an attempt to soothe tense political ties in response to Japan’s increasing resort to Realpolitik – the progressive hardening of the Japanese
government’s foreign and security policy in tandem with the U.S. government. This was evident from the landmark February 2005 joint statement
of the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee (also known as 2+2
meeting) where Japanese negotiators had insisted on including repeated
reference to China.22 Wording there encouraged the «peaceful resolution
of issues concerning the Taiwan Strait through dialogue», as well as «improving transparency of its [i.e. China’s] military affairs».23 According to
a former U.S. State Department official, language in those February and
October 2005 joint statements «was considered significant and somewhat
provocative».24 In addition, the U.S. aimed by then at enhancing cooperation among its regional security partnerships, by linking the bilateral alliance spokes to one another. In response to these developments, China’s
2006 White Paper on defense noted: «The United States and Japan are
strengthening their military alliance in pursuit of operational integration.
Japan seeks to revise its constitution and exercise collective self-defense.
Its military posture is becoming more external-oriented».25 As the environment became more hostile towards China, Chinese openings in the
mid-2000s thus aimed at: i) driving a wedge between a progressively conciliatory second George W. Bush administration and a less accommodating Abe administration; ii) deterring the development of a security architecture in the Asia-Pacific that targeted China, such as the nascent U.S.-Japan-India-Australia quadrilateral entente. This proposed entente was an
Abe initiative that Canberra, Delhi and Washington would eventually nip
in the bud to avoid provoking Beijing;26 and iii) assuaging a growing sense
Yūsuke Anami, ‘Senryakuteki gokei kankei no mosaku to Higashi Shina Kai
mondai: 2006-2008’ (Groping for a Strategic Mutually Beneficial Relation and the
East China Sea Issue: 2006-2008), Akio Takahara and Ryūji Hattori (Eds.) Nicchū
kankei-shi 1972-2012: I Seiji (History of Japan-China Relations 1972-2012: Politics),
Tokyo: Tōkyō Daigaku Shuppankai, pp. 443-485.
22 Interview with MOD official, who took part in MOFA-JSDF Agency/DoS-DoD,
April 2005 2+2 negotiations, 6 April 2014, Tokyo.
23 Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Joint Statement U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, 19 February 2005, Washington DC. (http://www.mofa.go.jp/region/namerica/us/security/scc/joint0502.html), accessed on 21 December 2015.
24 Interview with former U.S. State Department official, 15 September 2013, Tokyo.
25 Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, China’s National Defense in 2006, Beijing: 2006
(http://www.china.org.cn/english/features/book/194486.htm), accessed on 26 December 2014.
26 For evidence please refer to this brilliant journalistic account of the period:
21 52
Giappone
of Japanese wariness that would have allowed swift passage of Abe’s bold
security agenda. In short, China’s overtures were tactical remedies to a
more ominous security environment: a behavior that somewhat reflected
Beijing’s progressive softened stance with its neighbors since mid-2014.
As a consequence, China agreed to what was called the 2006 JapanChina «Strategic Mutually Beneficial Relationship» framework. As mentioned, this was premised on tit-for-tat cooperation, but China made
substantial concessions in the negotiations towards the afore-mentioned
agreement in principle on joint development of gas fields in the East China Sea. Abe, in return, needed to assuage China’s historical sensitivities
and, above all, abstain from Prime Ministerial visits to the Yasukuni Shrine
on an ambiguous «don’t ask, don’t tell» fashion that avoided politicizing
the issue. That is, Chinese policymakers agreed to a face-saving solution
that entailed silence on the Yasukuni issue and public praise for post-war
Japan’s peaceful path. Leaked U.S. State Department cables shed partial
light on the nature of the bilateral understanding leading to the establishment of the SMBR.27 At the same time, the second Bush administration quietly expressed its concerns over Abe’s revisionist credentials and
sent veiled warnings directly to soon-to-be Prime Minister Abe about the
negative impact of history-related issues on U.S.-Japan relations.28 This
important detail – revealed for the first time in last year’s essay29 – highlights Washington’s earlier concerns on the negative spillover effects of
the history issue in Japan’s relations with both South Korea and China;
these concerns prompted the second George W. Bush administration in
playing a brokerage role to defuse and avoid entanglement in potentially
explosive Sino-Japanese animosities. Thus, while Tokyo had traditionally
pursued a more sympathetic China policy compared to its ally, Japan and
the U.S. have often traded roles in the early 21st Century, even before the
Japan-China standoff over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.
At any rate, China was likely unaware of U.S. pressure and as a result
Abe de facto renounced his visits to the controversial war shrine during his
first mandate. It is worth noting that Yachi was in charge of negotiations
that brought about the Japan-China SMBR and that his trusted diploHiroyuki Akita, Anryū : Bei-Chū -Nichi gaikō sangokushi (Undercurrents: U.S.-ChinaJapan Records of the Three Kingdoms’ Diplomacy), 1-han. ed. Tō kyō : Nihon Keizai Shinbun Shuppansha, 2008, pp.1-6, 48, 232.
27 U.S. Embassy Tokyo, ‘CONFIDENTIAL: Ambassador Schieffer Discusses Yasukuni, Japan-China Relations with China’s Ambassador Wang Yi’, June 15, 2006 (https://cablegatesearch.wikileaks.org/cable.php?id=06TOKYO3316&q=wang%20
yasukuni%20yi), accessed on 13 January 2015.
28 On background interview with a former U.S. senior foreign policy official, Tokyo, 1 July 2013. The general thrust of the message was two-fold: it underlined the
President’s uneasiness about the history issue, and the possible criticism from highranking officers of the second Bush administration, de facto qualifying as a threat.
29 Giulio Pugliese, ‘Giappone: il ritorno di Abe’, pp. 417-418.
53
Giulio Pugliese
matic task force negotiated the agreement in principle on gas fields, announced in June 2008, but agreed upon several months earlier. 30 China’s
resumption of summit diplomacy and deepened political cooperation
with Japan on Tokyo’s terms, confirmed the beliefs of Yachi and his team
about the effectiveness of power politics.
Hence, Abe and Yachi later acted on the seemingly vindicated conviction
that a «resolute stance» (kizen to shita taido) was conducive to taming Chinese
power, thus bringing Beijing to the negotiating table on favorable terms.
They also thought that minor concessions on the territorial dispute would
only whet Beijing’s appetite, and favored a policy of resolute «strategic
patience», accompanied by a Realpolitik designed to balancing the Chinese
threat.31 In short, Abe’s foreign and security posture tackled China’s rise
through external and internal balancing: the former aimed at deepening
Japan’s security relations with strategic states, first and foremost the U.S.,
the latter centered on expanding the scope of Japan’s power projection
and augmenting the centralized policymaking capabilities centered in the
Kantei, the Prime Minister’s office. A high-ranking Australian diplomat in
Tokyo commented in 2013 «Japan has been seriously advancing a China
strategy in the past year».32 Yet, an almost identical strategy was at play
several years earlier. In the mid-2000s a Yachi-led MOFA inaugurated
overtures to maritime states in the peripheries of the Eurasian continent,
most notably India and Australia, often through the interested intercession
of the United States. Yachi’s grand strategy presented a clear geo-political
footprint that referred to the founding fathers of modern geo-politics,
such as Halford Mackinder and Nicholas Spykman. In fact, his attempt
at establishing a network of Sea Powers along the Eastern portion of the
Eurasian rimland reflected, as he explicitly recalled, the thought of Alfred
T. Mahan, according to whom naval powers were essential in keeping in
check a continental power’s advancement into the seas.33 Similarly, in
2006-2007 Abe pushed through sweeping security reforms and would later
resuscitate all of the initiatives, which did not succeed back then, under the
same handpicked foreign and security policy executive.
As opposed to the situation in the mid-2000s, both Japan and China
engaged in a bilateral standoff following Noda’s 2012 nationalization of
Giulio Pugliese, Neo-classical Realism and the Japanese government’s China Policy,
Ph.D. thesis in progress; Specific to the gas deal announcement: Interview with a
high-ranking diplomat under the condition of anonymity, 13 September 2013.
31 Yuka Hayashi, ‘Strategic Patience the New Mantra for Abe’s China Policy’, The
Wall Street Journal - Japan Real Time, 13 November 2013.
32 Interview with a high-ranking Australian diplomat under the condition of anonymity, 12 September 2013.
33 Personal Interview with current National Security Advisor, Yachi Shōtarō, Tokyo,
22 November 2013, and 22 July 2013. Shōtarō Yachi and Tomohiko Taniguchi,
‘Sōgōteki nichibei anzen hoshō kyōryoku ni mukete’, pp. 109-135.
30 54
Giappone
the Senkaku Islands, since both parties expected their counterpart to
make a concession first. The highly sensitive nature of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute and China’s new-found confidence as the world’s
second wealthiest economy led the newly-inaugurated Xi Jinping administration to similar strategies, premised on identical assumptions: nominally, that Japan will «chicken out» and make concessions, since it needed
China more than vice-versa. As a consequence, the Sino-Japanese «game
of chicken» brought along a slow but steady escalation in the two states’
moves in the security, economic and communication chessboards. Since
my previous year’s essay highlighted Japan’s economic statecraft and the
domestic and international implications of Abenomics, the following sections will focus mostly on Tokyo’s security and communication efforts in
the year under review.
3.1. Longing for «Normality»: Abe’s Quest for a Powerful Japan
Although scholars usually assess Abe’s earlier one-year mandate as a
half-baked failure, his prime-ministerial leadership was responsible for
substantial policy changes in the security field then as it was in 2013 and
2014. This reflected Abe’s personal distaste for the traditional bottom-up
process of policy-making, in particular the meddling of the bureaucracy.
Back in 2006-2007 Abe set the security agenda and shepherded through
the Diet three pieces of legislation that reflected his security priorities:
the first bill upgraded the Defense Agency into a Ministry; the second
spelt out the administrative details in preparation for a confirmatory
referendum on Constitutional amendments; the third facilitated the
implementation of the 2006 U.S.-Japan roadmap for realignment of U.S.
forces. The Cabinet was not responsible for drafting these laws, as was the
case in the Kantei-led legislation pertaining to Japan’s participation in the
«War on Terror». 34 Yet, Abe placed the bills high on the Diet agenda, and
pressure from the Prime Minister’s office favored smooth passage in the
Diet. Read the testimony of the then-U.S. Ambassador Schieffer’s glowing
secret report card on Abe’s security agenda in his first six months: «Abe’s
successes in passing legislation and implementing policies that strengthen
Japan’s security and defense posture are unprecedented. Abe and his LDP
team have smoothly passed bills that would have been virtually impossiTomohito Shinoda, Koizumi diplomacy: Japan’s kantei approach to foreign and defense
affairs, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007. It is worth mentioning that
Shinoda’s exclusive Kantei-led model refers, in the end, to three pieces of legislation: the Anti-Terrorism Legislation, the Contingency Law qualifying its specifics,
and the Iraq Special Measures Law, cfr. Shinoda, pp. 86-132. These were enacted at
times of major U.S. pressure and with an important precedent example, the Iraqi
War of 1990-1991, which facilitated swift passage later on.
34 55
Giulio Pugliese
ble even 10 or 15 years ago».35 Following his comeback, Abe consistently
pushed through with his security agenda with the same intensity. So much
so that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the leading
U.S. impresario for Abe’s security reform package, echoed Schieffer’s excitement seven years later: «No democratically elected leader, in 550 days,
has ever achieved the changes in security policy that Abe has achieved».36
Abe’s aims were consistent throughout: recovering Japan’s «normality»
as a Great Power that does not shy away from playing a larger role in the
international arena, and that is able to more autonomously address the
challenges posed by a rising China.
The rapidly evolving international environment reinforced
Japan’s security renaissance, as evident in the explicit and consistent
reference to U.S. decline and China’s ascendance in key official security
documents. At the same time, the very pace of Japan’s updating of its
Japan’s National Defense Policy Guidelines (NDPG, formerly NDPO) –
1976, 1995, 2004, 2010 and 2014 – was indicative not only of the everchanging security challenges resulting from an increasingly multipolar
post-Cold War regional order, but also of the greater say enjoyed by
political leaders in the security policy-making process. Thus, similarly
to the Advisory Panel on National Security and Defense Capabilities
(henceforth NSDC) in charge of formulating Japan’s National Security
Strategy (NSS), the 2010 NDPG reflected the input of politicallyappointed advisory groups, rather than the more traditional decisionmaking process centered on bureaucratic politics and U.S. pressure.37
Shortly, a changing international structure and the gradual structural
change in Japan’s policy-making machine facilitated Abe’s imprint in
formulating his domestic security agenda.
In late 2013 and 2014 the Abe government successfully implemented
major initiatives that would drastically change Japan’s security policy. In
December 2013, it established its first National Security Council modelled
after that of the United States and passed a new and strict State Secrecy
Protection Law that was enacted in December 2014.38 In the same month,
35 U.S. Embassy Tokyo, ‘SECRET: Abe’s Report Card: Unprecedented Progress on
the Security and Defense Agenda’, 30 April 2007, Wikileaks (https://cablegatesearch.
wikileaks.org/cable.php?id=07TOKYO1918&q=abe-s%20card%20report), accessed
on 14 January 2015.
36 Personal Interview with Ambassador Richard Armitage, Tokyo, 1 August 2014.
37 Tomohito Shinoda, Seiji shudō vs. kanryō shihai (Political Leadership vs. Bureaucratic Rule), Tokyo: Asahi Shinbun Shuppan, 2013, pp. 174-176. A detailed account of the traditional decision-making process is: Takao Sebata, Japan’s Defense
Policy and Bureaucratic Politics, 1976-2007, Maryland: University Press of America,
2010, pp. 50-91.
38 For details on these two pieces of legislation: Giulio Pugliese, ‘Giappone: il ritorno
di Abe’, Asia Maior 2013, pp. 409-444. Sebastian Maslow, ‘A blueprint for a strong Japan? - Abe Shinzo and Japan’s evolving security system’, Asian Survey, forthcoming.
56
Giappone
the Japanese government issued new National Defense Policy Guidelines
(NDPG, formerly NDPO), and Medium-Term Defense Program (MTDP):
the former defines Japan’s longer-term defense policy, the latter details its
defense policy and development of military capabilities for 2014 to 2018.
In addition, the NSDC panel chaired by Kitaoka Shinichi, with Yachi as
deputy chair, produced Japan’s first-ever National Security Strategy.39 In
particular, under the banner of Japan’s «proactive contribution to peace»
(sekkyokuteki heiwa-shugi) Tokyo would step up its efforts not only in UN-led
security activities, but, more importantly, in safeguarding regional security
in tandem with the U.S. and key Asia-Pacific states. For that purpose, the
NSS provided a comprehensive account of the government’s objectives,
the perceived security environment and the foreign and domestic policy
means to achieve said-objectives.
In other words, the NSDC in charge of the NSS effectively
produced a Grand Strategy, which attempted to concert domestic and
international efforts towards coherent national goals: concretely this
entailed a more muscular security policy in strong coordination with
Japan’s Trans-Pacific ally and, possibly, other relevant regional actors.
Observers should not have confused Japan’s foreign policy new mantra,
«proactive contribution to peace», with a liberal vision for Japan in the
21st Century: virtually all members of the panel were proponents of a
balancing policy that was in line with Abe’s vision. The positive, liberalsounding branding was intended to render palatable to international
and domestic audiences Japan’s more muscular security posture. After
all, the concept of «proactive pacifism» clashed with the Prime Minister’s
earlier insistence on «breaking away from the post-war regime» (sengo
rejīmu kara no dakkyaku), a concept that implied the rejection of the
notion that Japan’s «pacifism» made it exceptional and declaring Japan
to be a Great Power like any other autonomous Great Power. In fact,
Abe had to be convinced of the merits of using the slogan «proactive
contribution to peace»,40 since he thought of it as diluting his rejection
of traditional «pacifism». Away from the public stage Abe confirmed his
appreciation for power politics.
Another major reform that reflects both the structural imperatives
and the imprint of the Abe administration was the government’s April
2014 decision to substantially relax Japan’s arms exports’ control
system. In fact, while the Noda government’s 2011 relaxation of Japan’s
1976 (quasi) total ban on arms export issued a set of comprehensive
exemptions, the 2014 guidelines altogether ditched the total ban. The
Abe government’s «Three Principles Concerning Transfer of Defense
39 Government of Japan, National Security Strategy, Tokyo: December 2013, pp.3536. (http://www.cas.go.jp/jp/siryou/131217anzenhoshou/nss-e.pdf), accessed on 16
January 2015.
40 Interview with member of the NSS commission, 10 January 2014.
57
Giulio Pugliese
Equipment and Technology» underplayed the scope of change from
their very name. These promised to: 1) prohibit arms transfers to states
involved in international conflicts and to those that breach U.N. Security
Council resolutions; 2) allow exports following NSC-led government
screenings; and 3) require Japan to vet any diversions of destination or
different end-use of the technology. In this, the Japanese government
was particularly sensitive about diversions to China, as highlighted by
the failed tank sale to Turkey.41 The new guidelines will certainly increase
Japan’s profile through joint development with key strategic partners and
empower its indigenous defense industry. Yet, specialists on arms export
controls agree that insuring proper end-use and preventing diversion has
always proved arduous, if not altogether impossible.42 The decision to
assign licensing responsibility for sensitive cases to the newly-established
NSC may also prove problematic. Given the NSC’s strong affiliation
with Kantei, political factors will cloud its export decisions; all the more
so since decisions will be taken behind closed doors, and without any
obligation to record its minutes.43 Moreover, Japan’s relative inexperience
and seemingly limited overseas intelligence-gathering capabilities may
hamper accurate assessments. At any rate, a comparison with the arms
export regulations and practices of other states, including those with
similarly minimalistic security postures, such as Germany and Sweden,
showed that common practice often resulted in the sanctioning of exports
to controversial destinations. This depended also on the structure of the
arms export market following the global financial crisis, where most of
the new demand for advanced weaponry came from new middle-income
economies and rising powers with an imperfect track-record on human
rights, and trade diversion.44 Since domestic norms and identity still
‘Buki yūshutsu, hadan ni Chūgoku no kage Toruko maboroshi no ichigō anken’
(Arms Exports: Collapse of a Deal with Turkey, the Shadow of China), Nihon Keizai
Shinbun, 30 July 2014. Government of Japan, Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, 1 April 2014 (http://www.mofa.go.jp/press/release/
press22e_000010.html), accessed on January 14, 2015.
42 Interview with Dr. Bernard Moltmann, Visiting Fellow, Peace Research Institut
Frankfurt/Hessische Stiftung Friedens und Konfliktforschung, 26 November 2013,
Frankfurt am Main. Interview with Dr. Michael Ashkenazi (Senior Researcher),
Dr. Marc von Bömcken (Senior Researcher and Project Leader), and Jan Grebe
(Researcher and Project Leader), Bonn International Center for Conversion, 27
November 2013, Bonn.
43 ‘Kakugi no gijiroku, hajimete kōkai - NSC ni mo sakusei gimu wo’ (First-Ever
Disclosure of Cabinet Minutes - Make the NSC Prepare Minutes Too), Nihon Keizai
Shinbun, 22 April 2014.
44 Mitsubishi Research Institute, Heisei 25nendo anzen hoshō bōeki kanri taisaku jigyō,
Hōkokusho (Report on Security Export Controls Measures), Mitsubishi Research Institute, Tokyo: March 2014. The author contributed to compiling the report as a
free-lance researcher.
41 58
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curtailed full-blown «normality» in the security field,45 there existed the
possibility of a domestic backlash against the newly formulated guidelines.
For this reason, Japanese policy-makers had to walk a fine line between
enduring domestic sensitivities on one side, and economic and strategic
interests on the other. For all of the above reasons, Japan’s arms export
decisions throughout 2014 were limited to reliable import countries, who
provided solid guarantees on end-use and control, and with whom Japan
often enjoyed a strategic relationship.
Finally, the July 1, 2014 Cabinet decision that allowed Japan’s
exercise of the right of collective self-defense was the most consequential
security-related reform undertaken by the Abe administration. The
Italian Constitution has a similar pacifist complexion, but Italy’s
rejection of war as a means for the settlement of international disputes
had the qualification that it should not impede the deployment of its
military force to maintain «a world order ensuring peace and justice
among the Nations», usually with the mandate of «international
organizations furthering such ends».46 Abe’s new interpretation of
the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 arguably brought Japan
in line with Italy’s position. But this is not exactly the case. Tokyo’s
reinterpretation limited Japan’s involvement in collective security and
endowed the country with the universal, inherent right of collective selfdefense, enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. In an even narrower
sense, it allowed a limited use of force to aid friendly countries under
attack, and when said-attack threatened «Japan’s survival and poses a
clear danger to fundamentally overturn people’s right to life, liberty
and pursuit of happiness (sic)». At the same time, the Cabinet decision
calls for «legislation which enables necessary support activities to armed
forces of foreign countries engaging in activities for ensuring Japan’s
security or for peace and stability of the international community».47
This major change will grant greater integration and cooperation
between Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and the military forces of
friendly countries, mainly the United States. Arguably, it also aims at
increasing Japan’s appeal as a reliable security partner to strategic states
such as Australia and India, by allowing greater military engagement in
regional, if not global, non-combat security activities. The decision had
substantial implications for U.S.-Japan relations: it paved the way for
Andrew Oros, Normalizing Japan: Politics, Identity and the Evolution of Security Practice, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.
46 Presidenza della Repubblica, The Constitution of the Italian Republic, official English translation, (http://www.quirinale.it/qrnw/statico/costituzione/pdf/costituzione_
inglese.pdf), accessed on 19 January 2014.
47 Government of Japan, Cabinet Decision on Development of Seamless Security Legislation to Ensure Japan’s Survival and Protect its People, 1 July 2014 ( http://www.mofa.
go.jp/fp/nsp/page23e_000273.html), accessed on 15 January 2015.
45 59
Giulio Pugliese
seamless defense cooperation, and «jointness» between the two military
machines, thus enhancing Japan’s deterrence vis-à-vis China.
3.2. Longing for «Normality» II: Washington’s Quest for Alliance BurdenSharing
Away from the limelight, U.S. alliance handlers and official government policy certainly pushed for and facilitated smooth passage of Abe’s
major security package. U.S. prudence vis-à-vis Beijing (detailed below)
and budget cuts to U.S. military spending implied that Japan had to chip
in with an ever greater share of the joint defense «burden» of the alliance.
In fact, according to former assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary for Crisis
Management Yanagisawa Kyōji, it was indicative that U.S. military cuts for
fiscal 2015 vis-à-vis 2012 corresponded to more than one year and a half
of Japanese defense budgets, which contributed to Abe’s sense of urgency.48 Thus, given mounting dependency on its ally’s military protection
throughout the post-Cold War, the Japanese government faced ever more
serious incentives to «hug» the U.S. and concede to its requests for alliance burden-sharing that went beyond substantial cash contributions.49
U.S. active involvement in directing the Japanese policy debate towards
that particular direction was evident from the inception of the second
Abe administration, although most of it was understandably not done in
public. There was a rare instance of overt public acknowledgement to that
effect, when in January 17 2013, U.S. Ambassador John Roos delivered
a speech which stressed that Japan’s inability to come to the rescue of its
ally, due to constitutional impediments, would have de facto entailed an
end to the U.S.-Japan alliance.50 U.S. government and pro-government
activists also pushed forward Abe’s quest for collective self-defense (CSD).
A key question was whether the government coalition’s «pacifist» member,
the Komeitō, would accept it. One of its Diet Members revealed the flurry
of personal visits by prominent American U.S.-Japan alliance handlers
to convince the party leadership to be «on board» the July 1 Cabinet decision. Also included were informal meetings with the Embassy Deputy
Chief of Mission.51 These examples testified to Washington’s consistent
push for greater Japanese military support to the bilateral alliance.
Yet, the Center for Strategic and International Studies-sponsored Armitage-Nye reports were the policy documents that had the greatest impact
on Japan’s security agenda. Their bipartisan consensus and their authors’
48 Interview with former Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary for Crisis Management
Yanagisawa Kyōji, Tokyo, 18 September 2014.
49 Matteo Dian, The Evolution of the US-Japan Alliance. The Eagle and the Chrysanthemum, Chandos Asia Studies Series, Oxford: Chandos Books 2014.
50 Yomiuri Shinbun Shinnenkai, (New Year Party), Tokyo, 17 January 2013.
51 Interview with Komeito MP, 1 August 2014.
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Giappone
prestige endowed these reports with great authority. They publicly spelled
out the U.S. government’s policy desiderata, without being a U.S. government publication and, free from diplomatic protocol that demanded respect of another state’s sovereignty, the reports’ tone veered on the patronizing. Thus, on August 15, 2012 the third Armitage-Nye Report, U.S.-Japan
Alliance, Anchoring Stability in Asia, wrapped its policy recommendations
into a dramatic wake-up call: «In our view, tier-one nations have significant
economic weight, capable military forces, global vision, and demonstrated
leadership on international concerns. [Does] Japan desire to continue to be
a tier-one nation, or is she content to drift into tier-two status? If tier-two
status is good enough for the Japanese people and their government, this
report will not be of interest».52 In a personal interview, Richard Armitage,
trustee to the Center of Strategic and International Studies was conscious
of its successes: «Joe [i.e. Joseph Nye] and I took a lot of satisfaction [from
the three Armitage-Nye Reports]. Here is a Republican and a Democrat
who worked through this thing seamlessly, never had a cross word between
us, debated all the issues, and published our report. I don’t think any other
civilians ever, non-governmental people, ever had reports that had that
much effect on policy».53 In other words, the U.S. government’s desire
for greater burden-sharing was so much the overwhelming consensus in
Washington, that the CSIS report did not need be a government document:
it merely reflected the U.S. taken-for-granted consensus. Yet, the fact that
the two «Japan hands» had been in top government positions under the
Clinton and Bush administrations, and kept acting as U.S.-Japan alliance
handlers for different governments, including the Obama administration,
gave the two documents a quasi-governmental allure, an aspect recognized
by Joseph Nye: «I think the Japanese may have read more into this being
a government wish list than was really the case».54By the mid-2000s, the reports were so influential that a recently-elected Abe had obtained, through
the intercession of CSIS-based U.S.-Japan alliance manager Michael Green
a delaying of publication of the second Armitage-Nye report to early
2007.55 In an interesting historical twist, the same Abe would later push
for a security agenda that reflected the mainstay in the bipartisan reports,
the key elements of which remained the same throughout. Prime Minister
Abe’s 2013 delivery of a public speech at CSIS following a bilateral summit
with Obama further underlined the para-governmental allure given to the
Richard Armitage, Joseph Nye (Eds.), U.S.-Japan Alliance, Anchoring Stability in
Asia, Washington: CSIS, 2012.
(http://csis.org/files/publication/120810_Armitage_USJapanAlliance_Web.pdf), accessed on 21 February 2015.
53 Personal Interview with Ambassador Richard Armitage, Tokyo, 1 August 2014.
54 Personal Interview with Prof. Joseph Nye, Tokyo, 1 August 2014.
55 Tsuyoshi Sunohara, Japan Hando (Japan Hands), Tokyo: Bunshun Shinsho,
2006, pp. 13-14.
52 61
Giulio Pugliese
reports and the think-tank that sponsored them. Abe’s insistence then on
Japan’s status as a «tier-one nation», a message that was also tailored back
home, was testimony of the reports’ influence.
3.3. The Tenability of Abe’s Security Agenda and the Demographics Problem
The verdict on the endurance of Abe’s security agenda is uclear. The
previous sections have highlighted the impact of political leadership in
foreign and security policy-making, as manifested by Abe’s consistent
and successful passage of his idiosyncratic security agenda, beginning
in 2006-07. This was evident with regard to the earlier vagaries to endow Japan with the right of collective self-defense. Yanagisawa Kyōji, a
former Defense Ministry official seconded to the Kantei as Assistant Chief
Cabinet Secretary, recalled being presented in 2007 with a ready-made
set of recommendations of the blue ribbon advisory panel in charge of
devising the legal framework for allowing collective self-defense. This
was the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security.
Yanagisawa would later attend all the panel meetings as rapporteur and
lament the lack of legal experts on the Constitution.56 However, Abe’s
first administration ended before the committee’s final report and was
succeeded by a considerably more prudent and milder Prime Minister,
Fukuda Yasuo. When Fukuda was presented with the panel’s prescriptions for allowing the exercise of CSD he decided altogether to stonewall
them, to the consternation and anger of prominent panel members.57
Only in 2013 would Abe resuscitate the advisory panel with almost the
exact same composition.
In fact, the markedly more restrained stance of previous DPJ and
LDP-led administrations, such as the Fukuda administration’s (20072008) conscious decision to ignore and therefore kill (mokusatsu) Abe’s
earlier CSD and NSC initiatives, left the door open for further policy
change following Abe’s departure.58 On one side, Abe’s extended political
mandate following the December 2014 snap elections will allow him
to consolidate earlier changes. In 2015, pertinent domestic legislation
and the subsequent U.S.-Japan Security Guidelines – the equivalent
of a ratification-free new security treaty – will enshrine and de facto
institutionalize Abe’s security reforms. On the other side, low popular
support for Abe’s changes of Japan’s defense policy was symptomatic of
56 Interview with former assistant chief Cabinet secretary for crisis management
Yanagisawa Kyōji, Tokyo, 18 September 2014.
57 Interview with former Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo, Tokyo, 1 July 2013; Interview with Ambassador Okazaki Hisahiko, Tokyo, 30 August 2013.
58 The Japanese word mokusatsu, literally translated as «to silently kill,» conveys
the contrast between a seemingly passive stance that in fact constitutes resolute
action.
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an enduring popular allergy against security issues, and a well-rooted
antipathy against international military intervention, even only in noncombat activities. Perhaps more importantly, an evident gap between
Abe’s objectives of turning Japan into a Great Power and the country’s
actual material capabilities, such as demographic (hence long-term
economic) capabilities, seriously questioned the long-term resilience of
Abe’s agenda.
Indeed, Japan’s serious shrinking population problem remained
unresolved. According to forecasts at the time of writing, Japan’s population
will shrink by a third by 2064, while less than 2% of Japanese citizens and
permanent residents were of foreign origin in 2014, an incredibly small
figure compared to other rich economies.59 The substantial increase of
foreign residents needed to halt sinking natural population change (i.e.
the number of births minus the number of deaths) implied a revolutionary
immigration reform: in 2013 alone the population shrank by 244,000
while the number for new foreign citizens/permanent residents was
around 10,000. In other words, the government needed to welcome more
than 200,000 immigrants per year to keep pace.60 A Herculean task the
Japanese government demonstrated no intention of tackling. In fact,
immigration remained a social taboo. Interviewed on primetime TV, Abe
was unwavering when he held up a NO (batsu) signboard to throw open
Japan’s doors, and added: «In countries that have accepted immigration,
there has been a lot of friction, a lot of unhappiness both for the
newcomers and the people who already lived there».61 In fact, Japanese
authorities still understood immigration as a temporary measure tied to
particular economic circumstances, for instance in preparation of the
Olympic Games in 2020. For these reasons, there were no incentives for
companies to integrate and train foreign human resources employed in
Japan, implying scant innovation and low human capital. On the demand
side, short-term contracts and a short stay also meant low consumption,
since foreigners would save for remittances and business activities back in
their country of origin. Pundits often mention an increased use of robots
as a possible remedy, but forget that a market economy thrives on supply
and demand, that is, consumption is equally important to maintain the
business cycle.
The lack of responsiveness on immigration policies is explained by
a variety of factors. According to Atsushi Seike, five main reasons and
popular fears work against a relaxed immigration policy: i) the high
‘The incredible shrinking country’, The Economist, 31 May 2014.
Michael T. Cucek, ‘Trends In The Numbers Of Japan’s Foreign Residents’, Shisaku BLOG, 31 May 2014 (http://shisaku.blogspot.jp/2014/05/trends-in-numbersof-japans-foreign.html), accessed on 31 May 2015.
61 Jonathan Soble, ‘Japan stands by immigration controls despite shrinking population’, Financial Times, 2 June 2014.
59 60 63
Giulio Pugliese
costs connected with integration policies; ii) the loss of social stability and
worsening of public security; iii) the likely decrease of the overall salary
levels; iv) the formation of a closed society with immigration ghettos; v)
and the ever-present anxiety over the dilution of Japanese culture.62In
the author’s view, these anxieties rang particularly true in Japan, given
the susceptible perceptions of its risk-adverse society, which is proud of
its «particularism».63 For these reasons, the Abe administration diverted
attention from the sensitive topic and pushed, instead, for relaxed measures for highly-skilled immigrants to gain permanent residence and for
greater participation of women in the workforce. The economic impact of
these measures, however, will be limited.
In the author’s view, domestic concerns with the principal country of
origin of immigration, China, reinforces the taboo. Paradoxically, one
of the most integrated communities in Japanese society was the Chinese
one. An overhaul in immigration policies would have entailed a substantial intake of Chinese immigrants, thanks to the incentives they faced. It
makes perfect economic sense to employ domestically a cheap Chinese
labor force that hailed from one of Japan’s biggest trade and investment
destinations. Since the Chinese community is the largest foreign group
in Japan, (674,230 as of June 2013),64 relocation of new immigrants from
continental China is made easier by extensive family networks. However also because of diffuse national animosity against China, the demographic issue was altogether jettisoned from the national agenda. Abe’s
intention to re-build Japan’s military strength recognized the perils of a
Japan caught between the Scylla of a rising China and the Charybdis of
a declining U.S., whose commitment to its ally’s security cannot be taken
for granted indefinitely. However, overt governmental debate about immigration did not dwell either on the need for, nor on Japan’s long-term
ability to deploy its military strength. Comprehensive and detailed longterm policy and strategic documents, such as the National Security Strategy, simply did not refer to the issue.
62 Atsushi Seike, (translation by Giulio Pugliese) ‘Demographic Collapse and Vanishing Provinces’, Barak Kushner and Yōichi Funabashi (Eds.), Examining Japan’s
Lost Decades, London: Routledge, 2015.
63 On the concept: Franco Mazzei, Japanese Particularism and the Crisis of Western
Modernity, Venezia: Ca’ Foscari, 1999.
64 ‘Kokuseki-Chiiki betsu zairyū gaikokujinsū no suii’ (Estimates on the Number
of Foreign Residents, Varied per Nationality and Region), Ministry of Justice,
June 2014 (http://www.moj.go.jp/content/000116174.pdf), accessed on 14 October
2014.
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3.4. The Logic of Playing Chicken:
Economic Statecraft
Japan’s External Balancing and
In tandem with bolstering their own military capabilities and defense
posture, Japanese policymakers sought to confront China by deepening
and widening the net of Japan’s security ties with other states. The new
Abe administration took up the geo-political strategy inaugurated by a
Yachi-led MOFA in 2005 and 2006: the so-called Arc of Freedom and
Prosperity was briefly rebranded as Japan’s «Asia Security Diamond».
Later it was raised, at least in name, to the level of a global rather than
regional strategy as the «Foreign Policy based on a Panoramic Perspective
of the World-Map» (chikyū zentai o fukan suru gaikō).65 It is here worth
reminding the reader of the importance of Yachi’s previous interaction
with Beijing: his belief that a powerful Japan that extended its network of
strategic partners to deter assertive Chinese behavior, would succeed in
softening Beijing’s posture.
For this and economic reasons, Abe travelled extensively and became
the Prime Minister with the highest number of states visited on official
diplomatic missions, hitting the record of 49 countries visited by September 2014.66 There were multiple strategic overtures. The one strategic
opening that promised the highest returns was between Russia and Japan: Abe’s five personal summits with Vladimir Putin aimed at finding a
solution over the disputed territories, known as the Southern Kuriles in
Russia and as Northern Territories in Japan. An eventual Peace Treaty
would, in fact, have increased Japan’s leverage and allowed Tokyo to reorient more of its military forces towards its South-Western flank, to counter
China’s advancement into the seas. Yet, the Ukrainian crisis forced Japan
to side with the U.S. government’s sanctions policy. It did so, however,
with much limited enthusiasm, leaving the door for a landmark agreement still ajar.67 At the same time, many of these diplomatic missions
were merely symbolic, if not altogether cosmetic. An instance of the latter was the display of supposedly strong personal bonds of trust between
‘Shinzo’ and other foreign leaders, including notoriously aloof ‘Barack’.68
Similarly, Japan’s granting of prestigious ‘heads of state’ receptions to key
foreign heads of government did not necessarily translate into concrete
results. This was the case, for instance, in Japan’s relationship with India.
Yachi Shōtarō, ‘Behind the New Abe Diplomacy: An Interview with Cabinet
Advisor Yachi Shōtarō (Part One)’, Nippon.com, 8 August 2013 (http://www.nippon.
com/en/currents/d00089), accessed on 21 January 2015.
66 ‘Abe Shushō 49kaKoku hōmon rekidai saita’ (P.M. Abe visited 29 Countries,
Historical Record), Asahi Shinbun, 6 September 2014.
67 ‘Japan Imposes New Sanctions on Russia but Keeps a Diplomatic Door Open’,
The New York Times, 5 August 2014.
68 ‘Obama Daitōryō, kōkyū sushi hanbun shika tabezu?’ (Did President Obama Eat
Only Half of His High Quality Sushi Dinner?), AFP News, 24 April 2014.
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Giulio Pugliese
After all, in 2014 the regional presence of the Chinese economy, both as
an investor and as a trading state, had risen to formidable levels. India’s
new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, had China’s market and investment
in mind when he courteously refused to inaugurate a Ministerial-level
2+2 Japan-India Strategic Dialogue between the countries’ Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministries. The failure to conclude a Japan-India civil
nuclear agreement and a deal on Japan’s export of a search-and-rescue
aircraft further testified to the summit’s limited results. Still, Modi’s visit
was high on the media-hyped «bromance» between fellow nationalist state
leaders, and led to a not properly-defined Japan-India «Special» Strategic
and Global Partnership, whose major effect as of late 2014 was a resumption of joint military exercises.
What was new in Japan’s 2013-2014 China strategy was its economic
component. Abe’s insistence on the perceived economic strengths of Abenomics and of an eventual China-less Trans Pacific Partnership aimed at
proving both to Beijing and Japanese public opinion that China needed
its neighbor more than vice-versa. As former moderate Ambassador to
China, Niwa Uichirō stated in a 2014 book: «We should absolutely not
look down on China, but at the same time Japan ought not to be too shy.
[…] It is still possible for Japan to improve its position in the Chinese
market, because China would also find itself in a dire situation had it
not received technology and assistance from Japan».69 According to this
reasoning, Japan need not make political concessions to safeguard its economic interests with China; on the contrary, it could take advantage of
China’s ill-concealed economic problems. This view attracted a great deal
of attention among the Japanese public and informed the second Abe
administration’s economic «game of chicken» with China.70 In addition to
the security nexus implicit in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, Japan also aimed at revising its Official Development Assistance
(ODA) charter to allow a more strategic use of official government aid, for
instance to training foreign armed forces. At any rate Tokyo was already
making a strategic use of its ODA policy, by targeting key regional Middle Income Economies and providing yen loans for constabulary equipment. In 2015 Japan will provide the Philippines and Vietnam, two states
that faced heated standoffs with China over disputed islands in the South
China Sea, with Japanese patrol boats, already agreed to be funded from
69 Uichirō Niwa, Chūgoku no Dai-mondai (China’s Big Problems), Tokyo: PHP Shinsho, 2014, p. 7.
70 In 2013 a thorough study on China’s structural malaises written by a former
METI cadre, proficient in Chinese macroeconomics became a national best-seller:
Toshiya Tsugami, Chūgoku taitō no shūen (The End of China’s Rise), Tokyo: Nihon
Keizai Shinbun Shuppan-sha, 2013. For details on Abe’s economic statecraft please
refer to: Giulio Pugliese, ‘Giappone: il ritorno di Abe’, Asia Maior 2013, pp. 409444.
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the ODA budget.71 At the same time, China’s parallel and historic inauguration of huge and China-centered international development banks,
such as the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and the «BRICS Bank»,
clearly signaled Beijing’s interest in challenging the Bretton Woods model based on the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
Economic statecraft aside, Abe and Yachi’s diplomatic strategy consistently followed the earlier one. Its first pillar consisted in the restoration
of strong coordination and cohesion with its U.S. ally to augment the
coercive tools at Tokyo’s disposal. To that effect, although the Obama
administration’s pivot to Asia lost steam following the 2013 departure of
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Assistant Secretary of State for East
Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, on April 24, 2014 Abe secured a
clear statement from the U.S. President confirming that «[the] treaty commitment to Japan’s security is absolute, and Article 5 covers all territories
under Japan’s administration, including the Senkaku Islands», as well
as official support for Japan’s exercise of collective self-defense.72 These
signals were a manifestation of the Obama administration’s willingness to
fully reassure its most important Trans-Pacific security partner, after some
evidence of Washington’s ambivalence towards Tokyo throughout 2013.
The U.S. gave ostensible military support for Japan over the disputed
islands in the form of repeated statements by Secretary of Defense Hagel,
joint military exercises tailored at a Senkaku scenario, and symbolic gestures of resolve such as the flying of B-52 bombers there following China’s declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East
China Sea. But the second Obama administration viewed Abe’s return to
power with apprehension from its inception. Washington feared entrapment in a potentially explosive Sino-Japanese confrontation, as a result
of both Tokyo’s and China’s stances. Washington was initially reluctant
to update the Defense Guidelines and also refused to even discuss the
merits of Japan acquiring offensive capabilities, a shift in Japan’s military
doctrine that would have entailed an overhaul of the alliance framework
– a refusal which testifies to U.S. doubts back in 2013.73 Testimonies from
American U.S.-Japan alliance handlers substantiate this view: in a Sankei
Shinbun interview former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armit‘Japan to Provide Vietnam Patrol Boats Next Year’, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 31
March 2014; ‘Japan to Provide Vietnam Patrol Boats Next Year’, USNI, 2 June
2014. On Japan’s strategic ODA policy: Bart Gaens, ‘Teaching How to Fish? The
Transformation of Japan’s Development Agenda’, EAJS Presentation, 28 August
2014.
72 The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Joint Press Conference with President Obama and Prime Minister Abe of Japan, 24 April 2014 (http://www.whitehouse.
gov/the-press-office/2014/04/24/joint-press-conference-president-obama-andprime-minister-abe-japan), accessed on 10 January 2014.
73 ‘Exclusive: Japan, U.S. discussing offensive military capability for Tokyo-Japan
officials’, Reuters, 10 September 2014.
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Giulio Pugliese
age was highly critical in pointing at «President Obama’s initial apprehension towards the Abe administration, although U.S.-Japan relations
were much better than during the DPJ government».74 A former highranking U.S. government official conceded that the Abe administration’s
uncompromising stand vis-à-vis Beijing, peppered with both veiled and
direct references to the history issue, was highly troubling to the Obama
administration and other regional partners, to the point «that U.S.-Japan
relations were in better shape under the Noda-led DPJ administration».75
The Democratic Obama administration also fretted about Abe’s nationalistic stance and his revisionist views on history, fearing they might further
damage Japan’s relations with China and South Korea – a U.S. treaty ally.
Washington’s stance became evident on the occasion of its public condemnation of Abe’s December 2013 visit to the controversial Yasukuni
Shrine.76 Arguably, Abe misread Obama’s increasing resolution against
China following Beijing’s November 2013 unilateral declaration of its
East China Sea ADIZ.
Convergence with Japan’s position depended on Washington’s gradually-hardened posture vis-à-vis Beijing in 2014. In early 2014 U.S. government officials dropped reference to Beijing’s calls for a «New Type of
Great Power Relations» (xinxing daguo guanxi), fearing it would have emboldened China and perplexed U.S. regional partners, first and foremost
Japan. Washington’s stance against China seemingly hardened. Thus, the
U.S. actively pushed back China’s attempt at declaring the ADIZ in the
South China Sea.77 Possibly due to the mid-term elections, the Obama administration brought criminal charges against five officers of the People’s
Liberation Army for cyberattacks aimed at U.S. corporations. They were
beyond the reach of American law, but their public naming and shaming
was again a demonstration of Washington’s increasingly resolute stance
towards China.78 Assuming a smooth passage of Abe’s security agenda,
the Japanese and U.S. governments also explored ways to reform the alliance’s operational guidelines to allow a greater Japanese contribution
to regional security. Preliminary reports also speculated that the new
U.S.-Japan Security Guidelines would have permitted joint patrols in the
‘Tōha koete Sekkyokuteki heiwa-shugi, jūsōtekina giin gaikō de dōmei kyōka’
(Proactive Contribution of Peace Beyond Intra-Party Factions, Strengthening the
Alliance through Multi-layered MP-Diplomacy), Sankei Shinbun, 22 August 2014.
75 Interview with former high-ranking U.S. government official, Tokyo, 22 July
2013.
76 Tarō Akasaka, ‘Yasukuni sanpai, shirarezaru Kantei no antō’ (The Yasukuni
Pilgrimage, the Tacit Kantei Feud), Bungei Shunjū, vol. 92 (4), March 2014, pp.
224-228.
77 ‘U.S. could change military posture if China expands air defense zone’, Kyodo
News, 31 January 2014.
78 ‘5 in China Army Face U.S. Charges of Cyberattacks’, New York Times, 19 May
2014.
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South China Sea with Japanese, U.S. and possibly Australian cooperation
as well.79 In addition, in 2014 Tokyo and Washington started discussing
the merits for Japan to acquire offensive strike capabilities, although the
issue was discussed on a track separate from the guidelines negotiations.
Thus, while bogged down with the Ukraine crisis, the Obama administration was signaling its resolve to maintain stability in East Asia, in particular by providing incentives for the more active involvement of its security
partners, such as Japan and Australia. The latter demonstrated proactive
leadership and interest in joining Japan under the new conservative government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
3.5. The Logic of Playing Chicken II: «Beefing» Up Japan-Australia Security
Relations
The forceful neo-conservative premiership of Abbott responded with
enthusiasm to Tokyo and Washington’s calls for enhanced security cooperation, as the U.S.-centered hub-and-spokes model was gradually giving way to «intra-spoke» cooperation. Former Senior Director for Asian
Affairs at the U.S. NSC, Michael Green confirmed that Washington was
in charge of the arranged-marriage (omiai) between Australia and Japan
back in the mid-2000s. Security cooperation began between rotational
Australian troops in charge of protecting relief JSDF operations in Iraq.
Subsequently, the Australian government decided to build a security
partnership with Japan under the leadership of Andrew Shearer, foreign
policy advisor to then Prime Minister John Howard. U.S. efforts were
reinforced when the U.S. former Ambassador to Australia, Thomas Schieffer, was subsequently seconded to Japan to smooth the road to security
partnership between the United States of America’s closest security partners in the Asia-Pacific.80
However, after Abe and Howard signed the landmark Japan-Australia
Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation in 2007, successive Australian Labor
Party governments were typically more lukewarm. They understood the
merits of not taking sides in the mounting Sino-Japanese dispute. A highranking Australian diplomat remarked that Australians were disconcerted
to hear Tokyo’s repeated use of the word «quasi-alliance» (jun-dōmei) to define Japan-Australia relations.81 That said, when Howard’s neo-conservative
protégé rose to power in September 2013 and embraced deepened security
Kōsuke Takahashi, ‘Taichū kyōko-saku Minami Shina Kai Nichi-Bei kyōdo kanshi
fujō’ (Hard Line Policy against China, Possibility of Joint U.S.-Japan Patrols over
the South China Sea), Jane’s Defence Weekly (Japan), 31 July 2014.
80 Interview with Former Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the NSC, Michael
Green, Tokyo, 9 July 2013.
81 Interview with a high-ranking Australian diplomat under the condition of anonymity, 12 September 2013.
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Giulio Pugliese
ties with fellow conservative ‘Shinzo’, observers felt a strong sense of déjàvu. In all likelihood, the further deepening of the Japan-Australia security partnership under the Abbott and Abe administrations, presented the
same dynamics recounted above: active U.S. intercession, and top-down
decision-making in both Tokyo and Canberra. This was another fascinating
example of history repeating itself, not least because of the presence of the
very same Japanese foreign policy executive.
The strategic partnership between Japan and Australia was repeatedly
stated to be born out of shared values. The same foreign policy team under
Abe’s first and second administrations had presented Japan’s foreign and
security policy as based, on the primacy of universal values, democracy,
the rule of law, and freedom of navigation – values not typically associated
with Japan’s traditionally pragmatic approach to foreign policy. In fact,
late Ambassador Okazaki’s response to an American journalist on the
question of Japan’s foreign policy principles aptly summarized the
endurance of Japan’s geopolitical imperatives: «The histories of our two
countries are different. Your country was built on principles. Japan was
built on an archipelago».82 Again, it is worth noting that Okazaki was Abe’s
mentor in security affairs and his thinking impacted greatly on Yachi. In
turn, the public insistence on the rule of law and the like clearly sought to
establish the legitimacy of Japan’s standing as a status quo Great Power,
which consistently upheld the post-war liberal order. They also intended
to undermine China’s unilateral claims in its multiple territorial disputes,
as attempts to erode the foundations of such a liberal order and, finally, to
legitimize the overtures to strategic partners. It did not matter that these
principled claims meant condoning self-serving double standards, such
as the 2005 U.S.-India civil nuclear deal, in contravention of the nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty regime. At the same time, Abe and Abbott’s
neo-conservative colors point at the reasons behind the qualitative
differences in Japan’s two new «Special Relationships»: while Japan and
Australia benefitted considerably from being stakeholders of the current
international order, not so India whose leaders were more skeptical.
Thus, Tony Abbott’s visit to Tokyo with ‘head of state’-treatment –
the first leg of the Australian prime minister’s North-East Asian tour –
succeeded in capping bilateral negotiations for an economic partnership
agreement (EPA) kick-started in 2007 under the first Abe Shinzō
administration. This historical free trade agreement (FTA) opened
Japan’s market to considerable competition from a large exporter of agroalimentary products, most notably beef. Yet, Tokyo was able to retain its
tariffs on frozen and chilled beef around a favorable twenty percent level
and obtain tariff elimination on automobiles exported to the Australian
82 Hisahiko Okazaki, ‘Southeast Asia in Japan’s National Strategy’, Japan Echo, 20,
1993, p. 61, cited in Kenneth Pyle, Japan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power
and Purpose, New York: Public Affairs, 2007.
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market. Abbott’s prioritization of a trade deal favorable to Tokyo’s terms
was welcome news for Japan, as the Australia-Japan EPA affected the
stalled Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. With the Japan-Australia EPA
signed, U.S. negotiators were also under pressure to reach a compromise,
rather than offer less to Japan’s requests in the TPP negotiations for tariff
exceptions in the agricultural sector.
With regard to security cooperation the two sides agreed to «elevate
the bilateral security and defense relationship to a new level».83 To that
effect Tokyo and Canberra resumed the Foreign and Defense Ministers’
«2+2» consultations in June 2014 and Abe made a highly significant state
visit to Canberra. Unlike the Japan-India Special Strategic and Global Partnership, Tokyo’s expectations for greater security cooperation were met by
the Australian counterparts and Abe and Abbott inaugurated a «special»
strategic partnership that also had substantial consequences. Thus, the
Abbott government pushed for a considerable refurbishing of Australia’s
submarine fleet with ultra-quiet diesel-powered Japanese submarine
technology. Prime Minister Abbott also displayed its appreciation of Abe’s
security agenda by attending a meeting of the newly established Japanese
NSC, and allowing joint training of amphibious forces stationed near
Darwin, close to South East Asia. The Abbott government also opened up
the possibility of Australia taking part in sea-borne tracking and intercepting
operations through its ballistic missile capabilities.84 Finally, Abe was granted
the opportunity to address the Australian Parliament during his visit, the
first ever for a Japanese Prime Minister. On that particular occasion he
was able to showcase Japan’s humility over the wounds of history between
Japan and Australia: «When we Japanese started out again after the Second
World War, we thought long and hard over what had happened in the past,
and came to make a vow for peace with [our] whole hearts. We Japanese
have followed that path until the present day».85 To the astonishment of his
audience, Abe also did not shy away from spelling out the tragic encounters
between Australian and Japanese troops: «Our fathers and grandfathers
lived in a time that saw Kokoda and Sandakan». Why did nationalist Abe
address Japan’s historical legacy? He certainly aimed at dispelling fears of
a revisionist Japan in the eyes of Australian public opinion. In addition, the
speech hinted at Abe’s willingness to look to the future, rather than the past.
He cited the words of an Australian prime minister responsible for restoring
MOFA, Joint Press Release on Japan-Australia Summit Meeting, 7 April 2014. (http://
www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/files/000034801.pdf), accessed on 18 January 2015.
84 Malcolm Cook, ‘Aligned Allies: The Australia-Japan Strategic Partnership’,
The Tokyo Foundation, 24 December 2014 (http://www.tokyofoundation.org/en/
articles/2014/aligned -allies), accessed on 14 January 2015.
85 Government of Japan, ‘Remarks By Prime Minister Abe to the Australian Parliament’, 8 July 2014 (http://japan.kantei.go.jp/96_abe/statement/201407/0708article1.
html), accessed on 14 January 2015.
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Giulio Pugliese
Japan-Australia relations following WWII: «It is better to hope than always
to remember». I argue that Abe is yes a consistent revisionist nationalist,
but he was also moved by a Nietzschean ressentiment, a psychological state
based on suppressed feelings of envy and hatred precisely because it
seemed impossible for Japanese nationalistic revisionists like himself, to
be granted the status of a «normal nation» (futsū no kuni), proud of its
history. According to this particular understanding, Abe and the revisionist
camp (wrongly) understood the ROK and China’s insistence on Japan’s
past atrocities merely as a politically-oriented attempt to undermine the
Japanese people’s natural patriotism and national pride.86 By contrast, Abe
was willing to acknowledge Australia’s forgiveness and willingness to move
forward, a typically Christian approach to historical traumas. When he said:
«We in Japan will never forget your open-minded spirit nor the past history
between us» he implicitly was sending a message to his neighbors, but
one with very little effect. China’s insistence on the history issue, coupled
by Abe’s domestic display of his revisionist credentials, gave a much less
promising picture of the prospects for historical reconciliation. Quite the
opposite as Japan and China continued to engage in heated reciprocal
accusations.
4. The «Propaganda Dilemma» and the Power Politics of Voldemort
As a result of the continued standoff over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands,
the Chinese and Japanese governments found themselves embroiled in
an additional type of «game of chicken», what I and China scholar Aurelio
Insisa have labelled a «propaganda dilemma». Both sides feel vulnerable
to the other’s hostile international and domestic public opinion warfare,
respond by increasing their propaganda security, and thereby increasing
the propaganda insecurity of the other. They respond by insisting on the
righteousness of their position over the territorial row and by intensifying
their negative campaigns against the other, thus, fostering a vicious circle
of mutually reinforcing antagonistic criticism. This process is fuelled by
the Realist logic that the standoff depended first and foremost on building up domestic resolve against the opposing state. At the same time,
the Japanese and Chinese governments sought international support that
would reverberate with their respective domestic audiences.87 More simply, Tokyo and Beijing exchanged verbal fire to win the support of foreign
governments and international public opinion.
86 On the concept of ressentiment and its interplay please refer to Friedrich Nietzsche, «Geneaology of Morals» (1887), the Philosophy of Nietzsche, New York: The
Modern Library, 1927, pp. 617-809; also Liah Greenfeld, Nationalism - Five Roads to
Modernity, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001, pp. 15-17.
87 Giulio Pugliese and Aurelio Insisa, ‘The Propaganda Dilemma: the International Politics of Sino-Japanese Mutually Antagonistic Discourses’, Work in Progress.
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Similarly to Abe and Yachi’s afore-mentioned security overtures, pastinteraction with China shaped recent policy decisions in this sphere as
well. For instance, and virtually unnoticed elsewhere, the propaganda
wars coincided with Tokyo’s preliminary arrangements for its 2015 bid for
a Non-Permanent Seat at the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), with the future prospect of reforming the UNSC altogether, an objective high on the
Koizumi/Abe agenda back in 2005.88 The Japanese government needed
to reinforce its PR machine in preparation for the looming 70th anniversary from the end of World War II, given that ten years earlier, at the 60th
anniversary, Tokyo was generally thought to have lost to Beijing’s propaganda campaigns. Back in 2005, the then-Japanese Deputy Permanent
Representative to the United Nations, Kitaoka Shinichi, who would later
chair the commission in charge of the National Security Strategy (NSS),
attributed to Beijing’s pro-active use of the «history card» its success in undermining Japan’s earlier bid for a seat as a UNSC Permanent Member.89
China’s vehement opposition and media campaigns forced Japan to abort
its plans, although the Italy-led United for Consensus initiative was, arguably, the driving force against the G-4 UNSC reform proposal. On the
basis of enduring goals and past experience, the December 17, 2013 NSS
dedicated a whole section to «Strengthening the Domestic Foundation of
National Security and Promoting Domestic and Global Understanding»
with two sub-sections entitled «Boosting Communication Capabilities»
and «Reinforcing the Social Base». This foundational document paved the
way to Tokyo’s major communication strategy and Tokyo’s giant neighbor
was high on the Japanese government’s priority list.
Indeed, inflammatory Sino-Japanese public diplomacy characterized
2014 from its inception. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)
seized upon Abe’s controversial pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine of December 26, 2013 and immediately crafted an international campaign,
which turned into Japan’s recently-formulated communication strategy’s
baptism of fire. This campaign aimed at denouncing the dangers of a
militarist and revisionist Japan that acted in defiance of the world order created after the victorious war against fascism. By early February,
as many as 73 Chinese ambassadors had already penned editorials or
granted interviews along the above lines, inviting stern Japanese rebuttals, and counter-criticism in favor of Japan at a global level: from the
United Kingdom to the Republic of Fiji!90 Notably, in January 2014 the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan’s Position on the United Nations Security Council
for the 21st Century, Tokyo: 2013
(http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/un/sc/pdfs/pamph_unsc21c_en.pdf).
89 Shinichi Kitaoka, Nihon seiji no hōkai (The Collapse of Japanese Politics), Tokyo:
Chūō Kōron Shinsha, 2012, pp. 18-20.
90 ‘Abe’s Homage’, Fiji Sun, 16 January 2014; ‘Need for dialogue between leaders’,
The Fiji Times, 31 January 2014; ‘The Chinese Love Peace’, The Fiji Times, 7 Febru88 73
Giulio Pugliese
two governments’ ambassadors to the UK compared the counterpart in
newspaper commentaries with «Voldemort» the root of all things evil in
the famous Harry Potter series, and exchanged accusations on prime time
TV on a popular BBC show devoted to current affairs.91 The discussion
was incredibly heated and, similarly to the above case, Japan’s campaigns
were often in response to those initiated by China’s assertive propaganda
machine.
Recent original scholarship has pointed to the spiraling nature of
discursive animosity between the Chinese and Japanese governments.92
Nonetheless, it fails to recognize the international power politics and
domestic politics behind this progressive construction of antagonistic
identities, that is to say the Realist underpinnings of discourse-making. Specific to Japan, previous research employed broad constructivist
theories of International Relations to underline how domestic public
discourses since the end of the Cold War have increasingly constructed
Japan’s state identity in relation to an antagonistic or aberrant Chinese
counterpart («Self» versus «Other»). Japan specialists have looked at
antagonistic narratives taken from war memorials,93 the media,94 as
well as political and public debates,95 to contend that the sedimentation
ary 2014. Figure on Chinese ambassadors from: ‘Seiji no genba – nicchū reisen
(1) yoronsen Nihon mo chikuichi hanron’ (The political battlefield – the NippoChinese Cold War (1) Japan makes thorough rebuttals in the public opinion war),
Yomiuri Shinbun, 4 February 2014.
91 ‘Liu Xiaoming: China and Britain won the war together: Japan’s refusal to face
up to its aggressive past is posing a serious threat to global peace’, The Telegraph,
1 January 2014; ‘China risks becoming Asia’s Voldemort: Japan is committed to
peace and democracy and a visit to a shrine will not change that’, The Telegraph, 5
January 2014; ‘Japan and China are in a fierce conflict over a group of uninhabited islands in the Pacific’, BBC Newsnight, 8 January 2014. Video excerpt available
from: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbLaPRh71Tc), accessed on November
29, 2014.
92 Karl Gustafsson, ‘Identity and recognition: remembering and forgetting the
post-war in Sino-Japanese relations’, The Pacific Review, (Forthcoming 2015).
93 Karl Gustafsson, Narratives and Bilateral Relations: Rethinking the ‘History Issue’ in
Sino-Japanese Relations, Ph.D. thesis, Stockholm: 2011.
94 Shogo Suzuki, ‘The rise of the Chinese ‘Other’ in Japan’s construction of identity: Is China a focal point of Japanese nationalism?’, The Pacific Review, (Forthcoming 2015); and Takeshi Suzuki and Shusuke Murai, ‘How the Japanese Legacy
Media Covered the Senkaku Controversy’, Thomas A. Hollihan (Ed.), The Dispute
Over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands: how media narratives shape public opinion and challenge
the global order, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 141-168.
95 Chris Wirth, ‘Japan, China and East Asian Regional Cooperation: The Views of
‘Self ’ and ‘Other’ from Tokyo and Beijing’, International Relations of the Asia-Pacific,
vol. 9, n. 3, 2009, pp. 469-496; Linus Hagström and Jerdén Björn, ‘Understanding
Fluctuations in Sino-Japanese Relations: To Politicize or to De-politicize the China
Issue in the Japanese Diet’, Pacific Affairs, vol. 83, n. 4, 2010, pp. 719-739.
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and active re-construction of such discourses eventually define Tokyo’s
foreign policy options vis-à-vis Beijing. Contrary to the constructivist
literature, I argue that an eminently political logic rooted on the very
Realpolitik of Sino-Japanese competition, and on Abe’s worldview and
previous interaction with Beijing, determined Japan’s widespread and
often indirect denunciations of China when addressing international
and domestic audiences. Thus, I contend that the diffusion of negative
discourses is symptomatic of Sino-Japanese friction rather than an
underlying cause of the same.
Importantly, the flaring up of the Japan-China battle for the
sympathies of informed public opinion in turn cemented novel domestic
institutions, which echoed the chorus of voices from the government and
media organs lamenting Chinese behavior. Given practical, budgetary,
institutional and ideational limitations to Japanese remilitarization, I
contend that talks of a Sino-Japanese «security dilemma» let alone of
an indigenous Japanese «military-industrial complex», are premature.96
On the other hand, by 2014 a Sino-Japanese «propaganda dilemma»
had already taken shape, with booming expenses and voices dedicated
to strategic communication. Along with the «propaganda race», I argue
that a «governmental-institutional-media complex» concerned with the
neighboring «Other» was also slowly taking root. This section will provide
evidence from 2014 to substantiate this novel insight, with specific
reference to Japan. It will highlight the centrality of governmental and
political actors as «identity entrepreneurs» involved in re-constructing
Japan’s «Self» and the Chinese «Other».97 While some scholars have
pointed at the importance of identity politics behind Japan’s relations
with China, they failed to notice the basso continuo of power politics,
nor did they operationalize the active involvement of political actors
in discourse-making. This section intends to better understand these
dynamics and underlines the substantial role of the Prime Minister’s
office in discourse-making.
I argue that the Japanese government devised novel strategies in reaction to Chinese propaganda warfare and assertive behavior, in turn shaping the politics of Japan. Without proffering Voldemort’s name, the 2013
National Security Strategy spelled out the broad rationale behind these
strategies, with international and domestic audiences in mind: «At a time
when the global security environment is becoming more complex and
diverse, it becomes increasingly likely for countries to have conflicting
interests» and «in order to promote its security policy from a medium-to
96 For a different, albeit premature view: Christopher W. Hughes, Japan’s remilitarization, Oxon, U.K., New York: Routledge for International Institute for Strategic
Studies, 2009, pp. 67-78.
97 Linus Hagström and Karl Gustafsson, ‘Japan and identity change: why it matters in international relations’, The Pacific Review, (Forthcoming 2015).
75
Giulio Pugliese
long-term perspective, it is imperative that Japan proactively and effectively communicate its policy to the world and its people».98 A former
MOFA analyst’s plea for confronting China’s «public opinion/media, legal
and psychological warfares» aptly summarizes the Japanese government’s
rationale for beefing up its communication efforts in tandem with its hard
power: «We must realize that soft counter-measures at the expense of hard
capabilities will not solve the problems. At the same time, the ‘three warfares strategic’ concept teaches us that hard material capabilities alone
will not suffice, […] we need both material and spiritual measures (to
confront China’s strategy)».99 Moreover, the surfacing of a «propaganda
dilemma» soon after the nationalization of three Senkaku islets almost coincided with the inauguration of the Abe administration, and shaped the
very domestic politics of Japan. In fact, the diffusion of parallel, mutually
antagonistic discourses helped consolidate Abe’s power domestically and
partly contributed to legitimizing the speedy passage of major reforms
in Japan’s security policy. Almost identical dynamics shaped China’s domestic politics since late 2012, when Xi Jinping quickly rose to power
and came to be regarded as China’s most influential leader since Deng
Xiaoping.
This chapter provides extensive empirical evidence that substantiates
this original framework to better understand developments in this fascinating, if worrisome, aspect of Sino-Japanese relations. Following a short
outline of the Sino-Japanese negative discourses, I briefly sketch the Chinese government’s domestic and international initiatives. The next sections will then look at the Japanese government’s international and domestic communication efforts. Finally, I explore the role of Japan’s mass
media in reproducing the China obsession at the domestic level.
4.1. Sino-Japanese Narratives of «Self» and «Other»
Prior to detailing the Japanese government’s communication efforts,
I provide a brief outline of the discourses in question. It is possible to
disentangle a set of mirror images that characterize Japan’s images of
«Self» and the Chinese «Other»: i) the first paints Japan as a benign
and peaceful power pitted against an assertive China, on the lines of
the exchange between the two ambassadors to London; ii) the second
stresses the revisionist nature of the counterpart as a challenger to the
Government of Japan, National Security Strategy, Tokyo: December 2013, pp.
35-36.
99 Junichi Fukuda, ‘Chūgoku no «sansen» ni tachimukau hōhō – ‘tatakawazu shite
katsu’ senpō wo fūjikomeru tame no 37 no teigen’ (Ways to Confront China’s ‘Three
Warfares’ – 37 proposals to contain war strategies based on ‘Winning without Fighting’), JB Press, 24 October 2014 (http://jbpress.ismedia.jp/articles/-/42018?page=8),
accessed on 6 December 2014.
98 76
Giappone
international liberal order, while depicting the «Self» as a status quo
country that loyally abides by international law; iii) the third highlights
Japan’s political modernization as the first Asian country to uphold
universal values, such as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law,
implicitly highlighting the differences with autocratic China, which
had surpassed Japan’s economy in 2010.100 Such themes were evident
from Abe’s official statements throughout 2014, although references to
China were typically oblique. In fact, the Japanese government carefully
avoided naming China, not unlike the fictional Lord Voldemort, whose
name should never be proffered. On the contrary, the Chinese government’s arguments were typically more negative in character and accusatory in tone, but somewhat mirrored the content of Japan’s narratives.
In lieu of democratic values, Chinese discourses highlighted Japan’s
historical amnesia as a mirror of its neighbor’s supposedly aggressive
behavior.101
Both governments were active in constructing the above-mentioned
converging negative images, albeit with important differences. China insisted on issues related to Japan’s imperial legacy, while the Abe administration highlighted China’s violation of the international rule of law.
Reflecting the spirit of the «propaganda dilemma», China progressively
insisted on war-related nationalism and narratives of victimhood for domestic and international political gains. This was evident from the Chinese government’s decision in early 2014 to institutionalize and memorialize the anniversaries of its victory against Japan and the Nanjing Massacre. On December 13, Xi Jinping became the first Chinese President
to publicly commemorate the brutal events at the hands of the Japanese
occupiers in Nanjing. Less noticed, the Chinese central and local governments re-opened historical wounds that did not previously figure in
A condensed example from 2014 is PM Abe’s well-crafted speech at the
Shangri-La Dialogue: Shangri-La Dialogue 2014 Keynote Address Shinzo Abe, Prime
Minister, Japan, 30 May 2014
(http://www.iiss.org/en/events/shangri%20la%20dialogue/archive/2014-c20c/opening-remarks-and-keynote-address-b0b2/keynote-address-shinzo-abe-a787), accessed
on 14 January 2015.
101 For an overview of Chinese discourses with specific regard to the first Sino-Japanese War and World War I: Aki Mōri, ‘Kindai sensō no nagai kage – dai ikkai Dai
ichiji sekai taisen anarojī to Chūgoku’ (The long shadow of modern wars – the First
World War analogy and China), Tokyo Foundation: Views on China, 19 August 2014
(http://www.tkfd.or.jp/research/project/news.php?id=1311), accessed on 1 December 2014; Aki Mōri, ‘Kindai sensō no nagai kage – dai ni-kai Nisshin sensō boppatsu 120 shūnen wo meguru Chūgoku no shogensetsu’ (The long shadow of modern
wars – Chinese discourses on the 120th anniversary from the outbreak of the JapanQing war), Tokyo Foundation: Views on China, 14 October 2014 (http://www.tkfd.or.jp/
research/project/news.php?id=1350), accessed on 1 December 2014.
100 77
Giulio Pugliese
the state-sanctioned narrative of the second Sino-Japanese war.102 For instance, in April 2014 a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official hinted
at the new obstacles to bilateral reconciliation when he stated that: «There
are three history issues left between Japan and China: the disposal of
chemical weapons [dating back to the second Sino-Japanese war], forced
labor, and the comfort-women issue».103 In early 2014 Nanjing City’s decision to preserve its old comfort station, Asia’s biggest, pointed at China’s
novel sensibility towards the issue of wartime sex laborers, not all of whom
should, however, be identified as «sex-slaves».104 Chinese authorities had
also demonstrated a novel position with regard to plaintiffs who had been
or whose relatives had been forced laborers. The Beijing district court
agreed in 2013 to hear denunciations and petitions that had been rebuffed for decades. These domestic dynamics, undertaken both at the
national and local level, contributed to crystallizing domestic antipathy
against Japan.
China’s insistence on raising historical issues also had political implications in the international arena, as seen from its 2005 interaction
at the UNSC. In the year under review, Beijing launched a global political campaign against Abe’s Yasukuni visit, and successfully lured into
closer relations South Korea (ROK) a key neighboring state, traditionally
highly sensitive to the legacy of Imperial Japan. In late 2013 a memorial was inaugurated in Harbin, in northern China, to commemorate a
South Korean independence activist, responsible for the assassination of
Itō Hirobumi, one of the founding fathers of modern Japan who later
became Resident-General of the Korean protectorate.105 The emergence
of the China-ROK common front on history was a new development that
had important implications for the regional balance, to the extent that it
considerably worried Washington, prompting active U.S. intervention to
mend ties between Seoul and Tokyo.106 At the same time, China’s attempt
to win the sympathies of international public opinion bore mixed results.
After all, Western public opinion paid, at best, scant attention, and while
Western governments viewed with concern the irresponsible escalation
102 For an up-to-date historical account of this conflict: Rana Mitter, Forgotten Ally:
China’s World War II, 1937-1945, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
103 ‘Chūgoku «rekishi kādo» no hitotsu ni kyūfūjō shita «ianfu»’ (The Sudden Rise
of China’s «Comfort Women» as One of its «History Cards»), Sankei Shinbun, 4
April 2014.
104 On a rigorous academic distinction between sex-slaves and comfort women:
Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, ‘Comfort Women: Beyond Litigious Feminism’, Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 58, No. 2, Summer, 2003, pp. 223-258.
105 ‘Rinjin: nicchūkan koritsu suru Nihon /2 hannichi nomi icchi no kyōtō’ (Neighboring States: Japan, China and South Korea: Japan’s Isolation - second article of
two - common front on anti-Japanese activities), Mainichi Shinbun, 4 April 2014.
106 ‘Obama brings U.S. allies South Korea and Japan together for talks’, Reuters,
March 25, 2014.
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that the Abe government’s ambiguous revisionist posturing partly contributed to, these were well aware of China’s use of the «history card» for
diplomatic gain. China’s failed attempt at pitting Japan against Germany,
the model penitent state, during President Xi’s state visit to Berlin in
March was a case in point.107 At the same time, I argue that the Chinese
media’s insistence on the righteousness of Beijing’s international propaganda war against an «unrepentant» and «revisionist» Japanese government indicated that these supposed PR victories were for a large part also
tailored for its domestic audiences.108 As a result, in 2014 history and its
public remembrance became ever more vivid and inflammatory during
the Sino-Japanese standoff. Abe’s own silences, half-hearted apologies
and ambiguous statements and the December 2013 Yasukuni visit contributed in reigniting nationalistic and accusatory vicious spirals. In line
with Abe and Yachi’s China strategy, Tokyo unwaveringly responded with
its own set of accusations. The escalation of anger was becoming evident
in the two governments’ communication efforts.
4.2. Tokyo’s «Information Dissemination on the Offensive!»
Reciprocal bilateral accusations at major international venues have
provided for the full display of the Sino-Japanese «propaganda dilemma»
and of the afore-mentioned narratives. One case in point was the 2014
World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, where Prime Minister Abe
was granted the honor of delivering the keynote speech; Abe extolled
the merits of economic reforms under the rubric of Abenomics, but
devoted the second-half of the speech to selling Japan’s more muscular
security policy in conjunction with the need to «rigorously maintain the
(international) rule of law», necessary for the preservation of regional
public goods, which include «fundamental values like freedom, human
rights and democracy».109 In addition, over the Q&A session with media
‘Germany refuses Xi Jinping’s request to visit Holocaust memorial sites during
tour of Europe’, South China Morning Post, 5 March 2014.
108 An excellent example that illustrates the cross fertilization between the international and domestic spheres is: Chinese Embassy in Berlin, ‘Zhu Deguo Dashi Shi
Mingde fu Munihei zuo baogao zaici chanshu duiri guanxi lichang’ (Chinese Ambassador to Germany Shi Mingde went to Munich to Make an Additional Report on
Relations with Japan), 17 January 2014, (http://www.china-botschaft.de/chn/sgyw/
t1120192.htm), accessed on 16 January 2014; ‘Chūgoku media - Doitsu de Nihon
ga Chūgoku ni ‘ronpa’ to no dame-nagashita’ (Chinese Media: Fake Accounts on
Japan Losing Public Debates to China), News Post Seven, 28 January 2014 (http://
www.news-postseven.com/archives/20140127_238426.html); ‘Tokyo lodges complaint against Xi Jinping over war-related speech in Germany’, South China Morning Post, 31 March 2014.
109 The Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, ‘A New Vision from a New Japan’,
107 79
Giulio Pugliese
representatives, Abe warned those present that economic interdependence
was no panacea for inter-state conflict, as proved by the exacerbation of
antagonism between the UK and Germany one hundred years earlier.110
Here Abe intended to make a veiled equation of China with Wilhelm II’s
Germany, a revisionist and autocratic continental power, pitted against
the United Kingdom, a maritime power that upheld the pre-World War I
international order. Chinese delegates responded in kind with their own
historical analogies: they lamented Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni shrine that
hosted the spirits of 14 Class-A war criminals alongside those of about 2.5
million war dead, and lamented Japan’s history of imperialist aggressions
against China.111 Notably, Chinese participants in the 2014 Davos
Summit outnumbered Japanese panelists and discussants two to one, and
included heavyweights such as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi,
whereas hitherto Chinese government officials and representatives had
tended to shun the winter Davos for China’s own Boao Forum and the
summer Davos.112 Sino-Japanese propaganda wars were on full display
from the very beginning of 2014 and messages conveyed in prestigious
international venues, such as Davos, had both international and domestic
resonance. Exactly the same dynamics were at play five months later at
the premier Asian security summit, the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ (IISS) Shangri-La Dialogue. According to IISS Director of
Transnational Threats and Political Risks Nigel Inkster, China-Japan (and
U.S.) finger-pointing replaced diplomatic speak for the first time in the
Dialogue’s history.113 In other words, the «propaganda dilemma» was a
clear expression of the bilateral standoff.
In addition to a more declarative stance that defended Japan’s position, I note that the Abe administration oversaw the inauguration of
novel institutions, budget provisions and legislation tailored explicitly at
reinforcing Tokyo’s communication efforts on the questions of disputed
territories, China’s aggressive behavior and the history issue. The existent academic literature fails to analyze the politics, intricate institutional
webs and decision-making structures behind discourse-making in Japan,
22 January 2014 (http://japan.kantei.go.jp/96_abe/statement/201401/22speech_e.
html), accessed on 30 November 2014.
110 ‘Abe compares Japan-China tension to Britain, Germany before World War I’,
Asahi Shinbun, 24 January 2014.
111 ‘Abe’s dastardly antics backfired at Davos’, The China Daily, 29 January 2014.
112 Yomiuri Shinbun Seijibu, ‘Nicchūkan gaikō sensō: Nihon ga chokumen suru
ima soko ni aru kiki’ (Diplomatic wars among Japan, China and South Korea: the
immediate crises Japan confronts), Tokyo: Shinchō-sha, 2014, pp. 22-23; ‘Davos
Weighs New Forum to Boost China’s Presence’, The Wall Street Journal, 20 January
2006.
113 Nigel Inkster, ‘SLD 2014 – the gloves come off ’, 2 June 2014
(https://www.iiss.org/en/shangri-la%20voices/blogsections/2014-363a/sld-2014--the-gloves-come-off-0387), accessed on 14 January 2015.
80
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with the partial exception of textbook politics.114 This essay aims to fill this
important gap in the academic literature by highlighting the interplay between the international power politics of the Sino-Japanese «propaganda
dilemma» and, in particular, Japan’s domestic politics.
Most importantly, Japan’s public relations’ efforts certainly benefitted
from a massive budget allocation. In March 2014, the budget allocation
for the sole Cabinet office with responsibility for the central government’s
«public relations, public hearing activities and international PR» increased
more than 50% from the previous year: from 4.4 to 6.5 billion yen. Moreover, the Cabinet office requested a 20% increase of its budget allocation
for the new fiscal year.115 In the same month the LDP established a Committee for the Assessment of International Information (kokusai jōhō kentō
iinkai), and submitted a final report on June 17 with a rather eloquent title:
«Information Dissemination on the Offensive!».116 Finally, the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs (MOFA) inaugurated a new budget allocation, a new voice
for «strategic information dissemination» which for the 2015 fiscal year
amounted to a significant sum of 50 billion yen – the equivalent of 421
million dollars (as per January 2014). To be sure, the money will be spent
on new institutions devoted to cultural diplomacy, apart from explaining
Japan’s positions on wartime history and its territorial disputes. At the
same time, while the overall budget allocation grew by a meager 2,9%,
resources devoted to MOFA-led cultural and public diplomacy more than
tripled.117 Five billion yen will be devoted to the establishment of «Japan
Houses» in key cities with the aim of countering the rising tide of its neighbors’ initiatives, such as China’s «Confucius Institutes».118 Japan Houses
will first be established in São Paulo, London and Los Angeles, given their
global reach, especially in content creation industries. Yet, this new initiaOn text-book politics, please refer to: Caroline Rose, Interpreting history in
Sino-Japanese relations: a case study in political decision-making, New York; London:
Routledge, 1998.
115 Cabinet Office of Japan, Heisei 26nendo yosan (an) gaiyō – Naikaku-fu (Cabinet
Summary of the Budget Allocation for the 2014 Fiscal Year -Draft-) (http://www.cao.
go.jp/yosan/soshiki/h26/yosan_gai_h26.pdf), accessed on 2 December 2014; Cabinet
Office of Japan, Heisei 27nendo yosan gaisan yōkyū no gaiyō – Naikaku-fu (Summary of
the Estimates for Budget Allocation Requests for the 2015 Fiscal Year) (http://www.
cao.go.jp/yosan/soshiki/h27/gaiyou_h27.pdf), accessed on 2 December 2014.
116 ‘Seme no jōhō hasshin wo – Jimintō teigen’ (LDP proposal – Realizing an Information Dissemination on the Offensive!), Jiji Tsūshin, 17 June 2014.
117 ‘U.S. Publisher Rebuffs Japan on ‘Comfort Women’ Revision’, The Wall Street
Journal, 15 January 2014.
118 ‘Shasetsu – Kōhō gaikō senryaku: tadashii Nihon no sugata wo hasshin shitai’
(Editorial – A public diplomacy strategy: disseminating the proper Japan’, Yomiuri
Shinbun, 6 September 2014; ‘Japan Hausu: Ei-Bei-Burajiru no 3 toshi ni sōsetsu he’
(Towards the Establishment of Japan Houses in three cities in the UK, the U.S. and
Brazil), Mainichi Shinbun, 11 January 2015.
114 81
Giulio Pugliese
tive may suffer from elephantiasis and possibly politicization, since Japan
already enjoyed massive firepower through pre-existing private Japanese
foundations and governmental organs devoted to public diplomacy. For
instance, London already hosted a small Japan Foundation office, and
the successful and rich Daiwa Anglo-Japanese and Great Britain Sasakawa
Foundations; the latter two institutions were all generous supporters of a
variety of research projects and activities related to Japan and Asia in and
outside academia. The key difference was that the new mega-institutions
would have likely followed a centralized government-centered political
agenda that risked excessive politicization.
In fact, similarly to other initiatives, the «Japan Houses» aimed at reinforcing the role of the Prime Minister’s office, in the diffusion of Japan’s public diplomacy. The decision to open six new embassies and two consulates
abroad, the «most overseas facilities ever approved at one time» according
to Foreign Minister Kishida, provided further evidence of the centrality of
politics.119 In addition, the Prime Minister’s office was in the driver’s seat of
external communication efforts, again in line with provisions contained in
the National Security Strategy: «The Prime Minister’s office serving as the
control tower, Japan will enhance its public relations in an integrated and
strategic manner through a government-wide approach».120 Specific to the
afore-mentioned budget allocation to MOFA, a source close to the Prime
Minister stated as follows to The Oriental Economist: «This money is first
and foremost for MOFA, but since the Prime Minister’s office is very interested in this topic, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary
Yoshihide Suga will closely watch how this money is spent».121 In fact, I find
that lack of specifications of the type of activities to which the new Japan
Houses will be devoted suggested not only the hastiness in establishing the
new PR machine in 2014, but also the likelihood that the Prime Minister’s
office will enjoy considerable freedom in deciding the content of the activities. The risk of excessive politicization of public diplomacy – an emphasis
on defensive-revisionist campaigns in line with Abe’s thinking – was immediately proved by MOFA’s direct calls in early 2015 to the publishing
company McGraw-Hill requesting revision of a U.S. history textbook that
briefly mentioned the so-called «comfort-women» issue.122 This episode is
strong evidence of the changed domestic balance of power on management
of the history issue tilting in favor of Kantei. Only two years earlier, MOFA
officials were quietly sabotaging revisionist policymakers visiting Washington by asking key U.S. handlers of the U.S.-Japan alliance to lecture their
‘Kishida wins funding for six new embassies, two new consulates’, The Japan
Times, 12 January 2015.
120 Government of Japan, National Security Strategy, December 2013, p. 36.
121 Regis Arnaud, ‘Small Talk’, The Oriental Economist, Vol. 82, No 12, p. 12.
122 ‘U.S. Publisher Rebuffs Japan on «Comfort Women» Revision’, The Wall Street
Journal, 15 January 2014.
119 82
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Japanese guests on the dos and don’ts of history.123 Since then the evident
outreach of the Prime Minister also in Japan’s communication campaigns
has clearly been strengthened.
Further evidence of Abe’s proactive engagement in the Cabinet Secretariat was the establishment of a specific advisory group within the Cabinet
Secretariat shortly after taking office, in March 2013. The so-called Advisory Panel on Communications Concerning Territorial Integrity aimed
at strengthening the Japanese government’s domestic and overseas communication strategies over territorial disputes by offering key suggestions
to improve outreach to domestic and international audiences through the
diffusion of updated information on internet sites.124 Interestingly, the
panel included reference to the Takeshima Islands (disputed between Japan and the ROK) but avoided any mention of the Northern Territories/
Southern Kuriles dispute between Japan and Russia, indicating a desire
to enhance Tokyo’s flexibility at the negotiation table with Moscow in the
talks about a possible Peace Treaty. Politics were clearly in command.
Japan’s active governmental public relations engagement was also discernable in the international academic and public policy worlds, not only
at the domestic level. Firstly, the activities of major international, especially U.S., think-tanks were encouraged to reflect Tokyo’s messages, in
return for donations, according to a Japanese diplomat.125 Similarly, the
Japanese government decided to endow three chairs in Contemporary
Japanese Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgetown and Columbia Universities, in an attempt at fostering a new generation of Japan specialists within its strategic ally. Both initiatives aimed
at countering the alarming decrease in international interest for Japan,
compared with international interest for China and, to a lesser extent,
South Korea. In fact, Obama’s National Security Council listed no «Japan
hands» among its directorate. Finally, governmental efforts also aimed
directly at the message. As soon as Abe rose to power the Kantei pushed
for English translations of scholarly articles sympathetic to the official
government’s line to boost Japan’s PR strategy.126 One such case was the
newly-established «Tōsho Kenkyū Jānaru» (The Journal of Island Studies),
a selection of whose articles is also available in the sleek Japanese website
123 Interview with former high-ranking official from the U.S. State Department, 22
July 2013.
124 Cabinet Secretariat, ‘The Advisory Panel on Communications Concerning Territorial Integrity’, July 2013
(http://www.cas.go.jp/jp/ryodo_eg/torikumi/ryodoshitsu/ryodoshitsu-adp.html), accessed on 24 November 24.
125 Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams and Nicholas Confessore, ‘Foreign Powers Buy
Influence at Think Tanks’, The New York Times, 6 September 2014.
126 Interview with the editor of a major Japanese translation and publishing company, Tokyo, 26 September 2014.
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and in its English equivalent: «Review of Island Studies». 127 The government-backed Ocean Policy Research Foundation started this publication
in June 2013, as a result of the newly inaugurated Basic Plan of Ocean
Policy, and its articles emphasized the leitmotivs enunciated earlier. At
the time of writing the Japanese and English websites exclusively carried
essays that reflected Japanese territorial claims against China, Taiwan and
the ROK but, interestingly, with only passing reference to the Southern
Kuriles/Northern Territories dispute with Russia. Politics were also in
command of this scholarly initiative.
Finally, government officials legitimized the PR campaigns as necessary to catch-up with and respond to China’s massive firepower, thus
highlighting the anxieties embedded in the Japan-China «propaganda
dilemma». According to MOFA leaks to the conservative Sankei Shinbun,
the Japanese PR machine was inadequate compared to its neighboring
rival, since propaganda there rested on a rare synergy between the staterun media, academics and experts within the Chinese Communist Party
apparatus.128 In addition, interviews with U.S. and Japanese government
officials confirm the newly intensified attention given to improving the
appeal, and deepening the reach, of Japan’s public English-language
broadcast channel, NHK World. In future it will be infused with a considerable amount of public funding to boost its programming in 2015.
Both interviewees specifically pointed to the need to balance the global
reach of the (unfortunately-called) CCTV News’ around-the-clock English
broadcasting. An increased Japanese media presence was necessary.129
Again, these dynamics underscore the very nature of the «propaganda
dilemma»: the perception of Japan’s weakness vis-à-vis China’s communication strategy fed these public outcries for greater PR efforts. China
witnessed highly similar wake-up calls, urging the merits of a more aggressive public opinion warfare – urgings based on the same feelings of
inadequacy, and perceived weakness compared with its neighbor’s powerful machine.130 As the above cases have demonstrated, 2014 saw the fullReview of Island Studies (http://islandstudies.oprf-info.org), accessed on 1 December, 2014.
128 ‘Rekishi-sen: puropaganda wo bunseki - Gaimushō naibu bunsho: Chūgoku ha
media Kankoku wa chihō kara’ (Wars over history: internal MOFA documents detail propaganda analyses - China makes use of media, ROK of local communities),
Sankei Shinbun, 4 May 2014.
129 Interview with Abe administration government official in charge of communication strategies, Tokyo 6 June 2014; Interview with former U.S. Embassy official
confirming active interest of the Prime Minister’s Office for bolstering Japan’s media strategies, Tokyo, 20 March 2014.
130 I owe these references to Aurelio Insisa: ‘Yulun jiawu haizhan zhenghan Ri
zaixian jiaokeshu zhi zhan’ (Public Opinion and Naval War of the Jiawu year - i.e.
2014 with veiled reference to 1894 - in full swing: Japan resuscitates the battle over
textbooks), News Sina, 13 January 2014; ‘Ri Hua mei: Riben dui Diaoyu Dao «Yulu127 84
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fledged ignition of the Japan-China «propaganda race», confirming the
underlying power politics behind it.
4.3. Toward a Patriotic Education
Finally, a moment needs to be spent on educational efforts. Abe’s educational and domestic agenda was primarily aimed at reviving Japanese
citizens’ interest over disputed territories and awakening their lukewarm
interest in national security, and gaining support for a more muscular security policy. Indeed, Japanese citizens consistently ranked national security legislation as of lesser importance than economic policy throughout
the troubled period under review and viewed Abe’s security legislation
with suspicion. Meager support for the July 1, 2014 Cabinet reinterpretation and a 10% decrease in the number of applicants to the Japanese
Self-Defense Forces, as a result of increased sensibility to risk, were clear
indicators of that trend.131 This implied that diffuse popular wariness of
China did not coincide with popular approval of Abe’s security agenda.
Higher popular sensibility towards China did not necessarily imply an
embrace of Abe’s security policy, since Japanese citizens kept prioritizing
bread-and-butter issues over an unpalatable security agenda. For these
reasons, the Abe administration spent energy and resources on strengthening domestic resolve, a factor seen as equally important as other hard
capabilities. It did so also by making full use of new institutional leverage
for idiosyncratic policies.
Thus, for instance, with regard to messages tailored at domestic audiences, in March 2013 the Japanese government established a new fiveyear Basic Plan of Ocean Policy through a Cabinet decision. According to
one of the main authors, Terashima Hiroshi, the new Basic Plan enshrines
«increased education on maritime issues» as a founding principle essential in the formation of human resources. This would entail: «complementing elementary to high school curricula with education on maritime
issues, promoting interdisciplinary and specialized training in tertiary
education, strengthening the development of basic and state-of-the-art
research, and developing tripartite cooperation among state, academia
and industry».132 Secondly, in January 2014, the Ministry of Education,
zhan» burong hushi’ (Japan and China’s Media: We Cannot Ignore Japan’s ‘Public
Opinion War’ concerning the Diaoyu Dao), Zhongguo Xinwen Wang, 25 November
2013.
131 Reiji Yoshida, ‘Polling shows voters unclear about Article 9 reinterpretation:
expert’, The Japan Times, 11 July 2014; ‘Jieikan ōbo: nokinami genshō bōeishō
‘shūdanteki jiei-ken’ hitei’ (Decrease Across the Board for Applications to the JSDF,
Ministry of Defense: «Unrelated to Dislike of Collective Self-Defense»), Mainichi
Shinbun, 20 November 2014.
132 Hiroshi Terashima, ‘Nihon no aratana kaiyō kokka rikkoku to kaiyō kihon hō’
85
Giulio Pugliese
Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), revised the guidelines
for middle and high-school classes on geography, history and social sciences. Specific to the Senkaku, excerpts of revised guidelines for various
classes state the government’s afore-mentioned rock-solid stance: «the
fact that these are an inherent part of Japan which are under its valid
control, and there exists no issue of territorial sovereignty to be resolved
have to be understood»; «the facts that Japan lawfully incorporated (…)
the Senkaku Islands based on the international law should be touched
upon», and the like.133 The islands were Japan’s. Period.
Education reforms were also part of Abe’s own blueprint to instill
patriotic feelings in Japanese schoolchildren, consistent with similar efforts during his first premiership and his efforts at turning Japan into
a Great Power. After all, conservative ideational goals also dictated the
agenda in favor of a more patriotic education, and these goals reflected
Abe’s personal political philosophy, according to which individual rights
rested on the primacy of a strong nation-state capable of safeguarding
them. Thus, for the purpose of building a resilient Japan, state education had to awaken citizens’ social consciousness and pride in their
«beautiful country» – an ill-defined concept that provided the title and
leitmotiv of Abe’s 2006 manifesto, his book, Toward a Beautiful Country.134 A «beautiful Japan» however implied a revaluation of the country’s
historical and geographical contours in line with the Prime Minister’s
brand of nationalism. Moreover, Abe’s notoriously revisionist personal
views on Japan’s Imperial experience remained controversial and constituted an additional driver to the administration’s education policy
changes.
4.4. Japan’s Mass Media: Reproducing the China Obsession
After detailing the Japanese government’s own international and domestic communication efforts and the newly-inaugurated institutions devoted to these purposes, I address the role of the country’s major media
outlets, of some importance, given the record-high consumption of news
(The Basic Act on Ocean Policy and Japan as a new kind of maritime power), Tōsho
kenkyū jānaru, vol. 3, n. 1, October 2013: 76-88. Citations: pp. 85, 83.
133 Cabinet Secretariat, ‘(Ref.) Example of the Commentaries on the Courses of
Study’, January 2014 (http://www.cas.go.jp/jp/ryodo_eg/torikumi/mext_02.html),
accessed on 2 December 2014. I am indebted to Kamila Szczepanska for pointing
me to these details: Kamila Szczepanska, ‘Towards a Beautiful Country Version 2.0:
The second Abe Cabinet and educational reforms’, Presentation given at the 14th
International Conference of EAJS University of Ljubljana, 30 August 2014.
134 Abe Shinzō, Utsukushii kuni e (Toward a Beautiful Country), Bungei Shunjū ,
Tokyo, 2006. Republished in 2013 with minor additions in 2013 as Atarashii kuni e
(Toward a New Country), Bungei Shunjū ,Tokyo.
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media in Japan. The country presents the world’s highest per capita circulation of newspapers, and is one of the top-performing OECD countries
in reading literacy.135 The media consumption market is dominated by five
big news media groups, the so-called «Big Five». Through share cross-ownership each of the biggest newspapers is affiliated with a particular broadcasting channel and, although direct control is prevented due to domestic
regulations, there are strong financial, personnel and news reporting ties
between the five national newspapers and their national broadcast stations,
all based in Tokyo.136 Recent studies have shown that the role played by the
mass media in heated security issues is increasingly important in Japan,
firstly in being more closely reflective of public opinion and secondly in
pursuing more defiant and independent editorial stances away from the
official governmental line.137 Finally, as it is clear from the variety of editorial and critical articles, editorial boards have become more active since the
late ‘80s, also as a response to the growing influence of television media’s
more sensationalistic and «infotainment» style of reporting and political
debate.138 In other words, the state of affairs of the Japanese media is not
very different from other developed countries.
The 2014 World Press Trends report that Japanese newspapers have consistently outranked their foreign equivalents in terms of copies sold: Yomiuri, Asahi
and Mainichi Shinbun have topped the global ranking of press circulation with
a total of about 20 million copies sold daily. Cfr. Magda Abu-Fadil, ‘World Press
Trends 2014 ‘Debunks Newspapers’ Deaths’, 12 December 2014 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/magda-abufadil/world-press-trends-2014-debunks-newspapers
death_b_6279960.html) accessed on 22 January 2014. Although outdated, the
2007 World Press Trends on circulation provides a poignant picture of the distribution of Japanese newspapers compared to other developed economies. The 2007
report details that Japanese newspapers sold an average of 69.7 million copies
daily in 2007. Newspaper circulation among 1,000 persons was around 665 copies,
while in Germany the rate was 344, and in Italy 180. Television consumption in
Japan rated at 185 minutes per day. World Association of Newspapers, World Press
Trends 2007, Paris: Wan, 2007. For education statistics, please refer to: OECD Better Life Index, January 2014
(http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/countries/japan), accessed on 30 December
2014.
136 Laurie Ann Freeman, Closing the Shop: Information Cartels and Japan’s Mass Media. Princeton, New Jersey, 2000, pp. 153-157.
137 Tomohito Shinoda, ‘Becoming More Realistic in the Post-Cold War: Japan’s
Changing Media and Public Opinion on National Security’, Japanese Journal of Political Science 8, no. 02, 2007, pp. 171-190; Masayuki Tadokoro, ‘The Media in
US-Japan Relations: National Media in Transnational Relations’, Gerald Curtis
(Ed.), New Perspectives on US-Japan Relations, Tokyo: Japan Center for International
Exchange, 2000, pp. 175- 212.
138 Ellis Krauss and Robert J. Pekkannen, The Rise and Fall of Japan’s LDP: Political
Party Organizations as Historical Institutions, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011,
pp. 225-246.
135 87
Giulio Pugliese
Notwithstanding the variegated media landscape, I posit that major
newspaper companies have echoed the Japanese government’s stance
over the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute and Japanese discourses vis-à-vis China, as part of a «governmental-institutional-media» complex that fanned
Japanese references to a rising and bullying China. As noted already by
Suzuki Shogo, major newspapers from opposing political spectrums have
coalesced in denouncing an aggressive and autocratic China that acts in
disrespect of international norms.139 One reason must be found in the
economics of traditional media. For instance, faced with the rise of free
digital media, Japan’s major newspapers have suffered a steep decline in
sales. Between November 2013 and May 2014 Japan’s biggest newspaper,
the Yomiuri Shinbun, lost about 7% of its market (i.e. minus 659,291 copies
sold).140 Thus, fiercer competition drove editors’ appetite for a more sensationalistic tone that was better attuned to growingly incensed general
readership. The popularity of anti-China publications during the year
under review confirmed the popular sentiment;141 in fact, Japanese citizens’ impressions of China reached rock-bottom in the same year, as 93%
of respondents to the yearly Genron NPO opinion poll reported unfavorable views of China, an all-time low.142 While major Japanese dailies
usually abstained from a sensationalistic tone more commonly found in
their Western equivalents, the coalescence of the Japanese print media in
focusing on a negative China image contributed to these dismal ratings:
reinforcing a sense of contrast between a virtuous «Self» pitted against a
hostile «Other».
Moreover, the year under review witnessed a major blow to the credibility of Japan’s main progressive news outlet, the Asahi Shinbun. The
editorial stances of Asahi Shinbun were traditionally the most sympathetic
to China’s positions and the most critical of historical revisionism among
the five national dailies, drawing criticism from conservative and nationalistic circles. Prime Minister Abe had long considered Asahi his personal
bête noire, and repeatedly attacked its former editor-in-chief Wakamiya
Yoshibumi for his alleged «anti-Japanese writings», especially on the socalled «comfort-women» issue.143 In the later summer of 2014 the news139 Shogo Suzuki, ‘The rise of the Chinese ‘Other’ in Japan’s construction of identity: Is China a focal point of Japanese nationalism?’, passim.
140 Tetsuya Kuroyabu, ‘Yomiuri no hanbai busū ga hantoshi de 66manbu gen’ (Yomiuri sales drop by 660 thousand in half a year), My News Japan, 25 June 2014
(http://www.mynewsjapan.com/reports/2039), accessed on 4 December 2014.
141 ‘Publishers cash in on anti-China, anti-S. Korea sentiment’, The Japan Times, 8
July 2014.
142 Genron NPO, The 10th Japan-China Public Opinion Poll: Analysis Report on the Comparative Data, 9 September 2014 (http://www.genron-npo.net/en/pp/archives/5153.
html), accessed on 14 January 2015.
143 Shinzō Abe and Naoki Hyakuta, Nippon yo, sekai no mannaka de sakihokore (English title provided: Japan! Be proud of yourself in the «center of the world»), To-
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paper admitted misreporting on two major stories – one related to wartime sex workers and the other on the behavior of Tokyo Electric Power
Company in March 2011. These admissions invited fierce criticism not
only from its competitors but also from the Chief Cabinet Secretary and
the Prime Minister. The brouhaha caused by these retractions somewhat
weakened the authority of those usually labelled as holders of shinpoteki,
«progressive» views of history. It led to the resignation of the President of
Asahi Newspaper, and to a surprising media campaign by the revisionist
news outlet Sankei Shinbun, which had consistently claimed there never
was coercion involved in wartime prostitution. In later September 2014,
it appealed to new readers with a publicity stunt titled: «Sankei Shinbun:
Reporting Based on Historical Facts» (Shijitsu ni motozuki hōdō).144 Reflecting the blowing revisionist wind, in November the Yomiuri Shinbun apologized and retracted earlier articles that incorrectly used the term «sex
slaves» for its English language newspaper.145 Thus, evidence indicates
that the Asahi blow fortified the revisionist camp, although decline in
subscriptions to the Asahi Shinbun as at the time of writing was in line with
general market trends.
Perhaps in response to the afore-mentioned market difficulties, evidence shows that the news media had closely reflected the broader structural trends of Sino-Japanese confrontation. For instance, in the early
2010s they all fell into line by always referring to the Senkaku/Diaoyu
islands as «the Senkaku Islands, in Ishigaki City, Okinawa-Prefecture», underlining the «inherently Japanese» nature of the disputed territories. A
personal e-mail exchange with an editorial writer at Kyodo News details
Japanese media’s reacting to Chinese bullying and how they correlate
with popular sensibilities, transmitted to evermore self-conscious Japanese news producers through online criticism via Twitter and 2Channel.
Thus, in late September 2010 Asia’s biggest newswire service sent an internal notice to its reporters days after a Chinese fishing boat rammed
Japanese Coast Guard ships on September 7, 2010.146 It demanded that
they should no longer write «Senkaku Islands (Chinese name: Diaoyu
Dao)» but simply «Senkaku Islands». These minor changes in appellation in newswires and articles are significant because they a priori negate
the existence of a territorial dispute, and by implicitly ignoring Beijing’s
kyo: Wakku, 2013, pp. 129-133. Especially p. 133. Eitarō Ogawa, Yakusoku no hi:
Abe Shinzō Shiron (The Promised Day: An Essay on Abe Shinzō), Tokyo: Gentōsha,
2012, pp. 3-4.
144 Leaflet distributed inside magazine and newspapers, September 2014.
145 ‘Honsha eiji-shi de futekisetsuna hyōgen: ianfu hōdō de owabi’ (Apologies
for Reporting on the Comfort Women: Inappropriate Expression Used in Our
English-Language Newspaper), Yomiuri Shinbun, 28 November 2014.
146 The internal notice is dated 28 September 2010. E-mail exchange with a Kyodo
News editorial writer, Heidelberg, 26 November 2014.
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Giulio Pugliese
position they render China’s assertive behavior totally gratuitous. Interestingly, these changes have reverberated in Xi Jinping’s China, where
mention of «Senkaku» on national broadcasting channels would have led
to immediate termination of employment. 147 At any rate, Chinese media
traditionally never mentioned the Japanese name along the Chinese one.
Heavyweights such as Niwa Uichirō, the moderate former Ambassador to China under the government of the Democratic Party of Japan,
also disclosed personal disappointment with Japanese media’s China
bashing. He deserves to be cited in full: «All Japanese media share a bias:
they over-report news that portrays China negatively, pandering to the
general public. Articles detrimental to China are extensive and given
high visibility. Articles that convey a positive image are short and have
low visibility».148 Counter-intuitively, in view of gross generalizations that
depict the internet as a panacea empowering individuals and citizens’
journalism, Japan’s web negotiated with pre-existing structures of power
and privilege, 149 only to inflame Japan’s sense of insecurity and obsession
vis-à-vis China. Thus, for instance, under the Abe administration governmental agencies have devoted a larger chunk of resources to publicity via
social media and official internet websites, thus allowing them to directly
reach their intended audience. In 2014, one only needed to navigate the
sleek official webpage of the Prime Minister’s Office to appreciate the
Japanese government’s publicity efforts. Moreover, whereas four of the
five major Japanese dailies had set up paywalls for their content, the notoriously conservative and China-bashing Sankei Shinbun remains, as of
writing, the only free online news provider. The lower number of sold
paper copies masks the popularity of the Sankei Shinbun on the internet,
where its news feeds are provided to the popular MSN portal. While beyond the scope of this brief account, it is worth noting that news carried
by highly popular weekly magazines (shūkanshi) have also increasingly
gravitated towards China-bashing. See, for instance, the right-leaning
SAPIO’s September 2014 cover story, entitled «The nasty things China
does in Japan». 150
Was the conservative Abe government, then, merely reflecting wider
popular and media refrains on China? In my view, the Japanese govParticipant’s testimony at conference ‘The Media and How it Shapes History in
East Asia’ (Chatham House rules), University of Cambridge, 30 Jan.- 1 Feb. 2015.
148 Uichirō Niwa, Chūgoku no Dai-mondai (China’s Big Problems), Tokyo: PHP
Shinsho, 2014, pp. 148-149.
149 David McNeill, ‘The Great Equalizer? The Internet and Progressive Activism
in Japan’ in Japanese Cybercultures ed. by Nanette Gottlieb and Mark McLelland,
Oxon: Routledge, 2003, pp. 159-173.
150 Title story: ‘Chūgoku ga Nippon de shite iru iyarashii koto’ (The Nasty Things
China Does in Japan), SAPIO, September Issue, Tokyo: Shōgakukan, August
2014.
147 90
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ernment was acting in tandem with popular anxieties, but often had
the upper hand in framing the public discourse. Government agencies
and the Prime Minister’s office made full use of a savvy media strategy
premised on direct influence, as well as carrots and sticks. The Prime
Minister’s dominant intervention was particularly evident in the case of
NHK. Abandoning the traditional practice of appointment by diffuse
LDP-business-bureaucratic decision-making, 151 the Prime Minister and
his entourage were directly responsible for the December 2013 appointment of NHK’s new Chairman and of four new members of the board,
whose stance strongly reflected Abe’s revisionist agenda. The new NHK
Chairman Momii Katsuto confirmed publicly and privately his allegiance
to Abe’s historically revisionist agenda and, if there ever was doubt of
the influence he wielded within the company, a veteran NHK journalist
testified to the Chairman’s enormous influence on broadcast content and
internal appointments.152 Abe also wielded indirect leverage: the Kantei
granted one-to-one interviews with the Prime Minister and powerbrokers
from the Abe administration to newspapers in line with the government’s
stance, such as the Sankei Shinbun and the Yomiuri Shinbun, while shunning others.153 In addition, the Prime Minister’s office provided scoops to
loyal reporters covering the Kantei, while keeping out of the loop those
from antagonistic newspapers, such as the liberal Tōkyō/Chūnichi Shinbun.
An LDP lawmaker provides evidence of this mechanism with reference to
scoops about the new Cabinet team, during the September 2014 reshuffle.154 Moreover, Abe himself often met with prominent media figures in
an attempt to domesticate the media watchdog, with clear implications
for the conduct of Sino-Japanese relations. For instance, Abe’s informal
dinner meeting with major political editors and writers on the same day
as his controversial Yasukuni Shrine pilgrimage successfully toned down
Japan’s major news media’s criticism of Abe’s move.155 Finally, the Abe
government media strategy also targeted foreign journalists and news
Ellis Krauss, Broadcasting Politics in Japan: NHK and Television News, Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 2000, pp. 123-150, esp. 148-150; ‘My country, right or
righter’, The Economist, 8 February 2014.
152 Participant testimony at conference ‘The Media and How it Shapes History in
East Asia’ (Chatham House rules), University of Cambridge, Jan.30-Feb.1 2015.
Interview with NHK Journalist, Tokyo, 2 July 2014.
153 A research on Electronic Databases shows that Sankei Shinbun had six one-toone interviews with the Prime Minister, the Yomiuri Shinbun had four interviews,
and the Asahi Shinbun none. Sources: Yomidasu Rekishikan (https://database.
yomiuri.co.jp/rekishikan); Kikuzō II Visual (http://database.asahi.com/library2e);
Global Factiva: (https://global.factiva.com).
154 Tarō Kōno, ‘Masukomi no kyōji’ (The Self-Respect of the Media), Kono Taro
Official Website, 11 September 2014 (http://www.taro.org/2014/09/post-1524.php),
accessed on 6 December 2014.
155 Norihiro Kato, ‘Abe and the Fourth Estate’, The New York Times, 12 June 2014.
151 91
Giulio Pugliese
outlets. The last-minute cancellation of Abe’s press conference during to
the 2014 ASEM summit in Milan due to the presence of one unsympathetic local journalist provides further evidence of the Kantei’s sensitive
and successful media strategy. Confirming this trend, a well-respected
foreign journalist noted that the LDP under the Abe government was
particularly shy of press conferences at the Foreign Correspondents Club
of Japan, since «questions are entirely unscripted, and evasions can be
challenged».156
Finally, it should be noted that Japanese news media has traditionally
relied on official sources because of the so-called «press clubs» (kisha
kurabu). These are reporters’ offices set up within major government,
political and business organizations for member media to gain access to
information. Access is usually limited to journalists from major local media
organizations. Since reporters are stationed in the premises throughout
the working-day, the press clubs arguably constitute an institutionalized
form of «embedded journalism»: they tend to feed bias to pack journalism,
reporters’ self-censorship and, more importantly, an osmosis between
official sources and reporters. Critics contend that Japanese press clubs
differ from the few Western equivalents because of the greater proximity
reporters enjoy with their sources and the consequent higher reliance on
the same. While much of the criticism rings true, it should be noted that
earlier studies have found that as much as 80% of reporting in Western
media is dependent on government sources, thanks to the governments’
need for the media’s capacity to spin and set the media agenda, while in
Japan the figure has gravitated around a slightly higher percentage.157 At
any rate, reliance on official sources is ever more inevitable for sensitive
information, such as the presence of Japanese and Chinese military and
constabulary forces in the East China Sea. In fact, research on Japanese
media reporting of the territorial dispute between Tokyo and Seoul has
found that major newspapers reported almost identical content, likely
coming from the same official sources.158 In sum, the media were also
acting as a sounding board for government-sponsored messages at a time
of undeniable Chinese assertiveness.
All things considered, it did not matter that both the Chinese and Japanese governments fired up PR efforts mostly out of defensive instincts:
156 David McNeill, LDP vs. FCCJ: Behind the Barricades, N.1 Shinbun, 28 December 2014 (http://www.fccj.or.jp/number-1-shimbun/item/532-ldp-vs-fccj-behind-thebarricades.html).
157 Laurie Ann Freeman, Closing the Shop: Information Cartels and Japan’s Mass Media, Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 63.
158 Jun Oguro, ‘Nihon no jānarizumu no konpon mondai wa nani ka?’ (What is
the Fundamental Problem of Japanese Journalism?), Sōtetsu Ri (Ed.), Nicchūkan no
sengo media-shi (The Post-war History of Japan, China and South Korea’s Media),
Tokyo: Fujiwara Shoten, 2012, p. 125.
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the «game of chicken» over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and the
renewed attention to the history issue unleashed, if not quite yet an arms
race, a Sino-Japanese «propaganda race». Japan’s tactics in that race were
characterized by its own set of discursive insecurities, by the creation of
new institutions preoccupied with the righteousness of Japan’s territorial
claims and with campaigns against China. These developments resulted in a budding «governmental-institutional-media complex» that had
slowly hardened Japan’s discourses over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and
crystallized around a China obsession. It remains to be seen whether that
complex can be disentangled or disbanded following an eventual SinoJapanese détente. In the author’s view, this complex maze of initiatives
and institutions may obstruct the restoration of serious political trust or,
at the very least, the resumption of a meaningful «Sino-Japanese Strategic,
Mutually Beneficial Relationship».
5. The Road to the APEC Summit and the Sino-Japanese «Cold Peace»
As highlighted above, the Sino-Japanese standoff rose to new heights
in the year under review. Quiet but steady escalation in the diplomatic,
economic and communication arenas was paralleled by dangerously close
encounters between the two countries’ military and constabulary forces.
For instance, Chinese fighter jets flew within tens of meters of Japanese
surveillance planes in the East China Sea twice in mid-2014.159 Hardened
popular animosity and the lack of a crisis communication mechanism, such
as a bilateral hotline, amplified the risks that possible casualties might have
led to serious confrontation. In addition, the standoff impacted on both
the Japanese and Chinese economies: notwithstanding monetary easing
and generous fiscal stimuli, a meager 3% increase of the consumption tax
plunged Japan into a technical recession in the last two quarters of 2014.
The resumption of a working relationship with China would have certainly
favored Japanese exporters and multinationals. On the other side, Japanese investment to China shrank from $ 13.5 billion dollars in 2012 to $ 9
billion dollars in 2014. According to JETRO statistics, the final figure for
2014 investment would have entailed a further decrease of 40% from the
previous year,160 at a time of Chinese economic distress. For these reasons,
the two governments sought ways to curtail further negative spillover effects and a possibly explosive incident in the high seas, leading to a set of
joint, parallel statements and a frosty handshake between Abe and Xi on
the fringes of the November APEC summit.
‘Japan Lodges ‘Strong’ Protest on China Fighter Jet Incident’, Bloomberg News,
12 June 2014.
160 Japan External Trade Organization, Japanese Trade and Investment Statistics
(http://www.jetro.go.jp/en/reports/statistics).
159 93
Giulio Pugliese
Quiet diplomacy paved the way for a compromise solution that saved
face for both Abe and Xi. Two meetings, in particular, highlighted both
governments’ efforts. The Chinese side communicated its willingness to
halt the simmering escalation with Xi’s dispatch in April 2014 of Hu Deping, son of the former PRC’s former General Secretary of the Communist Party, Hu Yaobang, a leader known for holding views sympathetic to
Japan. The Japanese side responded in kind by sending the moderate
former Prime Minister, Fukuda Yasuo, who in 2008 oversaw the public announcement of the key China-Japan joint statement and the agreement in
principle on joint development of gas fields in the East China Sea. Later,
articles revealed that Abe’s diplomatic brain and head of the National
Security Council, Yachi Shōtarō also took part in meetings with CCP leaders, including the July meeting between Fukuda and Xi Jinping.161 Thus,
quiet Sino-Japanese diplomacy eventually paved the way to joint bilateral
statements.
For resuming political dialogue with Japan, China required Tokyo’s
recognition that a territorial dispute existed, and an assurance that Prime
Minister Abe would not make another visit to the Yasukuni Shrine.162 The
two statements were a masterpiece of diplomatic finesse aimed at saving the face of both governments, since they constituted a set of joint
parallel statements with different wording and nuances in the respective
languages (and English translations). Adam Liff ’s extensive and detailed
analysis of the wording of the statements reveals that major differences on
the most important issues persisted: most importantly, China would have
not stopped sending its forces to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and Japan
would have not backed down.163
I posit that only one of the two conditions spelled out by the Chinese
government was met: an understanding that Abe would not visit Yasukuni, possibly until the last days of his mandate. Employing as diplomatic
envoy the milder Fukuda, whose public image as a pro-China statesman
is untarnished, is evidence of such an agreement. In fact, Abe and Fukuda
reportedly do not see each-other on favorable terms at a personal level, as
evidenced by Fukuda’s antipathy for Abe’s maximalist stances on history
and security. By going the extra mile to reset Sino-Japanese relations, I
speculate that Fukuda should have received assurances from Abe that he
161 ‘Abe dispatched senior bureaucrat Yachi to Fukuda-Xi meet in Beijing’, Japan
Times, 12 October 2014; ‘Confidant of Xi met with Abe in Tokyo to smooth bilateral
relations’, Asahi Shinbun, 15 April 2014.
162 Demetri Sevastopulo and Tom Mitchell, ‘Xi and Abe hold landmark summit’,
Financial Times, 10 November 2014.
163 Adam P. Liff, ‘Principles Without Consensus: Setting the Record Straight on the
2014 Sino-Japanese Agreement to Improve Bilateral Relations’, Working Paper,
November 8 2014 (http:/www.adamphailliff.com/documents/Liff2014_PrinciplesWithoutConsensus.pdf), accessed on 16 January 2015.
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will not lose face vis-à-vis the Chinese counterpart as a result of a sudden
Abe pilgrimage to Yasukuni. In fact, Fukuda maintained and likely wanted to hold considerable ties with the continent, including chairmanship
of China’s Boao Forum. The presence of Abe’s diplomatic brain, National
Security Advisor Yachi Shōtarō, to the July meeting with Xi likely reassured the Chinese leadership that the message came from Abe. Again,
recent history between Japan and China aids the careful observer towards
these conclusions. Through the so-called 2005-2006 «Japan-China General Policy Dialogue» (Nicchū sōgō seisaku taiwa), Yachi and his counterparts were able to defuse the Yasukuni issue by reaching a compromise
solution, and, in exchange for what turned into a seven year-long quiet
Yasukuni moratorium by sitting Prime Ministers, Chinese leaders conceded a public appreciation of Japan’s post-war path as a pacifist state.
Interestingly, the wording of Xi’s statements during the informal bilateral
summit implied recognition of the above, «I hope that Japan will squarely
face the history issue and continue [emphasis added] to follow the path of a
peaceful nation».164 In other words, the two governments gave timid signs
of reciprocity over the history issue, which was the premise to the 2006
post-Yasukuni détente.165
That said, the Abe government partially won this round of the SinoChinese «game of chicken». In the author’s view a Yasukuni visit would
have been off limits in any case, given international condemnation in
2013 that included official U.S. «disappointment» (shitsubō) and because
of the upcoming anniversary of the end of World War II. In fact, a prime
ministerial visit to Yasukuni, at least around 2015, would seriously undermine Abe’s plans for a forward-oriented «Abe statement» (Abe danwa). The
lack of clear Japanese concessions on the disputed territories, and concomitant signs of China’s decision to pull back from rows with its neighbors, indicated that President Xi partly followed in the footsteps of the
Hu administration in the mid-2000s: it pursued a tactical decision to defuse confrontations in the face of a more ominous security environment,
evidence of which has been provided throughout this essay. The lack of
domestic political alternatives to the Abe administration – a conclusion
reached also by Chinese Japan watchers seven years earlier –166 convinced
For directing me to this important detail, I am indebted to Dr. Akihiro Magara,
Director of Asia Forum Japan’s Center for Politics and Economic Strategy. MOFA,
Japan-China Summit Meeting, November 10, 2014, (http://www.mofa.go.jp/a_o/c_
m1/cn/page4e_000151.html), accessed on 24 January 2015.
165 U.S. Embassy Beijing, ‘CONFIDENTIAL, China-Japan: Beijing Awaits Abe’s
Remarks Before Considering Summit Meeting’, Wikileaks, 15 September 2006,
(http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06BEIJING19661_a.html), accessed on 24
January 2015.
166 U.S. Embassy Beijing, ‘CONFIDENTIAL, Analyst Discusses Anti-Japanese Sentiment, Regional (sic) Integration With Chinese Scholars’, 10 May 2007, (http://www.
wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07BEIJING3107_a.html), accessed on 24 January 2015.
164 95
Giulio Pugliese
China of the need to compromise with its ever-more forceful neighbor. I
stress this factor over other concomitant aspects that were likely at play.
Certainly, after consolidating power within the CCP and the PLA President Xi enjoyed a freer hand for compromises on the international front,
not unlike Hu’s more confident overtures to Japan back in 2006.167 Yet,
the proxemics and frosty atmosphere of APEC’s only «informal» bilateral
summit, hinted at Xi’s concerns for playing down the event. After all,
Abe was the political leader Chinese officials had previously labelled as
persona non grata. At the same time, China’s apprehensive concern with
the Umbrella movement in Hong Kong, and the November vote of protest in local Taiwanese elections against the China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou
administration, fuelled Beijing’s quest for a «cold peace» with its powerful
neighbor. Abe and Yachi’s decision to go «all in» in their poker match with
China paid off with a summit, where Abe conceded little. The two governments decided to circumscribe the standoff, but it remains to be seen how
tenable will the budding «cold peace» be.
6. Conclusion
This essay has underlined the Abe administration’s idiosyncratic responses to the China challenge and the broader changes in the international structure. Abe’s quest for a strong Japan showed his recognition
of the precarious position of the country. Japan was caught between
the Scylla of a rising China and the Charybdis of a declining U.S.,
whose commitment to its ally’s security could not be taken for granted
indefinitely. Through an original historical reinterpretation of events
in the mid-2000s, this essay has made the claim that previous personal
interaction with Beijing informed the rationale of the policy stances of the
second Abe administration’s strategy vis-à-vis China. Abe learnt from his
previous government experience that he needed to focus on bread-andbutter issues to gain popular support at home, particularly given general
antipathy for his security agenda. This essay has highlighted how the firm
security agenda of Abe and Yachi –Japan’s equivalents of Nixon and Kissinger– premised not only on their worldview (the subject of last year’s
essay), but on earlier personal interaction with Beijing. Since Beijing’s
softened position in the mid-2000s was a result of Japan’s hardened
stance, the more sensitive issue of disputed national territory required
an ever more forceful reprise of earlier balancing strategies. Strong of its
new-found leverage, China steadily raised its already high bets this time
around.
Christopher R. Hughes, ‘Japan in the politics of Chinese leadership legitimacy:
recent developments in historical perspective’, Japan forum, Vol. 20, n. 2: pp. 245266.
167 96
Giappone
As a consequence, the bilateral standoff spilled over also into
the communication realm, with the Japanese government’s active
engagement of the counterpart in what I have labelled a Sino-Japanese
«propaganda dilemma»: acting on perceived weakness relative to the
counterpart’s international and domestic public opinion warfares, both
Chinese and Japanese governments upped the ante of negative campaigns and, in turn, fostered a vicious circle of mutually reinforcing antagonistic discourses. This section has pointed out the interplay between
the broader international undercurrents of power politics and the forceful
pro-activism of the Prime Minister’s office in promoting Japan’s domestic
and international communication activities. The progressive formation
of a Japanese domestic «governmental-institutional-media» complex,
another original claim of this essay, contributed to the diffusion of
negative narratives on Japan’s neighbor, also as an effect of growingly
rock-solid stances in the public discourse over the disputed Senkaku/
Diaoyu Islands.
The November Abe-Xi summit and set of statements hinted at China’s
somewhat softened stance vis-à-vis its prosperous, powerful and increasingly
assertive neighbor under Abe’s stable leadership. Thus, a strong sense of
déjà-vu permeated Abe’s China policy and Sino-Japanese interaction as
a whole. However, Chinese intrusions in the waters around the Senkaku/
Diaoyu Islands continued, and Tokyo continued to refuse to recognize the
existence of a dispute. While bilateral accusations toned down from the
early 2014 peak, public discourses were still heated at the time of writing.
Furthermore, the tenuous understanding over history and Yasukuni, which
facilitated the realization of the Xi-Abe summit, will be under stress in
2015. This will be the year of history, and among its many anniversaries, it
is worth remembering the 70th anniversary from the end of WWII, and the
120th anniversary, that is two full Chinese sexagenary cycles, from the end of
the first Sino-Japanese war, the war that de facto allowed Japan’s annexation
of the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Is a timid working agreement on
history possible, given the new «status quo» of turbulent Senkaku/Diaoyu
waters? In light of the afore-mentioned analyses, of the growing Japanese
ressentiment and of the mutually reinforcing Sino-Japanese «propaganda
wars», bilateral stability in this field can be successful only through reciprocity, timid signs of which were on display at the APEC summit. After all,
China likely understood that Abe’s popularity depended primarily on lack
of opposition and on his economic agenda, but also that reactive nationalistic ressentiment against China risked spilling over to the wider portions
of society, thus crystallizing enmity. For these reasons, the broader international and domestic political underpinnings, and the reactive nationalisms
underlying the history issue mandated active restraint and a temporary
moratorium on official displays of history-related tensions, waiting for timid
efforts at reconciliation in better times, once the dust had settled.
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***
L’articolo si concentra sull’evoluzione delle relazioni nippo-cinesi in merito alla
disputa territoriale delle isole Senkaku/Diaoyu, ripercorrendone la lenta escalation
diplomatica e verbale, quindi la gelida stretta di mano tra Abe e Xi al summit
APEC. L’articolo inoltre ascrive il raggiungimento di una tenue «pace fredda» con
Pechino alle strategie di Realpolitik perseguite dal Primo Ministro Abe Shinzō e
dalla sua «task force» di politica estera, nell’ambito della quale un ruolo di primo
piano è stato giocato da Yachi Shōtarō.
Sulla base di nuova evidenza documentale e di molteplici testimonianze
orali, si dimostra come i precedenti successi della Realpolitik di Tokyo nel
raggiungimento di un’autentica détente nel 2006 abbiano cementato l’ideologia
di stampo marcatamente realista di Abe e Yachi, confermandoli nella convinzione
che fosse necessario ammorbidire Pechino attraverso una decisa politica di potenza.
Il saggio ascrive ad Abe un ruolo di primo piano nel determinare le riforme di
sicurezza e le aperture diplomatiche del Giappone, pur se all’interno di una cornice
strutturale basata non solo sull’ascesa della potenza cinese, ma anche sul malcelato
incitamento di Washington affinché Tokyo ricoprisse un ruolo militare crescente.
Nel sottolineare l’inasprirsi dell’escalation verbale e propagandistica tra
Cina e Giappone, ben visibile nel corso del 2014, si formula la tesi che questa
possa essere letta come una «corsa alla propaganda», sostitutiva di una corsa
agli armamenti. Si è trattato di una corsa che il governo Abe ha dimostrato di
volere correre a perdifiato, con evidenti ricadute sul fronte interno. Sulla base delle
suddette analisi, si prende infine in considerazione la tenuta della «pace fredda»
sino-giapponese.
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Penisola coreana 2014:
«ombre» all’interno e «luci» all’esterno1
Marco Milani
Università di Cagliari
[email protected]
e
Barbara Onnis
Università di Cagliari
[email protected]
1. Premessa
Il 2014, che avrebbe dovuto rappresentare la definitiva consacrazione della presidente sudcoreana Park Geun-hye, si è invece rivelato come
uno spartiacque in negativo per la sua presidenza, complici alcuni disastri nazionali, fra cui la tragedia del traghetto Sewol. In seguito a questi
disastri emergevano in maniera ancora più clamorosa radicate pratiche
negative: corruzione, collusione tra privati e funzionari pubblici, scarso
funzionamento di alcuni meccanismi di controllo. Nel complesso, questi
avvenimenti hanno messo in evidenza le difficoltà di Park sia nella gestione delle emergenze e sia nella lotta contro la corruzione sommersa, con
conseguente calo dei consensi nell’opinione pubblica.
In Corea del nord, uno degli eventi chiave era invece rappresentato
dalle elezioni per l’assemblea suprema del popolo (ASP), le prime dopo la
successione fra Kim Jong-il e Kim Jong-un, utili per valutare gli assetti di
potere del regime nordcoreano. Inoltre, poiché sulle schede era presente
un solo candidato, tale appuntamento veniva utilizzato come una sorta di
«censimento» politico della popolazione, utile per verificarne l’ubicazione
esatta, ma soprattutto per testarne il livello di fedeltà al regime. Dal punto
di vista delle dinamiche di potere, si trattava del primo evento in cui si
sarebbe concretizzata la guida del nuovo leader, dopo le epurazioni degli anni precedenti. In realtà, non avevano luogo grossi cambiamenti nella
Marco Milani è autore dei paragrafi 2 e 3, mentre i paragrafi 1 e 4 sono di
Barbara Onnis
1 ∗
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Marco Milani e Barbara Onnis
composizione del parlamento. L’anziano Kim Yong-nam veniva confermato alla presidenza del Presidium – l’organo ristretto che fa le veci dell’assemblea quando essa non è in seduta – mentre Park Pong-ju manteneva la
carica di primo ministro. Alla guida del ministero degli Esteri veniva invece
nominato Ri Su-yong, ex ambasciatore in Svizzera durante gli anni in cui il
nuovo leader vi si trovava per motivi di studio. Ri, nel corso dell’anno, assumeva un rilievo sempre maggiore, grazie al grande attivismo diplomatico
che contrassegnava la politica estera del paese. Altrettanto interessante, per
quanto attiene alla ripartizione del potere a Pyongyang, era l’avanzamento
di altri due personaggi sotto la guida di Kim Jong-un, ovvero Choe Ryonghae e Hwang Pyong-so.
Relativamente alle relazioni intercoreane, dopo un parziale disgelo
contrassegnato dai ricongiungimenti familiari all’inizio dell’anno, esse si
assestavano, come di consueto, su un’altalena di alti e bassi, di aperture
clamorose (come la visita all’«ultimo minuto» di una delegazione composta dai più alti dignitari del regime nordcoreano a sud, in occasione della
cerimonia di chiusura degli Asian Games a Incheon) e rapidi irrigidimenti delle rispettive posizioni.
Sotto il profilo delle relazioni internazionali, a sud si consolidava una
linea di tendenza già avviata durante il primo anno di mandato di Park,
che vedeva una diplomazia molto attiva compensare in buona parte i rovesci sul fronte interno. Tra le varie visite ufficiali che vedevano impegnata
la presidente sudcoreana, tutte più o meno guidate da una matrice economica, di particolare rilevanza appariva quella effettuata in Asia centrale,
che contribuiva a rafforzare l’«iniziativa euroasiatica». Quest’ultima era
stata proposta dalla presidente nell’ottobre del 2013, nel discorso di apertura alla conferenza internazionale sulla cooperazione globale nell’era
dell’Eurasia, tenutasi a Seoul. Nel frattempo, continuava, e anzi sembrava
rafforzarsi, il sodalizio con Pechino, contrassegnato dalla «storica» visita
di Xi Jinping a Seoul, la quale, per la verità, contribuiva a fare emergere
anche alcuni limiti dell’alleanza; i rapporti con il Giappone, invece, per
quanto sempre molto tesi, vedevano qualche piccolo segnale di disgelo,
con grande sollievo di Washington, che alla fine dell’anno incassava una
grande «vittoria». Il 29 dicembre 2014, infatti, veniva siglato un accordo
per lo scambio di informazioni militari tra gli Stati Uniti e i suoi due
principali alleati asiatici: Giappone e Corea del sud. La firma giungeva
in un particolare momento di rinnovata tensione con la Corea del nord,
accusata dall’FBI di aver orchestrato gli attacchi hacker ai sistemi informatici della Sony Pictures, nel tentativo (inizialmente riuscito) di bloccare
l’uscita della commedia satirica sul leader nordcoreano, The Interview. Nel
corso dell’anno in esame, anche il Nord registrava un insolito attivismo
diplomatico che vedeva tra i suoi protagonisti, oltre al nuovo ministro
degli Esteri Ri Su-yong, anche il segretario per gli affari internazionali
del Partito dei lavoratori coreano (PLC), Kang Song-ju, e il presidente
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del Presidium del parlamento, Kim Yong-nam. Ri, a settembre, effettuava
una visita di 10 giorni in Europa, recandosi in Belgio, Svizzera, Germania
e Italia, mentre Kim, a fine ottobre, partiva per una missione in Africa,
visitando Etiopia, Sudan e Congo. Le motivazioni che contribuivano a
spiegare quella che alcuni osservatori hanno battezzato «offensiva dello
charm» o «offensiva della pace» erano sostanzialmente due: da un lato,
aprire una breccia nell’isolamento internazionale del paese, soprattutto
in un momento in cui si trovava nel mirino della comunità internazionale
a causa di un rapporto pubblicato nel mese di febbraio da una commissione di inchiesta dell’ONU che accusava il regime nordcoreano di gravi
violazioni dei diritti umani; dall’altro, rafforzare alleanze vecchie e nuove
al fine di controbilanciare l’inarrestabile deterioramento dei rapporti con
Pechino, che, nel corso del 2014, apparivano ridotti ai minimi termini.
Gli sforzi diplomatici di Pyongyang erano rivolti soprattutto verso il Sudest asiatico, la Russia e il Giappone.
Sul fronte dell’economia, il 2014 non presentava cambiamenti significativi rispetto all’anno precedente, a sud come a nord. Le previsioni di
crescita della Corea del sud, fissate dalla Banca di Corea nel corso del 2013
al 3,8%, risultavano perfettamente rispettate,2 confermando il paese nella rosa delle economie asiatiche più solide. Per quanto concerne la Corea
del nord, la maggior parte delle analisi confermavano l’esistenza di una
linea di tendenza positiva, in corso negli ultimi anni, sebbene l’inesorabile
deterioramento dei rapporti con Pechino portasse alcuni analisti a domandarsi se, e per quanto tempo, Pyongyang sarebbe riuscita a sopravvivere.
Il dubbio nasceva in relazione ai dati forniti da un gruppo di esperti della
penisola coreana del Peterson Institute for International Economics e poi
assemblati dalla CNBC, secondo cui il 90% degli interscambi commerciali
di Pyongyang avveniva con soli tre paesi – Cina popolare, Corea del sud e
Russia – e dove la parte del leone era giocata naturalmente da Pechino.3
2. Politica interna
2.1. La politica interna sudcoreana: l’anno delle tragedie nazionali
Come si è visto nel precedente volume di Asia Maior, nel corso del
2013 i buoni risultati nel comparto economico e la gestione attiva ed intraprendente della politica estera da parte della presidente Park avevano
contribuito a garantirle un tasso di approvazione molto elevato presso
2 South Korea’s economic growth picks up in Third Quarter, ‘The Wall Street Journal’,
23 ottobre 2014 (http://www.wsj.com).
3 Can North Korea’s Economy Endure China’s Slowdown?, ‘The Diplomat’, 13 giugno
2014 (http://thediplomat.com/2014/06/can-north-koreas-economy-endure-chinasslowdown); This chart shows how North Korea gets away with such bad behavior, ‘Vox’, 17
dicembre 2014 (http://www.vox.com/2014/12/1/7214579/north-korea-trade-china).
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l’opinione pubblica. Dopo un inizio di mandato difficile, a causa di alcune
controverse nomine ministeriali, nel corso dell’estate del 2013 il tasso di
approvazione aveva superato il 60%, per poi assestarsi ad oltre il 50% durante tutto l’autunno, fino agli ultimi giorni dell’anno.4 Anche la gestione
delle tensioni con la Corea del nord, che avevano caratterizzato tutta la
prima parte del 2013, aveva avuto l’approvazione dell’opinione pubblica
sudcoreana. Seppure considerate all’inizio deboli e reattive, le iniziative
messe in campo dalla presidenza per la riapertura del parco industriale
di Kaesong e per i nuovi ricongiungimenti familiari avevano fatto salire
la popolarità della presidente Park fino a risultati quasi mai raggiunti dai
suoi predecessori.
Il 2014 si apriva, dunque, sotto i migliori auspici da questo punto di
vista. In occasione del primo anniversario dall’inizio del mandato ufficiale, il 25 febbraio, un sondaggio realizzato da «Gallup Korea» stabiliva,
infatti, il tasso di approvazione per la presidente Park al 56%, mentre
un’analoga ricerca, commissionata dal quotidiano «Hankook Ilbo», portava addirittura il dato al 61,6%.5 Anche in questo caso le principali motivazioni date dagli intervistati per spiegare la propria approvazione facevano
riferimento alla buona gestione dell’economia e della politica estera, in
particolare nel caso dei rapporti con Pyongyang e di quelli con Tokyo
(in quest’ultimo caso, veniva approvata la fermezza dimostrata verso le
velleità revisioniste del Giappone di Abe Shinzō. A questa valutazione positiva dell’operato di Park aveva anche contribuito, con ogni probabilità,
l’incapacità, dimostrata dai principali partiti di opposizione durante tutto
l’arco del 2013, di creare una vera alternativa politica, ciò che aveva contribuito al rafforzamento della posizione del governo in carica.6
In realtà, il 2014 è destinato, con ogni probabilità, ad essere ricordato
in Corea del sud come l’anno delle tragedie nazionali. Infatti, nel corso
dell’anno si è susseguita una serie di incidenti e di sciagure che hanno
messo a dura prova la capacità di resistenza della popolazione sudcoreana
e hanno minato in maniera cruciale il cammino, fino a quel momento
coronato da successo, della presidente Park.
Sebbene la tragedia più grave e significativa, sia per quanto riguarda
il numero di vittime sia per le conseguenza che ha avuto sulla vita politica
e sociale della nazione, fosse costituita dal naufragio e dal successivo affondamento del traghetto Sewol, quest’ultimo non era però stato il primo
incidente a colpire il paese nell’anno sotto esame. Il 17 febbraio, infatti,
4 Park’s Approval Ratings Settle in Mid-50% Range, ‘The Chosun Ilbo’, 19 dicembre
2013 (http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2013/12/19/2013121901514).
5 Sondaggi riportati in: The reasons behind Pres. Park’s strong approval rating, ‘Hankyoreh’, 25 febbraio 2014
(http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/625721.html).
6 Marco Milani e Barbara Onnis, La penisola coreana: tra «facce nuove» ed un continuo
déjà vu, ‘Asia Maior 2013’, pp. 377-378.
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il tetto di un auditorium, che ospitava un evento di orientamento per le
matricole della Busan University of Foreign Studies, a Gyeongju, crollava, uccidendo dieci persone e ferendone oltre un centinaio.7 La causa
principale veniva, in seguito, identificata nelle forti nevicate che avevano
sottoposto la struttura a un carico straordinario nei giorni precedenti. Ciò
nonostante, le indagini successive mostravano come, oltre alle cause naturali, avessero giocato un ruolo l’errore umano, in particolare, l’indifferenza e il mancato rispetto delle norme di sicurezza. Il tetto dell’auditorium
non era stato ripulito dall’abbondante neve caduta in precedenza; vi era
una sola uscita di sicurezza, presa d’assalto dagli studenti in fuga subito
dopo il crollo; inoltre non erano stati effettuati controlli di sicurezza sulla
struttura dal 2009.8 Questa miscela di eventi naturali, incuria e mancato
rispetto delle regole era alla base del crollo e della morte di nove studenti
e di un dipendente della struttura. La stessa concomitanza di cause doveva poi essere alla base del più grave incidente avvenuto nel paese negli
ultimi 44 anni: l’affondamento del Sewol.
La mattina di mercoledì 16 aprile 2014, il traghetto MV Sewol, di
proprietà della compagnia di navigazione Chonghaejin Marine, naufragava e affondava, dopo essersi capovolto, a largo dell’isola sudcoreana
di Byeongpungdo. Il traghetto, operante la tratta fra il porto di Incheon
e l’isola di Jeju, trasportava a bordo 476 persone, la maggioranza delle
quali studenti della scuola superiore Danwon della città di Ansan, situata nell’immediata periferia della capitale Seoul. Nell’incidente morivano
304 persone, fra cui moltissimi studenti in gita scolastica.
La causa principale del naufragio, secondo il rapporto della guardia
costiera sudcoreana, rilasciato il giorno successivo, andava ricercata in
una manovra ordinata fra le 8,48 e le 8,49 dal terzo ufficiale in comando,
la giovane Park Han-gyeol. Il rapido cambio di direzione aveva reso ingovernabile il traghetto soprattutto a causa dell’eccessivo carico a bordo e
dell’incuria con cui era stato sistemato. Il Sewol trasportava, infatti, 3.608
tonnellate di carico, a fronte del limite di 987.9
Fin da subito appariva chiaro come questa tragedia avrebbe segnato in
maniera indelebile il panorama politico e sociale del paese. La presenza a
bordo di un gran numero di giovani studenti, e la loro preponderanza fra le
vittime, aveva reso ancora più tragico il bilancio finale dell’incidente. Infatti,
in una società con crescenti problemi demografici, caratterizzata da nuclei
familiari con un unico figlio e in cui tutte le risorse e le energie della famiglia
venivano indirizzate verso la massima realizzazione delle nuove generazioni,
7 South Korea: At Least 10 Die as Resort’s Roof Collapses, ‘The New York Times’, 17
febbraio 2014 (http://www.nytimes.com).
8 Heavy snow, human error cause fatal cave-in, ‘The Korea Times’, 18 febbraio 2014
(http://koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2014/02/113_151869.html).
9 Charlie Campbell, Reports: The South Korean Ferry Sank Because It Was Dangerously
Overloaded, ‘Time’, 2 maggio 2014.
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l’impatto di tale evento aveva un carattere dirompente. A rendere la situazione ancora più tragica e tesa contribuiva l’enorme quantità di messaggi che i
passeggeri, in particolare gli studenti a bordo del traghetto, erano riusciti ad
inviare alle proprie famiglie durante quasi tutto il naufragio. Alcuni struggenti messaggi venivano ampiamente ripresi tanto dalla stampa sudcoreana
quanto da quella internazionale, contribuendo così ad aumentare l’empatia
per le vittime e lo sdegno per i responsabili, oltre che a gettare nuova luce
sulle discutibili procedure di emergenza a bordo dell’imbarcazione.10
Il primo esempio arrivava solo due giorni dopo la tragedia, quando
il vicepreside della scuola Danwon, uno degli accompagnatori salvato dai
soccorritori, si suicidava a pochi passi dalla palestra di Jindo, la città portuale presso cui erano stati portati i superstiti e si erano raccolti i parenti
delle vittime e dei dispersi.11
Le gravi e diffuse responsabilità umane nell’accaduto venivano riscontrate fin da subito e scatenavano la rabbia e l’indignazione non solo dei
parenti delle vittime, ma anche di larga parte dell’opinione pubblica del
paese. Il comportamento del capitano del traghetto Lee Jun-seok, assente dalla plancia di comando nel momento dell’incidente e fra i primi a
mettersi in salvo, veniva considerato criminale. La situazione si aggravava
ancor di più non appena appariva chiaro come l’equipaggio del Sewol
avesse comunicato ai passeggeri di non agitarsi e rimanere fermi ai propri
posti. Secondo molti superstiti, infatti, ci sarebbe stato tempo sufficiente
per evacuare la nave in maniera più rapida e completa, se fossero tempestivamente state date le informazioni corrette e se la situazione critica fosse stata gestita in maniera più responsabile dai membri dell’equipaggio.
Un’ulteriore fonte di durissime critiche era costituita dalla gestione
dei soccorsi in mare e dal ruolo del governo e delle sue diverse emanazioni. Durante il rovesciamento della nave e nei momenti seguenti, gli
annunci del governo sembravano testimoniare la mancanza di capacità di
gestione della crisi, con resoconti inaccurati che cambiavano di minuto in
minuto, tanto che, durante la mattinata, veniva diffusa la notizia, rapidamente smentita dai fatti, che tutti gli studenti erano stati tratti in salvo.12
Inoltre, l’intervento della guardia costiera sudcoreana, così come il suo
ruolo nelle comunicazioni radio durante i minuti immediatamente successivi al naufragio, ne dimostravano in maniera chiara l’inadeguatezza
nella gestione di situazione di così grave emergenza.13
10 South Korea ferry: Messages from a sinking ship, ‘BBC News Asia’, 17 aprile 2014
(http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27045924).
11 Vice-principal of South Korea school in ferry disaster commits suicide, ‘Reuters’, 18
aprile 2014 (http://www.reuters.com).
12 Yu Sung-hae, 세월호 ‘학생 전원 구조’ 최초 오보는 MBC... 왜? [MV Sewol «All Students Rescued’ First Misreport made by MBC»... Why?], ‘OhmyNews’, 21 maggio 2014
(http://www.ohmynews.com/NWS_Web/View/at_pg.aspx?CNTN_CD=A0001994002).
13 Choe Sang-hun, Errors Mounted as Chaos Ruled Capsizing Ferry, ‘The New York
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Penisola coreana
Infine, con il passare dei giorni appariva evidente il ruolo svolto nella tragedia dalla compagnia di navigazione proprietaria del traghetto,
la Chonghaejin Marine, e dalle pratiche di collusione e di corruzione
esistenti fra tali società private e gli organi statali deputati al controllo
delle regole. Come detto in precedenza, infatti, nonostante che il carico sopportato dal traghetto fosse di oltre tre volte superiore il massimo
di sicurezza previsto e nonostante che fossero state apportate modifiche
strutturali alla nave – quali ad esempio l’aggiunta di ulteriori cabine – il
certificato di sicurezza era stato comunque rilasciato dall’autorità competente.14 Il disastro portava sotto i riflettori le mancanze del sistema sudcoreano di regolamentazione dell’attività marittima, lasciato al controllo
della Korean Shipping Association e del Korean Register of Shipping,
entrambi supervisionati dalla guardia costiera. La mancata o imperfetta
comunicazione fra questa molteplicità di enti aveva fatto sì che non venissero effettuati i dovuti controlli sui traghetti della Chonghaejin Marine,
fra i quali il Sewol, che viaggiavano regolarmente con carichi eccessivi e
stivati in maniera approssimativa.15
Anche in questo caso, quindi, come già accaduto con il crollo del tetto
dell’auditorium di Gyeongju, la scarsa capacità di controllo delle agenzie
governative, unita all’incuria dimostrata dai proprietari delle strutture, era
stata la causa della tragedia. L’incidente del Sewol, però, a causa della portata del disastro, non poteva non avere conseguenze politiche importanti.
La rabbia dei familiari delle vittime si era scagliata fin da subito sia
contro i diretti responsabili – il comandante e gli ufficiali al comando del
traghetto e i proprietari della compagnia di navigazione – sia contro il
governo, considerato corresponsabile per la mancata opera di controllo
e per la lentezza nei soccorsi. Il 27 aprile il primo ministro Chung Hongwon, aspramente criticato durante una sua precedente visita al centro di
accoglienza e soccorso di Jindo,16 si assumeva la responsabilità dei fallimenti del governo e presentava le proprie dimissioni alla presidente
Park.17 La stessa presidente, però, non era stata risparmiata dalla dura
contestazione dei familiari delle vittime. In particolare, veniva attaccata
la mancata presenza di Park Geun-hye nei momenti più acuti della crisi,
così come la sua mancanza di leadership e di guida del governo del paese.
Park, in definitiva, riceveva le medesime critiche che le erano state rivolte
Times’, 20 aprile 2014 (http://www.nytimes.com).
14 Nam In-soo, South Korea Ferry Probe: Cargo Was Three Times Recommended Maximum, ‘The Wall Street Journal’, 23 aprile 2014 (http://www.wsj.com).
15 Choe Sang-hun, 4 Employed by Operator of Doomed South Korean Ferry Are Arrested,
‘The New York Times’, 6 maggio 2014 (http://www.nytimes.com).
16 Prime Minister berated by families of Sewol victims, ‘The Korea Herald’, 18 aprile
2014 (http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20140417000784).
17 South Korea prime minister resigns over ferry disaster response, ‘CNN’, 27 aprile 2014
(http://http://edition.cnn.com).
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Marco Milani e Barbara Onnis
durante i passaggi più spinosi della crisi con la Corea del nord nel corso
della primavera del 2013.18 Soltanto il 29 aprile 2014 la Park offriva le
proprie scuse al popolo coreano per il disastro del Sewol. Si trattava di
un atto formale considerato di grande rilevanza per l’opinione pubblica
sudcoreana, che, però, era fatto dalla presidente in maniera indiretta,
parlando dell’«avidità» come una delle cause del disastro e promettendo
cambiamenti radicali, per evitare il verificarsi di tragedie simili in futuro.19 A distanza di pochi giorni, però, un reportage della KBS – Korean
Broadcasting System, la piattaforma televisiva pubblica sudcoreana con
una forte influenza governativa – in cui si definiva il numero di vittime
del naufragio come: «non molte, rispetto al numero di persone uccise
dagli incidenti stradali ogni anno» – scatenava nuove proteste contro la
sede della televisione nazionale e il palazzo presidenziale.20 Per cercare
di porre nuovamente un freno alla tensione sociale, la presidente Park
decideva quindi di offrire nuovamente le sue scuse ufficiali, questa volta
in maniera diretta alla popolazione, assumendosi la responsabilità finale
del disastro e promettendo nuove misure, fra cui lo smantellamento della
guardia costiera, così come era esistita fino a quel momento.21
Il naufragio del Sewol rappresentava la prima vera sfida affrontata da
Park Geun-hye dal punto di vista della politica interna, dato che la presidente non era stata direttamente toccata dai vari scandali che, nel corso
del 2013, avevano coinvolto i servizi segreti nazionali (NIS – National Intelligence Service). Da questa ardua prova la presidente uscita decisamente
indebolita. I ritardi, gli errori e le responsabilità governative avevano intaccato fortemente la sua popolarità, facendo crollare l’indice di approvazione presso l’opinione pubblica.22 Anche i tentativi di recuperare il
terreno perduto, compiuti durante i mesi di maggio e di giugno, non arrivavano ad ottenere i risultati sperati. Il piano per sciogliere il corpo della
guardia costiera si bloccava all’assemblea nazionale, mentre la nomina del
nuovo primo ministro incontrava numerosi ostacoli. Il candidato individuato da Park Geun-hye, l’ex procuratore e giudice della corte suprema
Ahn Dae-hee, veniva attaccato a causa degli elevatissimi guadagni ottenuti dal suo studio legale in un lasso di tempo estremamente breve. Sebbene
non vi fosse alcuna prova di corruzione, le indiscrezioni sulla possibilità
18 Milani e Onnis, La penisola coreana: tra «facce nuove» ed un continuo déjà vu cit.,
pp. 385-386.
19 President’s apology, ‘The Korea Times’, 29 aprile 2014
(http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2014/04/202_156357.html).
20 KBS Sewol was staged, reporters admit, ‘The Korea Times’, 8 maggio 2014
(http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2014/05/113_156833.html).
21 Choe Sang-hun, South Korea to Disband Coast Guard, Leader Vows, ‘The New York
Times’, 18 maggio 2014 (http://www.nytimes.com).
22 A. Gale, South Koreans’ Confidence in Presidency Falls Further, ‘The Wall Street
Journal’, 25 luglio 2014 (http://www.wsj.com).
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Penisola coreana
che Ahn avesse violato norme etiche – se non legali – si facevano sempre
più insistenti. All’indomani dell’incidente del Sewol, in cui la connivenza
e la corruzione di organi governativi era stata individuata come una delle concause, e con un primo ministro dimissionario proprio in ragione
di tale tragedia, un candidato attorno al quale si stessero addensando
ombre di questo genere non poteva più essere preso in considerazione.
Per questi motivi, il 28 maggio 2014 Ahn decideva di ritirare la propria
candidatura, infliggendo un duro colpo alla credibilità sia del governo
sia, in particolare, della presidente, la quale aveva personalmente scelto e
difeso l’ex giudice della corte suprema.23 In questa situazione, dopo quasi
un mese di stallo, veniva deciso di non accettare le dimissioni di Chung,
riconfermandolo nella carica di primo ministro.
Sfortunatamente per la presidente Park, e per tutto il paese, il crollo
del tetto dell’auditorium di Gyeongju e il naufragio del Sewol non erano
destinati a rimanere gli unici gravi incidenti per il paese nell’anno sotto
esame. All’inizio di maggio, infatti, due treni della metropolitana di Seoul
si scontravano, causando diversi feriti; a metà luglio un elicottero, impegnato nelle operazioni di recupero dei corpi all’interno del traghetto
affondato, precipitava nella città di Kwangju, causando cinque morti; durante l’estate diversi casi di omicidio coinvolgevano l’esercito (un soldato
uccideva cinque suoi commilitoni sul confine con la Corea del nord; un
militare di leva subiva un pestaggio mortale da parte di commilitoni più
anziani; due soldati perdevano la vita durante un’esercitazione); infine,
il 18 ottobre, 16 persone rimanevano uccise durante un concerto pop a
causa del crollo di una grata di ventilazione. L’eco di questi eventi veniva sicuramente amplificata dal trauma collettivo nazionale causato dalla
morte delle oltre 300 persone vittime del naufragio del Sewol; ma non vi
è dubbio che molti di questi casi dimostrassero come settori deviati (come
nel caso dell’esercito) o corrotti dell’apparato governativo condividessero
parte della responsabilità per la morte di propri concittadini. L’etichetta
per la Corea del sud di «Repubblica dei disastri» o «Repubblica degli incidenti» iniziava a diffondersi su internet, in un misto di rabbia e d’indignazione verso un apparato statale che non veniva considerato all’altezza
nella difesa dei propri cittadini e indegno di fiducia.24
La corruzione delle strutture statali, ma ancor di più la collusione
fra pubblico e privato, rappresentavano un problema di lunga data nel
paese. Il processo di industrializzazione dall’alto, concepito dal regime
autoritario di Park Chung-hee negli anni Sessanta, comportava, infatti,
un legame a doppio filo fra stato, imprese private e banche. La crescita
esponenziale delle dimensioni dei conglomerati industriali (chaebol) aveva
23 Prime minister nominee withdraws, ‘Korea JongAng Daily’, 29 maggio 2014 (http://
koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=2989856).
24 Lee Kyung-min, Korea – Republic of accidents, ‘The Korea Times’, 19 ottobre 2014
(http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2014/10/116_166576.html).
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Marco Milani e Barbara Onnis
però creato una situazione in cui, anche dopo l’avvento della democrazia nel 1987, il potere di influenza del privato sulle istituzioni pubbliche
risultava ancora fortissimo. Diversi presidenti – a partire da Kim Youngsam, con la cosiddetta «legge sul nome reale»,25 per giungere alle riforme
di Kim Dae-jung e di Roh Moo-hyun – avevano cercato di regolamentare
le relazioni fra questi due mondi, tentando di rendere più credibili e più
affidabili soprattutto le agenzie pubbliche di controllo. In realtà, come
dimostrato dalle tragedie nazionali del 2014, i risultati pratici erano ancora scarsi e la questione era ancora molto sentita dall’opinione pubblica
nazionale, tanto da diventare uno dei cavalli di battaglia del movimento
di opposizione formato nel 2012 da Ahn Cheol-soo.
Dal punto di vista socio-politico, nelle ultime settimane del 2014 aveva luogo un ulteriore episodio, emblematico delle difficoltà vissute dal paese. Dopo che il leader del PPU (Partito Progressista Unificato,un partito
di sinistra), il parlamentare Lee Seok-ki, era stato condannato per tradimento e rimosso dal suo incarico il 18 febbraio, nelle ultime settimane di
dicembre la corte costituzionale sudcoreana si pronunciava a favore della definitiva dissoluzione del partito e della rimozione dei cinque parlamentari rimasti all’assemblea nazionale.26 Come riportato nel precedente
volume di Asia Maior, il PPU era stato accusato di complotto contro la
sicurezza dello Stato e di attività di sostegno alla Corea del nord.27 Le condanne definitive del leader e del partito, entrambe emesse sulla base della
legge di sicurezza nazionale, retaggio del periodo autoritario, suscitavano
scalpore, soprattutto all’estero, e gettavano un’ombra sul consolidamento
democratico del paese.
2.2. La politica interna nordcoreana: i nuovi assetti di potere nell’era di Kim
Jong-un
Se il 2013 aveva rappresentato l’anno del cambiamento ai vertici delle
strutture di potere del regime nordcoreano, il 2014 vedeva i personaggi
appartenenti alla cerchia più ristretta del nuovo leader imporsi a capo dei
principali organi decisionali. Dopo l’affermazione alla guida del paese,
Kim Jong-un aveva avuto la necessità di consolidare il proprio potere,
25 La «legge sul nome reale» veniva approvata nel 1993 dal governo di Kim
Young-sam per porre fine alla pratica, molto diffusa in Corea del sud, di effettuare
transazioni finanziarie anonime o sotto falso nome per evadere il fisco e riciclare
denaro sporco o derivante dalla corruzione; per ulteriori approfondimenti si veda:
Lee Jongsoo, The Real Name Financial System and the Politics of Economic Reform in the
Republic of Korea, ‘Pacific Focus’, 10, 1, 1995, pp. 101-128.
26 South Korea court orders breakup of left-wing party, ‘Reuters’ 18 dicembre 2014
(http://www.reuters.com).
27 Milani e Onnis, La penisola coreana: tra «facce nuove» ed un continuo déjà vu cit.,
pp. 377-378.
108
Penisola coreana
tanto dal punto di vista interno quanto da quello internazionale. L’epurazione pubblica e plateale dello zio Chang Song-thaek, considerato da
molti come il numero due del regime, ed eminenza grigia del giovane
leader, avvenuta nel dicembre 2013, aveva concluso un periodo, durato
quasi due anni, in cui molti personaggi legati alla leadership precedente
erano stati esautorati.28
Il primo evento chiave del 2014, per valutare gli assetti di potere del
regime di Pyongyang, era rappresentato dalle elezioni per l’assemblea suprema del popolo, il parlamento nordcoreano, tenutesi il 9 marzo, le prime dopo l’ascesa al potere di Kim Jong-un. Vista la presenza di un solo
candidato nelle schede elettorali, tale appuntamento aveva essenzialmente
due valenze. La prima era data dal fatto che esso rappresentava una sorta
di «censimento» politico della popolazione, utile a stabilirne l’ubicazione
esatta, oltre che il livello di fedeltà al regime.29 La seconda, riconducibile al
fatto che è la leadership a decidere chi viene nominato in ogni collegio, era
che l’appuntamento elettorale avrebbe dato un’indicazione sul modo in cui,
dopo le epurazioni degli anni precedenti, si sarebbe mosso Kim Jong-un.
In realtà, non avevano luogo grossi cambiamenti nella composizione dell’assemblea nordcoreana. L’anziano Kim Yong-nam manteneva la
presidenza del presidium – l’organo ristretto che fa le veci dell’assemblea
quando essa non è in seduta – mentre Park Pong-ju manteneva la carica
di primo ministro. Fra le poche novità degne di nota vi era la nomina
di Ri Su-yong alla guida del ministero degli Esteri. Nel corso dell’anno,
come diremo più avanti, Ri Su-yong, ex ambasciatore in Svizzera durante
gli anni in cui il nuovo leader vi si trovava per motivi di studio, avrebbe
giocato un ruolo di sempre maggior rilievo nei rapporti internazionali.30
La questione sicuramente più spinosa, per ciò che concerne la ripartizione del potere a Pyongyang, era costituita dalle traiettorie politiche in
ascesa di due favoriti di Kim Jong-un: Choe Ryong-hae e Hwang Pyong-so.
Al termine della prima sessione dell’assemblea, tenutasi ad aprile, Choe era
emerso come nuovo vice presidente della potente commissione di difesa nazionale. Poche settimane dopo Choe perdeva però l’importantissima carica
di direttore dell’ufficio politico generale dell’esercito (Korean People’s Army),
a favore del nuovo «astro nascente» dell’organigramma di potere nordcoreChang Song-thaek, marito di Kim Kyong-hui, sorella di Kim Jong-il, era stato
accusato nel dicembre del 2013 di attività controrivoluzionarie ed anti-partitiche,
fra cui corruzione e appropriazione indebita, e giustiziato il 13 dicembre 2013,
in seguito alla sentenza di condanna da parte di un tribunale militare speciale. Si
veda: Milani e Onnis, La penisola coreana: tra «facce nuove» ed un continuo déjà vu cit.,
pp. 378-381.
29 Choe Sang-hun, North Korea uses election to reshape parliament, ‘The New York
Times’, 9 marzo 2014 (http://www.nytimes.com).
30 M. Madden, DPRK political season: two post mortems, ‘38north’, 23 aprile 2014
(http://38north.org/2014/04/mmadden042314).
28 109
Marco Milani e Barbara Onnis
ano, Hwang Pyong-so.31 Dopo l’epurazione di Chang, si era pensato dapprima che il suo ruolo come numero due del regime sarebbe stato ricoperto
da Choe, salvo poi riconsiderare la valutazione a causa della rapidissima
ascesa di Hwang. Durante i primi mesi del 2014, infatti, quest’ultimo era
stato visto sempre più di frequente fra gli accompagnatori del leader nelle
sue diverse apparizioni pubbliche. Questo era un segnale importante, in
base alla teoria secondo cui, in Corea del nord, più si è vicini al leader e
più si stanno scalando posizioni nella gerarchia. Durante il mese di aprile,
Hwang veniva nominato prima vice-maresciallo dell’esercito – un’altissima
carica, superiore a quella di generale a quattro stelle – e, poco dopo, capo
dell’ufficio politico dell’esercito. L’ascesa di Hwang era quindi rapidissima,
se si considera che la sua carica precedente era quella di vice direttore del
dipartimento per l’organizzazione e per la guida del partito e che era stato
nominato generale a quattro stelle solo nel mese di marzo. Al termine della
seconda sessione dell’assemblea, tenutasi a settembre, Hwang veniva nominato vice presidente della potentissima commissione nazionale di difesa,
completando così il suo percorso in sostituzione di Choe.32
Nonostante che l’ascesa di Hwang sia da considerare rapidissima e
apparentemente inarrestabile, la sua peculiarità sta nel fatto che essa sia
stata accompagnata dal mantenimento di un ruolo di rilievo per Choe.
La caduta dai piani alti in Corea del nord risulta solitamente molto dolorosa e con scarsissime possibilità di reinserimento. In realtà, però, Choe,
per quanto non più il numero due del regime, manteneva alcune cariche
ufficiali, seppur di minor rilevanza, quali quella di presidente della commissione statale per l’educazione fisica e per lo sport e quella di membro
del politburo del partito. Inoltre, agli inizi di ottobre, Choe veniva incluso
nella delegazione inviata alla cerimonia di chiusura degli Asian Games in
Corea del sud e, successivamente, veniva inviato in Russia come rappresentante di Kim Jong-un.33
Tutti questi movimenti all’interno delle gerarchie del potere nordcoreano assumevano ancora maggior rilievo quando, subito dopo l’estate, iniziavano a girare voci insistenti su presunti problemi di salute di Kim Jong-un
o, addirittura, sulla possibilità che fosse stato messo da parte da alcuni alti
esponenti delle gerarchie politico-militare. Il giovane leader, infatti, aveva
fin da subito deciso di costruire un rapporto più diretto con la popolazione – a differenza di quanto fatto dal padre, ma in linea con la personalità
politica del nonno – attraverso frequenti apparizioni e discorsi pubblici.
M. Madden, The fall of Choe Ryong-hae, ‘38north’, 2 maggio 2014
(http://38north.org/2014/05/mmadden050214).
32 Hwang Pyong So elected vice chairman of DPRK top military body, ‘Yonhap News
Agency’, 28 marzo 2014 (english.yonhap.co.kr).
33 Choe Ryong-hae Is North Korea’s Number 2… Again, ‘The Diplomat’, 15 novembre
2014 (http://thediplomat.com/2014/11/choe-ryong-hae-is-north-koreas-number-2again).
31 110
Penisola coreana
Durante il mese di settembre, però, non era stato visto a nessun evento
pubblico per diverse settimane, alimentando così le speculazioni riguardo al suo stato di salute e alla sua presa sull’establishment nordcoreano.
In realtà, tali voci si rivelavano esagerate ed erano presto smentite prima
dall’ammissione ufficiale di lievi problemi di salute del leader, attraverso
una televisione di stato, e in seguito dal suo ritorno alla partecipazione agli
eventi pubblici, seppur all’inizio con l’aiuto di un bastone.34
Un’ulteriore figura emergente nel panorama di potere nordcoreano,
potenzialmente di grande rilevanza grazie alla sua appartenenza familiare, era costituita dalla sorella di Kim Jong-un, Kim Yo-jong. La giovane
figlia di Kim Jong-il aveva iniziato ad apparire a fianco del fratello nelle
occasioni ufficiali già negli anni precedenti; nel marzo del 2014 veniva
per la prima volta menzionata ufficialmente dalla televisione di stato, durante le operazioni di voto per l’assemblea del popolo, e identificata come
alto funzionario del partito. Durante il periodo di degenza del fratello,
nel mese di settembre, si intensificavano le voci, non confermate, di una
sua possibile presa in carico di alcune funzioni centrali fino al ritorno
di Kim Jong-un. La sua più recente investitura risaliva alla fine di novembre, quando veniva indicata dai media di stato come il vice direttore
del dipartimento della propaganda del partito35. Al di là delle possibili
speculazioni sul ruolo della giovane Kim Yo-jong nella gerarchia nordcoreana, resta il fatto che l’appartenenza alla famiglia Kim rappresenta una
caratteristica di fondamentale importanza per un regime che può essere
definito etno-nazionalista come quello di Pyongyang.36
3. Le relazioni intercoreane
3.1. La consueta dinamica di apertura-chiusura
Se il 2013 si era caratterizzato, fin dall’inizio, per le forti tensioni fra
le due Coree, tensioni poi proseguite per tutta la primavera, il 2014 si
apriva invece sotto auspici decisamente migliori. Dopo aver risolto l’impasse sul parco industriale congiunto di Kaesong e dopo aver iniziato a
discutere sulla possibilità di nuovi ricongiungimenti familiari, fin dai primi discorsi ufficiali dei leader dei due paesi appariva chiaro come vi fosse
una volontà comune di dialogo e di passi avanti verso la riconciliazione.
Il discorso del nuovo anno di Kim Jong-un faceva esplicito riferimento ad
Choe Sang-hun, North Korea Reveals Leader Is ‘Not Feeling Well’, ‘The New York
Times’, 9 marzo 2014 (http://www.nytimes.com).
35 Kim Yo Jong, ‘North Korea Leadership Watch’, consultato il 22 dicembre 2014
(https://nkleadershipwatch.wordpress.com/kim-family/kim-yo-jong).
36 B.R. Myers, The cleanest race: how North Koreans see themselves and why it matters,
Melville Publishing House, New York 2010.
34 111
Marco Milani e Barbara Onnis
un miglioramento delle relazioni intercoreane,37 così come veniva fatto
dalla presidente Park nel discorso di apertura della conferenza stampa di
inizio anno.38
La prima realizzazione concreta di questa predisposizione al dialogo
avveniva alla fine di gennaio, quando il regime nordcoreano rispondeva
positivamente alla proposta proveniente da Seoul di tenere nuovi ricongiungimenti familiari, congelati oramai dal 2010. La medesima richiesta era stata diverse volte lasciata cadere nel vuoto nel corso del 2013.
Anche in questo caso, nonostante la disponibilità di entrambe le parti,
si era rischiato di vanificare gli sforzi a causa della concomitanza fra i
ricongiungimenti e l’inizio delle esercitazioni militari congiunte fra Stati
Uniti e Corea del sud. I ricongiungimenti, infatti, dovevano avere luogo
dal 20 al 25 febbraio, mentre le esercitazioni congiunte sarebbero dovute
iniziare il 24. Nel corso di un incontro inter-governativo di alto livello,
il 12 febbraio, la delegazione nordcoreana aveva chiesto di posticipare
l’inizio delle esercitazioni, nel caso in cui la cancellazione non fosse stata
possibile;39un atteggiamento caratterizzato da grande moderazione, se si
pensa alla retorica utilizzata solitamente e all’intransigenza del regime
nordcoreano nei confronti delle esercitazioni militari del vicino meridionale. Nonostante che la risposta da parte degli Stati Uniti fosse di segno
negativo, con il rischio di far deragliare i ricongiungimenti, la Corea del
nord decideva di rispettare l’impegno assunto e portare avanti i due round
di incontri previsti per la fine di febbraio.40
Purtroppo, dopo una partenza incoraggiante, le relazioni fra i due
paesi ricadevano ben presto nella solita dinamica per cui ad una fase di
apertura faceva seguito un inasprimento dei toni e il venire in essere di
una nuova fase di tensione. Nel 2014, quanto meno, non venivano raggiunti i livelli di guardia della primavera del 2013. Già il 27 febbraio
2014, in risposta all’inizio delle esercitazioni annuali Key Resolve/Foal
Eagle fra USA e Corea del sud, Pyongyang ordinava un nuovo lancio di
missili a corto e medio raggio. Tale test era l’inizio di uno stillicidio di
test missilistici e di colpi di artiglieria verso il Mare dell’Est, durato fino
all’autunno e calibrato in maniera strategica come risposta a prese di posizione di altri paesi e della comunità internazionale sui temi sensibili
riguardanti la Corea del nord. Tra il 22 e il 26 marzo, ad esempio, in
R. Frank, A guide to Kim Jong-un’s New Year Speech, ‘38north’, 2 gennaio 2014
(http://38north.org/2014/01/rfrank010214).
38 Opening remarks by President Park Geun-hye at the New Year press conference, ‘Cheong
Wa Dae – Presidential Speeches’, 6 gennaio 2014 (http://www.korea.net/Government/Briefing-Room/Presidential-Speeches/view?articleId=117043).
39 Choe Sang-hun, 2 Koreas to Proceed With Reunions of Families Separated by War,
‘The New York Times’, 14 febbraio 2014 (http://www.nytimes.com).
40 2 Koreas to Meet for More High-Level Talks, ‘The Chosun Ilbo’, 14 febbraio 2014
(http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2014/02/14/2014021401045.html).
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Penisola coreana
contemporanea con il summit sulla sicurezza nucleare svoltosi all’Aia, il
regime nordcoreano decideva di testare nuovamente due missili a medio
raggio ed oltre 30 a corto raggio. Significativamente, durante il summit
dell’Aia, una delle questioni più calde era proprio il programma nucleare
di Pyongyang, oggetto anche di un incontro a tre fra Barack Obama, Abe
Shinzō e Park Geun-hye. Pochi giorni dopo si aveva uno scambio di colpi
di artiglieria lungo il confine marittimo conteso fra le due Coree (la cosiddetta Northern Limit Line).
Ulteriori scambi di artiglieria e lanci di missili a corto raggio si verificavano a maggio, proprio quando si iniziava a parlare della possibilità di aprire un ufficio a Seoul per ospitare la commissione di indagine dell’ONU sulle
violazioni dei diritti umani da parte della Corea del nord. Altri sporadici
episodi si registravano in piena estate, in concomitanza con le nuove esercitazioni militari congiunte fra Seoul e Washington ed in prossimità della
visita del papa in Corea del sud, in programma dal 13 al 18 agosto 2014.
3.2. Il discorso di Dresda
Un evento particolarmente rilevante per la luce che gettava sul futuro
delle relazioni intercoreane aveva luogo alla fine di marzo. Il 28 marzo
2014, infatti, la presidente sudcoreana Park Geun-hye, in visita ufficiale in
Germania, dopo aver presenziato al summit sulla sicurezza nucleare, pronunciava un importante discorso all’Università della Tecnologia di Dresda.
Dato il carattere altamente simbolico del luogo, vi era una grande attesa
per il contenuto del suo intervento. Dresda, infatti, era una delle principali
città dell’ex Repubblica Democratica Tedesca e risultava quindi altamente
probabile che in tale contesto venisse sollevata la questione dei benefici della riunificazione tedesca e, mutatis mutandis, quella delle ricadute negative
della persistente divisione fra le due Coree. Inoltre, il discorso di un presidente sudcoreano in una università tedesca non poteva non far tornare
alla mente, ed essere quindi foriero di comparazioni, con il discorso tenuto
dal presidente Kim Dae-jung alla Freie Universität di Berlino il 9 marzo del
2000. In quell’occasione, durante il suo intervento il presidente Kim aveva
proposto un’ampia e chiara argomentazione della propria politica intercoreana: erano stati diffusamente esplicati i principi e le pratiche del suo
approccio di engagement verso la Corea del nord – la cosiddetta «Sunshine
Policy» – ed era stata prefigurata la possibilità di uno storico incontro fra i
leader dei due paesi, materializzatosi poi nel giugno dello stesso anno.41
In realtà, il discorso di Dresda smorzava gli entusiasmi e frenava le
aspettative per un deciso cambio di passo verso una più attiva politica di
Address by President Kim Dae-jung of the Republic of Korea, Lessons of German Reunification and the Korean Peninsula, ‘Le Monde Diplomatique’, 9 marzo 2000 (http://
www.monde-diplomatique.fr/dossiers/coree/A/1904).
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Marco Milani e Barbara Onnis
Seoul nei confronti del regime nordcoreano. Se è vero che, nel discorso di
Park, i riferimenti al caso della riunificazione tedesca e alla loro applicabilità o meno alla questione coreana erano numerosi,42 è un dato di fatto
che in esso non veniva presentata una chiara e credibile road map volta
ad impegnare seriamente la Corea del nord in un percorso di dialogo.43
La maggior parte delle proposte inserite nel discorso, infatti, risultava di
marginale importanza.44 Tra queste, si può citare la possibile apertura di
un «parco della pace» all’interno della DMZ (la zona demilitarizzata che
segna il confine fra le due Coree), la cui realizzazione appariva quantomeno improbabile. Altri esempi erano rappresentati dall’enfasi sulla denuclearizzazione dell’arsenale nordcoreano, come condizioni vincolante
per la ripresa della cooperazione e dal richiamo al nebuloso progetto,
lanciato nel 2013, denominato «Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation
Initiative».45 Tali progetti non andavano però concretamente ad incidere
sui principali nodi del contendere delle relazioni intercoreane, quali: la
ripresa della cooperazione economica, l’ampliamento del parco industriale congiunto di Kaesŏng, l’agevolazione di scambi culturali e commerciali
fra nord e sud, la concreta attuazione di Confidence Building Measures,
volte a ridurre le tensioni militari sul confine.
Come era prevedibile, la risposta di Pyongyang non si faceva attendere. Il regime nordcoreano, infatti, attraverso un comunicato della
commissione nazionale di difesa – l’organo più potente del paese – denunciava il discorso della presidente Park con una dichiarazione durissima, a tratti offensiva. Uno dei principali punti di polemica era costituito
dai molteplici riferimenti alla riunificazione tedesca, dato che quest’ultima era interpretata da Pyongyang non tanto come l’unificazione di
una nazione divisa quanto come l’inglobamento e l’assorbimento della
Repubblica Democratica Tedesca da parte della Repubblica Federale di
Germania.46
Kang Suk Rhee, Korea’s Unification: The Applicability of the German Experience,
‘Asian Survey’, 33, 4, 1993, pp. 360-375.
43 Full text of Park’s speech on North Korea, ‘Yonhap News Agency’, 28 marzo 2014
(english.yonhap.co.kr).
44 A. Foster-Carter, Trust or Bust: What is Park Geun-hye’s Real Nordpolitik? (Part II),
‘38north’, 1° aprile 2014 (http://38north.org/2014/04/afostercarter040114).
45 Tale progetto era stato presentato, per la prima volta, durante il discorso di Park
Geun-hye al Congresso degli Stati Uniti l’8 maggio 2013 e ripreso poi in diverse
occasioni ufficiali. Il punto centrale consiste nella creazione di un regime di cooperazione multilaterale in Asia Nordorientale, per superare il cosiddetto «paradosso
asiatico», che consiste in una crescente interdipendenza economica accompagnata
da scarsa cooperazione nei temi politici e di sicurezza. Malgrado gli svariati riferimenti all’iniziativa fatti dalla presidente Park, tale progetto non ha ancora trovato
una sua realizzazione pratica.
46 North denounces Dresden speech, Park, ‘NK News’, 1° aprile 2014 (http://www.
nknews.org/2014/04/north-denounces-dresden-speech-park).
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La reazione della Corea del nord al discorso di Dresda mostrava, ancora una volta, come il processo di riavvicinamento e di (ri)costruzione
della fiducia reciproca fra le due parti della penisola fosse ancora irto di
ostacoli. La mancanza di chiarezza su alcuni punti chiave – primo fra tutti,
la questione nucleare – così come la mancanza di costanza e di un atteggiamento propositivo da parte del governo sudcoreano rendeva difficile
il consolidarsi di un atteggiamento costruttivo da parte di Pyongyang.
In conclusione, nel 2014, anche sotto la presidenza di Park Geun-hye,
l’usuale spirale di limitate aperture e subitanee chiusure, in risposta a
comportamenti di Seoul, considerati ostili da Pyongyang, continuava a
consolidarsi così come era già avvenuto un ventennio prima con il presidente Kim Young-sam.47
3.3. Qualche debole apertura
A dispetto del fallimento della proposta di Dresda e del venire in
essere delle schermaglie militari estive, con l’inizio dell’autunno sembravano aprirsi nuovi spiragli per il riaffiorare di qualche speranza di
dialogo fra le due Coree. Il 4 ottobre, infatti, alla cerimonia di chiusura
degli Asian Games, svoltisi nella città sudcoreana di Incheon, partecipavano in maniera imprevista alcuni fra i più alti dignitari del regime
nordcoreano. La delegazione era composta dal numero due del regime,
considerato il nuovo braccio destro di Kim Jong-un, Hwang Pyong-soo,
da Choe Ryong-hae, in qualità di presidente della commissione statale
per l’educazione fisica e per lo sport, e da Kim Yang-gon, direttore del
North Korea’s United Front Department, l’organo del regime incaricato di
gestire le relazioni con la Corea del sud.48 Prima di presenziare alla cerimonia, la delegazione si incontrava con alcuni membri del governo
sudcoreano, fra cui il ministro della Riunificazione, Ryoo Kihl-jae, ed il
responsabile della sicurezza nazionale, Kim Kwan-jin; successivamente
i rappresentanti del regime di Pyongyang si incontravano anche con
il primo ministro Chung Hong-won. L’incontro, annunciato con sole
24 ore di preavviso, si svolgeva in maniera costruttiva, in un clima di
cordialità e con un atteggiamento conciliatorio da ambo le parti. I nordcoreani accettavano di riprendere al più presto i colloqui governativi
ad alto livello, interrottisi a febbraio in concomitanza con i nuovi round
di ricongiungimenti familiari, ipotizzando la fine di ottobre o i primi
giorni di novembre come date possibili. La delegazione portava anche
47 Kim Yongho, Inconsistency or flexibility? The Kim Young Sam government’s North
Korea policy and its domestic variants, ‘International Journal of Korean Unification
Studies’, 8, 1999, pp. 225-245.
48 Top North Korean Officials Make Surprise Visit to South Korea, ‘The Diplomat’, 4
ottobre 2014 (http://thediplomat.com/2014/10/top-north-korean-officials-makesurprise-visit-to-south-korea).
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una lettera per la presidente Park, da parte del leader nordcoreano Kim
Jong-un, oltre ai «cordiali saluti» di quest’ultimo per il capo del governo
di Seoul, un segnale importante dopo mesi di propaganda e di retorica
fortemente offensiva da parte di Pyongyang.
La maggior parte degli osservatori interpretavano questo improvviso
passo avanti nelle relazioni intercoreane come un chiaro segnale della
volontà di Pyongyang di migliorare i rapporti fra i due paesi.49
L’incontro che aveva luogo poche settimane più tardi fra le delegazioni delle due Coree non portava però ad alcun risultato tangibile; ciò nonostante, considerati i tempi piuttosto lunghi caratteristici delle relazioni
intercoreane, l’importante apertura rappresentata dalla visita di personaggi chiave, quali Hwang e Choe, potrebbe non aver esaurito la propria
spinta e, quindi, potrebbe concretizzarsi nei mesi a venire.
4. Le relazioni internazionali
4.1. Il consolidamento della diplomazia multilaterale di Park Geun-hye. Il
viaggio in Asia Centrale e l’«iniziativa eurasiatica»
Sul fronte delle relazioni internazionali della Corea del sud, nel corso
del 2014 si assisteva al consolidamento di un trend già avviato durante il
primo anno di mandato di Park Geun-hye, che vedeva un certo dinamismo
in politica estera compensare in buona parte i rovesci sul fronte interno.
Tra le innumerevoli visite di stato che vedevano impegnata la presidente sudcoreana, tutte più meno guidate da una matrice economica, di particolare
rilevanza appariva quella compiuta in Asia centrale tra il 16 e il 22 giugno.
Oltre a rafforzare i legami politici ed economici esistenti e ad aprire nuove
prospettive per gli investimenti sudcoreani, soprattutto nel settore energetico ed agricolo, essa contribuiva a rafforzare vigorosamente l’«iniziativa euroasiatica», lanciata dalla Park nell’ottobre dell’anno precedente, durante il
discorso di apertura alla conferenza internazionale sulla cooperazione globale nell’era dell’Eurasia, ospitata nella capitale sudcoreana. Si trattava di
un ambizioso piano di collegamento tra l’Europa e l’Asia, per fare dell’Eurasia «un unico continente, un continente di creatività, un continente di
pace».50 In particolare, l’«iniziativa» prevedeva il collegamento di infrastrutture logistiche – reti ferroviarie, oleodotti e gasdotti, reti elettriche – al fine
di ridurre le barriere fisiche (ma non solo) tra i due continenti. Questa in49 Ser Myo-ja, North Korean delegation makes a rare visit, ‘Korea JongAng Daily’, 29 maggio 2014 (http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/article.
aspx?aid=2995712).
50 Remarks by President Park Geun-hye at the 2013 International Conference on Global
Cooperation in the Era of Eurasia, ‘KOREA.net’, 18 ottobre 2013 (http://www.korea.
net/Government/Briefing-Room/Presidential-Speeches/view?articleId=115350&p
ageIndex=3), § 11.
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tegrazione avrebbe poi dovuto essere seguita dalla progressiva eliminazione
delle barriere commerciali, che avrebbe dovuto portare, in definitiva, alla
creazione di una vasta zona di libero scambio, con il coinvolgimento di circa
il 40% della superficie terrestre, il 70% della sua popolazione e il 60% del
PIL globale.51 Nel lanciare l’«iniziativa», la Park aveva parlato soprattutto
dell’intenzione di rinvigorire l’antica via della seta, attraverso la creazione
di una nuova «silk road express» (altrimenti definita «transiberian express»),
cioè una rete interconnessa multiruolo, ferroviaria e stradale, che da Busan
sarebbe dovuta giungere a Londra, passando attraverso la Corea del nord
e la Russia, in soli 14 giorni, soppiantando così il tradizionale tragitto via
mare, attraverso il canale di Suez, che ne richiedeva ben 45.52
Il tour centro-asiatico della presidente sudcoreana interessava tre paesi – Uzbekistan, Kazakistan e Turkmenistan – non a caso i tre principali
della regione, con i quali Seoul aveva avviato rapporti diplomatici fin dal
1992. In particolare con Tashkent, Seoul intratteneva solidi rapporti commerciali. L’Uzbekistan era, di fatto, il principale partner commerciale di
Seoul nell’area centroasiatica, mentre la Corea del sud rappresentava per
l’Uzbekistan il quarto partner commerciale in assoluto, dopo la Russia, il
Kazakistan e la Repubblica popolare cinese (RPC). Per quanto concerne i
rapporti con il Kazakistan, questi erano stati consolidati soprattutto dalla
precedente amministrazione, guidata da Lee Myung-bak, che, durante
gli anni del suo mandato, aveva effettuato numerose visite nel paese centroasiatico; dal canto suo, Park era in assoluto il primo presidente sudcoreano a recarsi in Turkmenistan. Il viaggio della presidente Park si
inseriva perfettamente nella «sales diplomacy» che, come si è visto nel
volume precedente di Asia Maior, mirava a sfruttare gli incontri diplomatici per promuovere gli interessi di natura economica del paese.53 Nel
corso della visita, la presidente sudcoreana, accompagnata da una delegazione economica di ben 92 persone, siglava infatti numerosi accordi volti
sia a rafforzare la cooperazione bilaterale in aree quali il commercio e il
settore energetico, sia a creare un ambiente favorevole agli investimenti
sudcoreani.54 Ciò detto, l’aspetto che emergeva in maniera preponderante dai comunicati stampa ufficiali era quello relativo alla sponsorizzazione
dell’«iniziativa eurasiatica», sulla quale Park Geun-hye si era soffermata
51 South Korea’s Eurasia Ambitions, ‘The Diplomat’, 20 agosto 2014 (http://thediplomat.com/2014/08/south-koreas-eurasia-ambitions).
52 Seoul’s Middle-Power Turn in Samarkanda?, ‘The Diplomat’, 8 luglio 2014 (http://
thediplomat.com/2014/07/seouls-middle-power-turn-in-samarkand).
53 Milani e Onnis, La penisola coreana: tra «facce nuove» ed un continuo déjà vu cit.,
pp. 395-396.
54 Richard Weitz, Seoul Seeks Central Asian Partners, ‘Eurasia Daily Monitor’, 11, 127,
14 luglio 2014 (http://www.jamestown.org/programs/edm/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_n
ews%5D=42623&cHash=e997ca02ecefb4b2ed54b3ce11468c44#.VLVaMyuG-Ck);
Park pushed her Eurasia initiative, ‘Korea Joongang Daily’, 18 giugno 2014 (http://
koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/Article.aspx?aid=2990794).
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soprattutto in Uzbekistan, durante la visita all’antica città di Samarcanda,
una delle soste lungo la leggendaria via della seta.
In effetti, l’obiettivo principale del viaggio di Park era quello di cercare il sostegno di altri partner al suo progetto di creazione di più efficaci collegamenti ferroviari e stradali tra l’Europa e l’Asia orientale,
al fine di poter giungere ad un futuro trasporto via terra delle merci
sudcoreane nel vecchio continente. Di fatto, Park Geun-hye incassava
il fondamentale sostegno dei tre paesi centro-asiatici, senza il quale
un’iniziativa di tal fatta non avrebbe alcuna possibilità di esistere.55 Il
valore reale dell’iniziativa sudcoreana stava, infatti, nel riconoscimento del fatto che, per garantire alla Corea del sud una crescita stabile,
fosse indispensabile sviluppare la cooperazione con i paesi euroasiatici,
che stavano diventando sempre più importanti ed influenti. Un altro
obiettivo era quello di tentare di garantirsi uno spazio di manovra indipendente da Washington, ampliando i propri contatti con l’Europa (pur
senza uscire dall’«ombrello USA»); ancora, la Park puntava ad internazionalizzare la questione della penisola coreana, così che la Russia e gli
altri paesi euroasiatici avessero l’interesse a creare un continente «unito
e pacifico», esercitando a tal fine una certa pressione su Pyongyang per
coinvolgerla nel processo di integrazione.56
L’iniziativa della presidente Park veniva ripresa dai media, che ne
evidenziavano potenzialità e limiti. Tra tutti, particolarmente interessante era un articolo di «The Korea Herald», a firma di Park Sang-seek,
ex rettore del Graduate Institute of Peace Studies presso la Kyung Hee
University di Seoul. Quest’ultimo si soffermava sulla fattibilità del progetto, alla luce di proposte simili sponsorizzate da altri paesi, a partire
dagli Stati Uniti, per giungere alla Russia, passando per la Cina. L’autore si domandava se tutti quei movimenti di integrazione eurasiatica
potessero convivere armoniosamente, o se, addirittura, potessero essere integrati in un unico progetto. Soprattutto, nel riprendere il senso
più profondo dell’iniziativa sudcoreana – il tentativo di legarla cioè alla
pace e alla sicurezza in Asia orientale, nella convinzione che Russia e
Cina sarebbero state capaci di spingere Pyongyang ad unirsi al progetto
– esprimeva notevoli perplessità circa la sua reale praticabilità.57
55 Karimov supports S. Korean ‘Eurasia initiative’, ‘Central Asia online’, 18 giugno
2014 (http://centralasiaonline.com/en_GB/articles/caii/newsbriefs/2014/06/18/
newsbrief-11); Kazakhstan fully supports South Korea’s Eurasia initiative – Nazarbayev,
‘Kazinform-International News Agency’, 19 giugno 2014 (http://www.inform.kz/indexeng.html); President Park pays state visit to Turkmenistan, ‘KOREA.net’, 23 giugno
2014 (http://www.korea.net/NewsFocus/Policies/view?articleId=120121).
56 Kostantin Asmolov, The Eurasian initiative by the President of South Korea, ‘New
Eastern Outlook’, 28 agosto 2014 (http://journal-neo.org/2014/08/28/rus-evrazijskaya-initsiativa-prezidenta-rk), §§ 4, 6.
57 Park Sang-seek, The Eurasian initiatives and South Korea, ‘The Korea Herald’, 19
novembre 2014 (http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20141119001129).
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Penisola coreana
4.2. L’«esitante» sodalizio tra Seoul e Pechino e il parziale disgelo tra Seoul
e Tokyo
Nell’ambito delle relazioni tra la Corea del sud e l’RPC, una grande rilevanza veniva attribuita alla visita di stato compiuta da Xi Jinping a Seoul,
la prima di Xi nel paese, ma soprattutto la prima volta in cui un capo di
stato cinese si recava in visita al Sud prima che al Nord. Buona parte degli
osservatori e degli analisti era concorde nell’interpretare la scelta di Xi
come un chiaro segnale dell’inarrestabile isolamento del regime di Pyongyang e dell’intenzione di Pechino di abbandonare una volta per tutte
il suo tradizionale, ma quanto mai imprevedibile, alleato. Tuttavia, vi era
anche chi sosteneva che questa scelta andasse intesa nel contesto di una
crescente fluttuazione della politica nel nord-est asiatico. In questo senso,
secondo Cho Han-bum, senior researcher presso il Korea Institute for National Unification, la politica di Pechino verso Pyongyang non era affatto
cambiata, così come non era cambiato il valore della Corea del nord per
Pechino.58 Dello stesso avviso era anche l’analista Scott Snyder, secondo
il quale, per quanto si potesse concordare che la visita di Xi a Seoul fosse
un evidente segnale di disapprovazione del governo cinese nel confronti
del regime nordcoreano, soprattutto in un momento in cui quest’ultimo si
stava «aprendo» al Giappone, tuttavia era quantomeno prematuro concludere che Pechino avesse «abbandonato Pyongyang per Seoul».59 Peraltro,
il vertice tra Xi Jinping e Park Geun-hye (3-4 luglio 2014) aveva contribuito a far emergere, al di là degli ottimi rapporti personali tra i due leader
alcuni limiti nelle loro relazioni bilaterali, su questioni sia politiche che di
sicurezza.60 Il primo di tali limiti risultava evidente nel tentativo di Seoul
di respingere molte delle iniziative cinesi che implicavano una scelta tra
l’alleanza con Washington e l’intesa con Pechino,61 fra queste il mancato
sostegno all’iniziativa cinese di costituzione di una banca asiatica per gli
investimenti infrastrutturali (AIIB), vista come un modo per «controbilanciare» la banca asiatica per lo sviluppo (ADB), a guida giapponese e
statunitense.62 Altrettanto evidente era la volontà del governo sudcoreano
58 Cho Han Bum, President Xi Jinping’s Visit to Seoul and Korea’s Strategic Choice,
‘KINU Online Series’, CO 14-09, 8 luglio 2014 (http://www.kinu.or.kr/2014/0722/
co14-09.pdf), p. 2.
59 China snubs North Korea with leader’s visit to South Korea, ‘The Guardian’, 3 luglio
2014 (http://www.theguardian.com/uk).
60 S. Snyder and Byun See-won, Balancing acts by China and South Korea, ‘Comparative Perspectives’, 16, 2, settembre 2014 (http://csis.org/files/publication/1402q.pdf),
pp. 93-106, in part. pp. 93-4.
61 Cho Han Bum, President Xi Jinping’s Visit to Seoul cit., pp. 5-7; Yoon Sukjoon,
Xi Jinping’s visit to South Korea: Finlandisation or Crimeanisation?, ‘RSIS Commentary’, 142, 16 luglio 2014 (http://www.rsis.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/
CO14142.pdf).
62 Snyder and Byun See-won, Balancing acts by China and South Korea cit., p. 100.
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Marco Milani e Barbara Onnis
di respingere tutte le avances di Pechino volte alla creazione di un «fronte
unito» contro il Giappone, declinando pertanto la proposta cinese di organizzare una commemorazione congiunta in occasione del settantesimo
anniversario della fine della seconda guerra mondiale. I suddetti limiti
emergevano chiaramente anche dal diverso modo con il quale veniva riportato il vertice dai media dei rispettivi paesi. Laddove i media cinesi
esaltavano la visita di Xi, mettendo in evidenza i risultati tangibili, soprattutto in termini economici e di cooperazione culturale, nei rapporti
tra i due paesi, i media sudcoreani, dal canto loro, riportavano l’evento
in termini assai più controllati. In particolare, accoglievano con un certo
scetticismo il discorso tenuto del presidente cinese alla Seoul National
University, con specifico riferimento alla sua interpretazione unilaterale
della passata aggressione giapponese della penisola, che ignorava completamente il complesso ruolo giocato anche dalla Cina.63
Ad ogni buon conto, il vertice di Seoul si era chiuso con un comunicato congiunto che ribadiva la cooperazione per la denuclearizzazione della
penisola coreana, dichiarando che «le due parti hanno ribadito la loro
ferma opposizione allo sviluppo di armi nucleari nella penisola coreana»,
pur senza menzionare direttamente la Corea del nord. Nel comunicato si
faceva riferimento altresì all’intenzione di proseguire nei negoziati economici per la costituzione di un’area di libero scambio tra i due paesi,
prefissandosi l’obiettivo di raggiungere l’accordo entro la fine dell’anno.64
Di fatto, il 10 novembre 2014, in occasione del vertice APEC riunito nella
capitale cinese, Seoul e Pechino giungevano alla firma di una bozza di
accordo di libero scambio, con l’obiettivo di concludere un accordo definitivo entro il 2015.65
Al di là del vertice di luglio, nel corso dell’anno in esame progressi
importanti venivano compiuti sia nell’ambito della comunicazione strategica – con l’obiettivo di istituire entro la fine dell’anno una «linea telefonica diretta» tra i rispettivi ministeri della Difesa66 – sia in quello del
coordinamento strategico, soprattutto nell’ambito della lotta contro la
pesca illegale.67
Ibid., p. 94.
Korea-China summit leaves doubts on efforts to denuclearize N. Korea, ‘The Korea Herald’, 6 luglio 2014 (http://m.chinapost.com.tw/commentary/2014/07/06/411716/
Korea-China-summit.htm); China-South Korea Ties: Moving Beyond North Korea, ‘The
Diplomat’, 4 luglio 2014 (http://thediplomat.com/2014/07/china-south-korea-tiesmoving-beyond-north-korea).
65 South Korea, China Agree on Outline of Free-Trade Deal, ‘The Wall Street Journal’,
10 novembre 2014 (http://www.wsj.com).
66 S Korea, China expected to set up military hotline this year: source, ‘Yonhap News
Agency’, 20 luglio 2914 (http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr).
67 S, Korea, China to begin joint surveillance against illegal fishing, ‘Yonhap News
Agency’, 27 luglio 2014 (http://www.english.yonhap.co.kr); S. Korea, China to launch
joint crackdown on illegal fishing, ‘The Korea Herald’, 8 dicembre 2014
63 64 120
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In definitiva, dunque, per quanto il vertice tra Xi e Park avesse costituito un punto di svolta importante nei rapporti tra Seoul e Pechino,
fornendo un ulteriore impulso alle relazioni tra i due paesi, soprattutto in
ambito economico, esso aveva al contempo fatto emergere alcune divergenze evidenti nei rispettivi punti di vista. Tali divergenze, in ultima analisi, rappresentavano ostacoli potenziali per un ulteriore consolidamento
ed avanzamento dell’intesa fra i due paesi fino al livello di partnership
strategica. In particolare il vertice aveva rilevato posizioni differenti su
come gestire sia la Corea del nord, in particolare per quanto riguardava
la ripresa del «dialogo a sei», sia il Giappone; analogamente erano emerse
delle tensioni tra le priorità di difesa e di sicurezza di Stati Uniti e Corea
del sud da un lato e quelle cinesi dall’altro.68 In definitiva, mentre la leadership cinese aveva manifestato una forte riluttanza ad abbandonare
Pyongyang una volta per tutte, risultava altrettanto chiaro come Seoul,
fondamentalmente, fosse intenzionata a restare legata alla sua alleanza
con Washington. In altri termini, secondo Scott Snyder, ciò che risultava
mancante nella relazione tra Seoul e Pechino era un «senso strategico di
propositi comuni e di interessi condivisi».69
Con il Giappone, i rapporti continuavano ad essere sostanzialmente
tesi, soprattutto negli atteggiamenti personali tra i due leader, come era
apparso chiaro in occasione dell’incontro organizzato da Barack Obama,
a margine del Nuclear Security Summit dell’Aia, quando Park Geun-hye
era rimasta impassibile davanti al tentativo di Abe di salutarla in lingua
coreana.70 Tuttavia non mancavano segnali dell’avvio verso un parziale
disgelo. Fra i più evidenti vi era, senza dubbio, la positiva evoluzione delle
trattative avviate nel 2012 per la creazione di un’area di libero scambio
destinata ad abbracciare Corea del sud, Cina e Giappone, come rivelavano i tre round di incontri di marzo, settembre e novembre, rispettivamente a Seoul, Pechino e Tokyo.71 Un analogo segnale di disgelo era l’entrata
in vigore, a fine dicembre, di un importante accordo trilaterale tra Stati
Uniti, Giappone e Corea del sud per la condivisione di informazioni militari e di altre informazioni sensibili riguardanti soprattutto il programma
nucleare e balistico di Pyongyang. Si trattava di un accordo che contribuiva, in parte, ad alleviare le «ansie» di Washington in merito al cattivo stato
(http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20141208000640).
68 Snyder and Byun See-won, Balancing acts by China and South Korea cit., p. 101.
69 S.A. Snyder, Can Beijing and Seoul Become Strategic Partners?, ‘The Diplomat’,
6 luglio 2014 (http://thediplomat.com/2014/07/can-beijing-and-seoul-becomestrategic-partners).
70 South Korea president unimpressed by Japanese PM’s attempt to speak Korean, ‘South
China Morning Post’, 26 marzo 2014 (http://www.scmp.com).
71 China-Japan-South Korea Hold FTA Despite Political Tension, ‘The Diplomat’, 5
marzo 2014 (http://thediplomat.com/2014/03/china-japan-south-korea-hold-ftatalks-despite-political-tension).
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di salute dei rapporti tra i suoi due maggiori alleati in Asia orientale.72
In effetti, si trattava di un passo in avanti notevole nei rapporti tra i due
paesi, che sembrava tenere conto delle crescenti critiche dell’opinione
pubblica sudcoreana alla presidente Park per la sua ostinazione nel non
voler incontrare il premier giapponese Abe Shinzō in un vertice bilaterale
formale, nel bel mezzo del disgelo tra Tokyo e Pechino.73 Al contempo, la
firma dell’accordo contribuiva a sanare la rottura dovuta alla mancata firma del General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA),
del quale si è già avuto modo di parlare nei volumi precedenti di Asia Maior. Tuttavia, i termini dell’accordo per la condivisione delle informazioni
militari prevedevano che i due paesi asiatici si servissero dell’intermediazione di Washington, anziché rapportarsi direttamente tra loro (come
sarebbe avvenuto nell’ambito del GSOMIA).
In effetti, nessuno dei processi appena ricordati poteva essere dato
per scontato, visto e considerato che l’anno sotto esame risultava contrassegnato anche da alcuni «incidenti diplomatici» tra i due paesi. Il primo
si verificava nel mese di giugno, a seguito della decisione del governo
di Abe di pubblicare un rapporto di 21 pagine contenente un resoconto
sugli scambi diplomatici tra Seoul e Tokyo, sfociati nel 1993 nella storica
«dichiarazione Kono», contenente le scuse del Giappone per le vicende
relative alle cosiddette «donne di conforto». Tale espressione fa riferimento alle decine di migliaia di donne asiatiche (spesso e volentieri bambine,
o adolescenti) obbligate alla schiavitù sessuale dall’esercito giapponese
prima e durante la seconda guerra mondiale. Il riesame della «dichiarazione Kono» era il frutto di un’improvvida iniziativa del governo di Tokyo
finalizzata a placare alcuni elementi conservatori-nazionalisti vicini al primo ministro che, al pari dello stesso Abe, avevano messo in discussione la
«dichiarazione», sostenendo che non esistessero prove certe di una «coercizione» ufficiale alla prostituzione.
Secondo lo studio, frutto di un lavoro di indagine svolto da una commissione di cinque esperti (fra cui 3 donne), la dichiarazione in questione – con la quale l’allora capo di gabinetto Kono Yohei aveva riconosciuto, per la prima volta, scusandosi, il coinvolgimento delle autorità
militari nipponiche nella costrizione di migliaia di donne asiatiche (in
buona parte coreane) a lavorare nei bordelli al seguito dei soldati giapponesi – era stata il frutto di un accordo tra i due governi.74 In particoUS, South Korea, Japan Start Sharing Intelligence on North Korea, ‘The Diplomat’,
30 dicembre 2014, (http://thediplomat.com/2014/12/us-south-korea-japan-startsharing-intelligence-on-north-korea).
73 Abe, Park chat briefly in Beijing, agree to advance working-level talks, ‘The Japan
Times’, 11 novembre 2014 (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/11/11/national/
politics-diplomacy/abe-park-speak-informally-dinner-apec-leaders).
74 Japan finds Tokyo, Seoul agreed on Comfort Women Apology, ‘The Wall Street Journal’, 20 giugno 2014 (http://www.wsj.com).
72 122
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lare, il rapporto sottolineava come, nella determinazione del linguaggio
della dichiarazione di scuse, erano stati accettati degli «input» da parte
del governo di Seoul. In aggiunta, il rapporto sollevava alcuni dubbi
sulle testimonianze rese da alcune delle «donne di conforto» ancora in
vita, essendo mancata una verifica puntuale della veridicità delle loro
dichiarazioni.75 Dal punto di vista di Seoul, già il solo riesame della «dichiarazione» era da ritenersi deplorevole di per sé; mentre il tentativo di
«annacquarla» – sollevando dubbi oltre che sulla procedura, anche sulla
sostanza – risultava come un’ennesima dimostrazione dell’indisponibilità del Giappone a fare i conti con il proprio passato imperialista. Né
le rassicurazioni del portavoce del governo Suga, né il gesto di Abe, che
aveva affermato di non voler ricusare formalmente la «dichiarazione»,
soprattutto per le conseguenze che un gesto di tal fatta avrebbe potuto
avere nei rapporti con Seoul – e con gli Stati Uniti – erano però sufficienti a calmare gli animi.76
Il secondo incidente «diplomatico» fra Giappone e Corea del sud era
relativo alla denuncia da parte di un gruppo civico conservatore sudcoreano e alla successiva incriminazione per diffamazione del giornalista
giapponese Kato Tatsuya, allora a capo della redazione di Seoul del quotidiano di destra «Sankei Shimbun . Il 3 agosto, la versione online del
«Sankei Shimbun» aveva pubblicato un articolo di Kato Tatsuya sulla presunta irreperibilità della presidente Park Geun-hye nel giorno del disastro della Sewol. Nell’articolo si riportavano alcune voci circolate in Corea
del sud – e riprese in primis dal quotidiano «The Chosun Ilbo», senza che
vi fosse stata la benché minima smentita – secondo le quali la presidente
si trovava in una località non definita in compagnia di un uomo (un ex
assistente della presidente Park, fresco di divorzio).77 Il giornalista veniva
formalmente incriminato, senza essere arrestato, l’8 ottobre 2014 e sottoposto ad una limitazione nei movimenti, incluso il divieto di lasciare la
Corea del sud (divieto che era ancora in vigore alla fine dell’anno sotto
esame). L’intera vicenda, oltre ad incidere sui già delicati rapporti con il
Giappone, sollevava numerose critiche sull’effettiva libertà di stampa nel
paese, che già negli anni passati era stata fatta oggetto di attacchi e di
restrizioni.78
75 Isole contestate e «donne conforto», tensione nel rapporto tra Tokyo e Seoul, ‘Il Sole
24ore’, 20 giugno 2014, (http://www.ilsole24ore.com)
76 How Bad Will South Korea-Japan Relations Get?, ‘The Wall Street Journal’, 24
giugno 2014 (http://www.wsj.com). Sulla posizione del Giappone sulla questione,
si veda anche Giulio Pugliese, Japan 2014: Between a China Question and a China
Obsession, in questo stesso volume.
77 Japan and South Korea: Wars of Words, ‘The Economist’, 21 agosto 2014
(http://www.economist.com).
78 Tokyo summons South Korean minister over journalist’s defamation charge, ‘The
Guardian’, 9 ottobre 2014 (http://www.theguardian.com/uk); Freedom of the press
in South Korea, ‘The Japan Times’, 12 ottobre 2014 (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/
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4.3 L’offensiva dello charme di Pyongyang
L’anno sotto esame vedeva la diplomazia nordcoreana insolitamente
molto attiva, a tratti frenetica, su molteplici fronti grazie all’attivismo di
diversi esponenti del governo nordcoreano, ma, in particolare, del nuovo
ministro degli Esteri, Ri Su-yong. Fin dal principio Ri si era rivelato come
un ministro degli Esteri un po’ fuori dagli schemi: non una semplice figura
di rappresentanza come tanti altri che lo avevano preceduto, ma un abile
politico che si faceva apprezzare per le sue doti diplomatiche. Le prime
missioni lo vedevano impegnato in Africa (Etiopia e Sud Africa) e in Medio
Oriente (Kuwait, Qatar e Siria). In particolare, a Damasco Ri incontrava,
tra gli altri, il presidente siriano Bashar al-Assad, in un evidente tentativo
non solo di aumentare la cooperazione tra i due paesi in svariati campi (in
primis quello economico), ma anche e soprattutto di rafforzare lo storico
sodalizio tra i due paesi.79 Ben più impegnativo era senza dubbio il tour
estivo effettuato nel Sud-est asiatico, che prevedeva tappe in Laos, Vietnam,
Indonesia e Singapore, oltre che in Myanmar, per presenziare all’incontro
dell’Asean Regional Forum a Nay Pyi Taw, il 10 agosto 2014. Il summit
dell’ARF costituiva in assoluto il primo appuntamento di carattere multilaterale al quale prendeva parte Ri dalla sua nomina. La presenza di Ri aveva
due motivazioni: la prima era quella di presenziare ad una discussione in
cui si parlava del programma nucleare nordcoreano, essendo questo incluso tra i punti all’ordine del giorno del Forum; la seconda era la necessità di
ampliare il raggio d’azione della diplomazia nordcoreana, come rivelavano
gli incontri bilaterali a margine dell’ARF – almeno dieci, secondo quanto
riportato dall’agenzia di stampa di stato della Corea del nord «KCNA».80
Il corteggiamento dell’ASEAN – da sempre ritenuta «neutrale» e «amichevole» verso il regime nordcoreano – poteva tornare utile al fine di espandere il raggio d’azione della diplomazia di Pyongyang. In effetti, al di là della
Cina Popolare (pre-Xi Jinping), l’ASEAN era uno dei pochi interlocutori con
cui la Corea del nord potesse ancora ricevere il «benvenuto», grazie soprattutto ai solidi legami con buona parte dei paesi che ne facevano parte, costruiti
nei decenni precedenti.81 Peraltro, Pyongyang intratteneva con l’ASEAN dei
legami robusti anche sotto il profilo economico-commerciale, che, senz’altro,
il viaggio di Ri aveva intenzione di rafforzare ulteriormente.82
opinion/2014/10/12/editorials/freedom-of-the-press-in-south-korea).
79 DPRK Foreign Minister Meets with Bashar al-Assad, ‘NK Leadership Watch’, 19
giugno 2014 (https://nkleadershipwatch.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/dprk-foreignminister-meets-with-bashar-al-assad).
80 N. Korea’s new foreign minister leaves his mark in international forum, ‘The Asahi
Shimbun’, 13 agosto 2014 (http://ajw.asahi.com/article/asia/korean_peninsula/
AJ201408130047).
81 North Korea’s charm offensive hits Asean, ‘Global Times’, 18 agosto 2014 (http://
www.globaltimes.cn/content/875779.shtml).
82 Why North Korea Is Courting Asean, ‘The Diplomat’, 5 agosto 2014 (http://thedip-
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Una delle tappe più interessanti del tour nel Sud-est asiatico era quella in Indonesia, dove il ministro degli Esteri nordcoreano presentava una
«proposta concreta» al suo omologo indonesiano che includeva, tra l’altro, la disponibilità per una ripresa del «dialogo a sei». I resoconti della
visita a Giacarta lasciavano intendere che l’Indonesia avrebbe potuto agire da intermediario tra la Corea del nord e gli altri paesi partecipanti al
«dialogo» (Corea del sud, Stati Uniti, Cina, Russia e Giappone), date le ottime relazioni che l’Indonesia intratteneva con ognuno di essi.83 Nell’accogliere la proposta di Ri, l’Indonesia si prefiggeva dunque di perorare
le ragioni della Corea del nord in Asia e di cercare di integrarla nella
comunità internazionale, avvantaggiandosene soprattutto in termini di
prestigio internazionale.84
Altrettanto impegnativo per la diplomazia nordcoreana era il mese di
settembre, che vedeva, da un lato il segretario per gli affari internazionali
del Partito dei lavoratori coreani, Kang Sok-ju, impegnato in un raro tour
europeo85 e, dall’altro, il ministro degli Esteri in visita prima a Teheran
(per presenziare alla 53a sessione dell’Organizzazione legale consultiva
Asia Africa) e, successivamente, a New York, dove Ri teneva un discorso
in occasione della 69a sessione dell’assemblea generale dell’ONU (il primo di un ministro degli Esteri nordcoreano dopo 15 anni). Quest’ultima
mossa da parte del governo di Pyongyang era da intendersi come un tentativo di rompere l’isolamento diplomatico in cui versava il paese, anche e
soprattutto in seguito alle accuse dell’ONU di violazione dei diritti umani
da parte della Corea del nord. Le accuse erano state fatte in un rapporto
di ben 372 pagine, redatto dal comitato per i diritti umani dell’ONU,
pubblicato il 17 febbraio 2014. Secondo il rapporto, la Corea del nord
«aveva commesso e stava commettendo abusi sui diritti umani dei propri
cittadini» e che la «gravità, la scala e la natura di quegli abusi non aveva
paragoni nel mondo contemporaneo».86
Il ministro degli Esteri nordcoreano cercava di impedire l’approvazione di una risoluzione sponsorizzata dalla UE e dal Giappone di condanna
della Corea del nord, basata sul rapporto appena citato, attraverso un abile
discorso. Questo era articolato in diversi punti che andavano dal modello
di riunificazione per la penisola coreana, al rifiuto di ogni tentativo di strumentalizzazione della questione dei diritti umani per favorire un cambio
lomat.com/2014/08/why-north-korea-is-courting-asean).
83 Will Indonesia Save the Six Party Talks?, ‘The Diplomat’, 16 agosto 2014 (http://
thediplomat.com/2014/08/will-indonesia-save-the-six-party-talks).
84 Ibid.
85 DPRK delegation to visit Europe, Mongolia, ‘Xinhua News Agency’, 6 settembre
2014 (http://www.xinhuanet.com/english).
86 Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea A/HRC/25/CRP.1, 17 febbraio 2014 (http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoIDPRK/Report/A.HRC.25.63.doc).
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di regime.87 Ciò nonostante la risoluzione veniva approvata dapprima, a
novembre, dal comitato per i diritti umani dell’ONU (con 111 sì, 19 no e
55 astensioni)88 e, successivamente, il 16 dicembre, dall’assemblea generale
con 116 sì, 20 no e 53 astensioni.89 Vale la pena di osservare come, da un
decennio a questa parte, l’assemblea generale dell’ONU abbia più volte
approvato risoluzioni contro le violazioni dei diritti umani in Corea del
nord; tuttavia, quella approvata il 16 dicembre 2014 era senza dubbio la più
dura. Quest’ultima raccomandava, infatti, al consiglio di sicurezza l’adozione di sanzioni mirate contro i presunti responsabili degli abusi e addirittura
caldeggiava l’ipotesi di deferimento alla corte penale internazionale dei
leader nordcoreani. Ipotesi, tuttavia, quanto mai remota, visto e considerato che, all’indomani della pubblicazione del rapporto, sia la Russia che la
Cina avevano assunto un atteggiamento di difesa nei confronti del regime
nordcoreano, votando «no» in entrambi i casi.
Per quanto non vincolante, l’approvazione della risoluzione costituiva
un chiaro messaggio circa la preoccupazione della comunità internazionale per la condizione dei diritti umani nella Corea del nord. A sua volta,
l’approvazione della risoluzione era sufficiente affinché il regime di Pyongyang potesse essere sottoposto a ulteriori pressioni su molteplici altri
fronti. La riprova era contenuta nel fatto che già il 22 dicembre 2014,
appena sei giorni dopo l’approvazione della risoluzione dell’assemblea
generale, la questione dei diritti umani nella Corea del nord veniva inserita nell’ordine del giorno della riunione del consiglio di sicurezza. Anche
in questa occasione si registrava la forte opposizione di Cina e Russia,
secondo le quali la competenza spettava al consiglio per i diritti umani
dell’ONU e non al consiglio di sicurezza.
L’intera vicenda della messa sotto accusa della Corea del nord in sede
ONU vanificava, in un certo qual modo, gli sforzi diplomatici profusi dal
governo di Pyongyang in quella che alcuni studiosi avevano ribattezzato
«offensiva della pace». Questa «offensiva» si era concretizzata con l’annuncio di Ri Su-yong all’ONU che il suo paese era pronto ad intavolare
un «dialogo sui diritti umani con paesi non ostili ad esso»,90 e con quella
analoga di Kang Sok-ju, all’UE, espressa durante la visita da lui fatta a
Bruxelles in ottobre.91 E ancora, sempre nell’ambito dell’«offensiva», si è
87 North Korea goes on peace offensive, ‘Russia News Agency’, 29 settembre 2014
(http://itar-tass.com/en).
88 Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, A/C.3/69/L.28/
Rev.1, 18 novembre 2014 (http://www.un.org/en/ga/third/69/docs/voting_sheets/
L.28.Rev.1.pdf)
89 Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, A/RES/69/188,
18 dicembre 2014 (http://www.globalr2p.org/media/files/n1462852.pdf).
90 UN secretary general receives letter from N.K. leader, ‘Yonhap News Agency’, 28 settembre 2014 (http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr).
91 N. Korea agrees to EU human rights calls, ‘NK News’, 10 ottobre 2014 (http://www.
nknews.org/2014/10/n-korea-agrees-to-eu-human-rights-talks).
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potuto registrare l’ammissione da parte di un funzionario nordcoreano
del ministero degli Esteri, specificatamente incaricato di gestire le questioni relative all’ONU, dell’esistenza nel suo paese di «campi di riforma
attraverso il lavoro», all’interno dei quali «le persone vengono migliorate
attraverso la loro mentalità e guardando alle proprie malefatte».92
Analogamente, l’«offensiva della pace» del governo di Pyongyang
aveva interessato anche gli Stati Uniti d’America, concretizzandosi nel
rilascio, tra ottobre e novembre, di tre cittadini statunitensi detenuti nel
paese, due dei quali venivano consegnati l’8 novembre nelle mani del direttore del National Intelligence americana, recatosi a Pyongyang.93
Se è vero che gli sforzi diplomatici profusi dal governo di Pyongyang
nel corso del 2014 avevano avuto lo scopo di aprire una breccia nell’isolamento del paese, al fine di evitare una presa di posizione dura da parte della comunità internazionale in merito agli abusi sui diritti umani,
denunciati nel rapporto dell’ONU, appare chiaro però come lo scopo
dell’«offensiva dello charm» nordcoreana fosse anche un altro. Vi era, infatti, il tentativo di diversificare i propri rapporti internazionali politicoeconomico-diplomatici, rafforzando alleanze vecchie e nuove, al fine di
controbilanciare l’inesorabile deterioramento dei rapporti con Pechino.94
Secondo John Delury, della Yonsei University, la Corea del nord stava
uscendo, infatti, da un periodo in cui era stata «esageratamente» dipendente da Pechino sotto ogni punto di vista; e, per realizzare tale obiettivo,
necessitava di trovare nuove sponde a cui potersi appoggiare.95 Ciò era
particolarmente evidente, oltre che nel corteggiamento dei paesi ASEAN,
anche e soprattutto nel notevole rafforzamento dell’alleanza con Mosca,
nonché nella grande apertura nei confronti di Tokyo.
4.4. L’abbandono di Pechino e il corteggiamento di Mosca e Tokyo da parte di
Pyongyang
All’indomani dell’esecuzione di Chang Song-thaek, avvenuta nel dicembre del 2013, i rapporti tra Pyongyang e Pechino avevano conosciuto
un drastico peggioramento. Per la verità, tale peggioramento era solo
una svolta particolarmente evidente in un percorso di deterioramento già
avviato negli anni precedenti, ma che, dopo il dicembre del 2013, semNorth Korea Admits to Labor Camps, ‘The New York Times’, 7 ottobre 2014 (http://
www.nytimes.com).
93 Latest N.K. Mistery: A Diplomatic Charm Offensive, ‘The New York Times’, 23 ottobre 2014 (http://www.nytimes.com); D. Pinkston, DNI Clopper’s Rescue Mission to
the DPRK, ‘International Crisis Group’, 14 novembre 2014 (http://blog.crisisgroup.
org/asia/2014/11/14/dni-clappers-rescue-mission-to-the-dprk).
94 North Korean outreach to South East Asia part of regional balancing act, ‘South China
Morning Post’, 17 agosto 2014 (http://www.scmp.com).
95 Ibid.
92 127
Marco Milani e Barbara Onnis
brava essere diventato sempre più rapido. Nel corso dell’anno in esame, i
rapporti tra Cina e Corea del nord sembravano essersi ridotti al minimo,
come emerge da alcuni episodi di secondaria importanza, ma carichi di
significato simbolico, verificatisi soprattutto a ridosso e a seguito della
«storica» visita di Xi Jinping in Corea del sud. Fra questi vi erano: la mancata pubblicazione da parte di Pyongyang del messaggio annuale di commemorazione dell’anniversario del trattato di amicizia con la Cina del
1961 (che cadeva l’11 luglio); la mancata partecipazione da parte degli
ufficiali di stanza presso l’ambasciata nordcoreana a Pechino alla cerimonia commemorativa della nascita dell’Esercito popolare di liberazione (1°
agosto);96 l’omissione (per la prima volta), nel messaggio di auguri inviato
da Pyongyang ai vertici di Pechino per l’anniversario della fondazione
dell’RPC, del riferimento all’«amicizia speciale» che lega le due nazioni
(una frase coniata dal padre della patria, Kim Il-sung, e da allora sempre
inserita nei messaggi formali fra Pechino e Pyongyang);97 il mancato invito alla Cina di prendere parte alla cerimonia di commemorazione del
terzo anniversario della morte di Kim Jong-il (tenuta il 17 dicembre).98
Altri segnali inviati dalla Corea del nord a Pechino avevano il medesimo significato. In un editoriale comparso a luglio sul «Rodong Sinmun»,
un giornale ufficiale che rifletteva le vedute del governo nordcoreano,
la Cina veniva definita a chiare lettere «un Paese senza più principi, borghese e decadente».99 La critica, inserita in un editoriale ad ampio raggio
sullo «stato del mondo», rifletteva molto probabilmente la delusione del
regime per la decisione di Xi di recarsi in vista di stato a Seoul, prima
ancora che a Pyongyang; ma, di fatto, faceva seguito ad un’altra presa
di posizione analoga da parte del governo di Pyongyang. Di significato
analogo era quanto riportato dal «News Focus International» il 2 giugno
2014, secondo cui il comitato centrale del Partito dei lavoratori coreano
aveva emesso un decreto interno ordinando ai funzionari nordcoreani di
«abbandonare il sogno cinese», e alle compagnie di stato colpite dalle sanzioni di ridurre la loro dipendenza dalla Cina e di accelerare i loro scambi
con la Russia e con altre nazioni.100
S. Snyder and Byun See-won, Balancing acts by China and South Korea cit., p. 97.
Pyongyang: Kim Jong-un dimentica «l’amicizia speciale» fra Corea del Nord e Cina,
‘AsiaNews.it’, 2 ottobre 2014 (http://www.asianews.it/notizie-it/Pyongyang:-KimJong-un-dimentica-l’amicizia-speciale-fra-Corea-del-Nord-e-Cina-32311.html).
98 China not invited to 3rd anniversary of Kom Jong-il, ‘Yonhap News Agency’, 8
dicembre 2014 (http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr).
99 Pyongyang excommunicates China: a decadent and unprincipled country, ‘AsiaNews.
it’, 1° agosto 2014 (http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Pyongyang-excommunicatesChina:-a-decadent-and-unprincipled-country-31782.html).
100 Exclusive: North Korea decrees, ‘Abandon the Chinese dream!’, ‘New Focus International’, 2 giugno 2014 (http://newfocusintl.com/excslusive-north-korea-decreesabandon-chinese-dream); Chinese-Style Reform and Opening? Not for North Korea,
report says, ‘The Wall Street Journal’, 3 giugno 2014 (http://www.wsj.com).
96 97 128
Penisola coreana
La Corea del nord sembrava quindi prendere atto della «scelta» di Xi
Jinping, facendo a sua volta le proprie scelte, che la portavano ad avvicinarsi sempre di più a Mosca e a riaprirsi al Giappone. Così facendo, si assicurava, dal fronte russo, aiuti e investimenti, oltre alla cancellazione del 90% del
proprio debito; dal fronte nipponico otteneva, invece, un alleggerimento
delle sanzioni, in cambio della ripresa del dialogo circa la sorte dei giapponesi rapiti da agenti segreti nordcoreani tra gli anni Settanta e Ottanta.
4.4.1. Le relazioni Pyongyang-Mosca
Con la Russia, il 2014 era iniziato nel migliore dei modi. Il 18 aprile,
infatti, la Duma ratificava un accordo siglato tra Mosca e Pyongyang il
18 settembre del 2012, che prevedeva la cancellazione del 90% del debito nordcoreano (pari a circa 10 miliardi di dollari) accumulato in epoca sovietica e la ristrutturazione e reinvestimento del rimanente 10% in
progetti russi in Corea del nord.101 Tra i progetti previsti, in primis vi era
la costruzione di un gasdotto che sarebbe dovuto arrivare fino in Corea
del sud, del quale i due paesi avevano iniziato a parlare già dall’agosto
del 2011, in occasione del vertice di Ulan-Ude tra Kim Jong-il e Dmitri
Medvedev.102
Nel corso dell’anno, fatto alquanto inusuale, erano ben tre i dignitari
nordcoreani di alto livello che compivano delle visite ufficiali in Russia.
La prima, quella del presidente del Presidium del parlamento, Kim Yongnam, in mera funzione di rappresentanza in occasione della cerimonia
inaugurale delle Olimpiadi invernali di Sochi, costituiva un’occasione per
rinsaldare l’amicizia tra i due paesi. Tra l’altro, i due paesi erano in procinto di festeggiare il 65° anniversario delle loro relazioni diplomatiche
ufficiali. Vale la pena notare che la notizia dell’anniversario veniva riportata dai media di stato nordcoreani, mentre quella relativa alle relazioni
con la Cina veniva taciuta.
La seconda visita, nel mese di settembre, da parte del ministro degli Esteri, Ri Su-yong, aveva lo scopo, oltre che di rafforzare i legami e
sviluppare ulteriormente la cooperazione economica bilaterale, anche e
soprattutto di discutere potenziali opportunità di investimento, in primis
nel settore dell’agricoltura. In questo senso la visita si rivelava particolarmente fruttuosa. Ri Su-yong si incontrava sia con esponenti di spicco
del governo di Mosca (incluso il suo omologo russo Sergei Lavrov), sia
con alcuni rappresentanti e governatori delle remote regioni orientali,
siglando numerose intese, tra cui un protocollo d’intesa con il ministro
101 Russia writes off 90 percent of North Korea debt, eyes gas pipeline, ‘Reuters’ 19 aprile
2014 (http://www.reuters.com).
102 Barbara Onnis, Penisola coreana. La quiete dopo la tempesta, Aspettando il 2012,
‘Asia Maior 2011’, pp. 321-347, in part. p. 330.
129
Marco Milani e Barbara Onnis
dell’Agricoltura e accordi di investimento per lo sviluppo delle regioni
orientali.103
La terza visita, ben più importante, vedeva Choe Ryon-hae recarsi in
Russia in veste di «inviato speciale» di Kim Jong-un. Si trattava di una
mossa rara da parte del governo nordcoreano (circa un anno e mezzo
prima, Choe era stato inviato nella medesima veste a Pechino), che veniva
interpretata come il tentativo di preparare il terreno per una possibile visita dello stesso Kim a Mosca, la prima in assoluto del giovane leader nordcoreano all’estero. Di fatto, l’anno si concludeva con un invito ufficiale
da parte di Vladimir Putin al leader nordcoreano, per recarsi a Mosca nel
maggio 2015, in occasione delle cerimonie di commemorazione del settantesimo anniversario della fine della seconda guerra mondiale.104 L’iniziativa di Mosca contribuiva a mettere ancor più in evidenza le distanze
tra Pyongyang e Pechino, soprattutto in considerazione del fatto che, fino
ad allora, la Cina non aveva preso in considerazione una simile ipotesi e
che un eventuale viaggio di Kim Jong-un a Pechino fosse da escludersi
nell’immediato futuro.105
Nell’incontrare il presidente russo, il 19 novembre 2014, Choe gli
consegnava una lettera personale del presidente nordcoreano e si faceva latore dell’intenzione del governo di Pyongyang di promuovere la
partnership con Mosca al livello più elevato entro il 2015.106 La visita
di Choe dava adito inevitabilmente a numerose speculazioni sulle reali
motivazioni che si celavano dietro la scelta di Pyongyang. Le spiegazioni che venivano fornite erano almeno tre. La prima era che Pyongyang
stesse tentando di contrastare il suo isolamento sulla scena internazionale, in un momento in cui l’assemblea generale dell’ONU era intenta
a votare la risoluzione che denunciava i suoi presunti abusi della Corea
del nord contro l’umanità; in secondo luogo la visita appariva come un
tentativo evidente da parte di entrambi i governi di indurire il rispettivo
atteggiamento nei confronti di Washington. La Russia di Putin, infatti,
era esposta anch’essa alle sanzioni internazionali a causa delle vicende
ucraine. Infine, si trattava per Pyongyang di un’occasione importante per
discutere della questione del nucleare con Mosca. Molto probabilmente
Choe aveva chiesto il sostegno di Mosca per il riconoscimento del suo
paese come «stato nucleare» e aveva discusso sulle misure da adottare per
favorire la ripresa senza precondizioni del «dialogo a sei». In breve, la
103 N.K. FM wraps up successful trip to Russia, ‘NK News’, 13 ottobre 2014 (http://
www.nknews.org/2014/10/north-korean-fm-wraps-up-successful-trip-to-russia).
104 Russia invites Kim Jong-un for visit, ‘The Telegraph’, 17 dicembre 2014
(http://www.telegraph.co.uk).
105 No, Kim Jong-un not visiting China (yet), ‘The Diplomat’, 17 settembre 2014
(http://thediplomat.com/2014/09/no-kim-jong-uns-not-visiting-china-yet).
106 Choe Ryong Hae Meets Russian President, ‘Korean Central News Agency’, 19 novembre 2014 (http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm).
130
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missione di Choe aveva sia l’obiettivo di aprire una breccia nell’isolamento internazionale della Corea del nord sia di esprimere un certo livello di
insoddisfazione del proprio governo nei confronti degli Stati Uniti. Inoltre, costituiva una chiara conferma della determinazione di Pyongyang di
continuare a sviluppare il proprio programma nucleare.107 Viceversa, per
Mosca, il rafforzamento dei legami con Pyongyang era parte integrante
del cosiddetto «pivot to Asia» di Putin, una strategia che si prefiggeva di
fare pressioni sui paesi dell’UE e degli Stati Uniti al fine di ammorbidirli
sulla crisi ucraina.108
4.4.2. Le relazioni tra Pyongyang e Tokyo
Per quanto attiene alle relazioni della Corea del nord con il Giappone, si assisteva ad una grande apertura nei confronti del governo di Abe
Shinzō, che si concretizzava in una serie di incontri per la ripresa del
dialogo (interrotto alla fine del 2012) sulla delicata questione dei cittadini giapponesi rapiti da agenti segreti della Corea del nord, a cavallo
tra gli anni Settanta e Ottanta. Come è noto, l’esistenza del programma
in questione era stata ammessa per la prima volta da Pyongyang solo nel
2002, in occasione dello «storico» viaggio del primo ministro Koizumi
Junichiro in Corea del nord (con Abe Shinzō al suo fianco in veste di
capo di gabinetto) e, da allora, la soluzione del problema aveva rappresentato la condicio sine qua non per il miglioramento dei rapporti
tra i due paesi. La questione riguardava le sorti di ben 17 persone (12
secondo il governo nordcoreano), 5 delle quali erano ritornate in Giappone all’indomani della visita di Koizumi; le altre, secondo Pyongyang,
erano in parte decedute, in parte non risultavano essere mai entrate nel
paese.
La ripresa del dialogo era stata anticipata da un importante avvenimento verificatosi nella capitale mongola tra il 10 e il 14 marzo, quando i
genitori di Yokota Megumi – la più giovane tra le vittime del programma,
rapita nel 1977 a soli tredici anni mentre usciva da scuola – potevano
incontrarsi con la nipote Kim Eun-gyong, nata da una sua relazione con
un sudcoreano, anch’egli rapito e portato nella Corea del nord.109 L’in107 Kim Jong-un’s special envoy to Russia and implications for South Korea, ‘Daily North Korea’, 8 dicembre 2014 (http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.
php?cataId=nk03600&num=12646); N. Korea eager to boost ties with Russia to fend
off West, ‘Nikkei’, 20 novembre 2014 (http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/
International-Relations/North-Korea-eager-to-boost-ties-with-Russia-to-fend-offWest).
108 Why Russia is bolstering ties with North Korea, ‘The Guardian’, 4 giugno 2014
(http://www.theguardian.com/uk).
109 North Korea abductee: Japan parents meet grand-daughter, ‘BBC News’, 17 marzo
2014 (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-26607446).
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contro aveva richiesto una lunga preparazione ed era stato reso possibile
grazie all’intercessione della Mongolia, che confermava così il suo ruolo di intermediario nei rapporti tra Giappone e Corea del nord.110 Esso
era stato preceduto da una serie di incontri preparatori informali, che
avevano avuto luogo fin dall’ottobre dell’anno precedente, in Cina e in
Vietnam.111
A fine marzo, i rappresentanti dei due paesi avevano l’occasione di
riavviare il dialogo per la risoluzione della questione, a margine di un incontro tra le rispettive società della Croce Rossa. In un successivo appuntamento, a Stoccolma, tra il 26 e il 28 maggio, le due parti siglavano un
accordo (cosiddetto «accordo di Stoccolma»), in base al quale Pyongyang
si impegnava a favorire la ripresa delle indagini sulle sorti dei cittadini
giapponesi rapiti, partendo dalla creazione di un «comitato investigativo
speciale»; dal canto suo, il Giappone acconsentiva a revocare alcune delle
sanzioni imposte unilateralmente alla Corea del nord nel 2006, all’indomani del primo test nucleare. Tokyo, però, non cedeva alle richieste
nordcoreane di bloccare la vendita dei locali che avevano ospitato la sede
dell’associazione generale dei coreani residenti in Giappone – cosiddetta
Chongryon – che aveva funzionato per lungo tempo come una sorta di
ufficio di rappresentanza dei nordcoreani in Giappone.112
È interessante osservare come l’accordo siglato nella capitale svedese
ampliasse il raggio delle indagini, dalle «vittime dei rapimenti» e dalle
«persone scomparse», come previsto in un precedente accordo dell’agosto
2008, a «tutti i giapponesi, inclusi i resti e le tombe dei cittadini di nazionalità giapponese, i giapponesi rimanenti, le spose giapponesi, le vittime
dei rapimenti e le persone scomparse»,113 portando il numero ben oltre le
17 presunte dei rapimenti.
L’accordo in questione diventava effettivo il 1° luglio, in coincidenza
con il summit tra Xi Jinping e Park Geun-hye, quando Tokyo revocava
alcune delle sanzioni «simboliche» imposte unilateralmente nel 2006. Tra
queste figuravano le restrizioni ai viaggi da e per la Corea del nord, il
trasferimento di fondi, il divieto alle navi nordcoreane di fare scalo nei
porti giapponesi per motivi umanitari. In particolare, Tokyo alzava il tetto
sui trasferimenti di denaro tra i due paesi da 3 a 30 milioni di yen, conMongolia’s Tango with Pyongyang, ‘NK News’, 16 luglio 2014
(http://www.nknews.org/2014/07/mongolias-tango-with-pyongyang).
111 An End to the «Lost Decade» in Japan-North Korea Relations?, ‘The Diplomat’,
7 maggio 2014 (http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/an-end-to-the-lost-decade-injapan-north-korea-relations), § 5.
112 S.A. Smith, Pyongyang’s New Ouvertures and Abe’s Diplomacy, ‘38north’, 31 maggio 2014 (http://38north.org/2014/05/ssmith053114).
113 Cho Min, North Korea-Japan ‘Stockolm Agreement’: Prelude to an Upheaval in Northeast Asia-Pyongyang’s Exit Strategy and Abe’s Ambitions, ‘KINU Online Series’, CO 1407, 16 giugno 2014 (http://www.kinu.or.kr/2014/0618/co14-07.pdf), p. 2.
110 132
Penisola coreana
sentendo alla comunità nippo-coreana di aiutare i connazionali bisognosi
nella propria terra d’origine; eliminava il divieto di ingresso nel paese dei
titolari di passaporto della Corea del nord e consentiva la ripresa delle
spedizioni di beni umanitari, quali cibo e medicine.114 Come si può notare, quelle revocate erano sanzioni con un impatto economico minimo, la
cui eliminazione era giustificata da motivazioni di carattere umanitario.
Per questo motivo, la decisione di Tokyo contribuiva a rassicurare, almeno
in parte, quanti, soprattutto negli USA e in Corea del sud, avevano temuto che l’accordo indebolisse la partecipazione del Giappone all’azione di
diplomazia collettiva, volta a contrastare la proliferazione nucleare nella
penisola coreana. In ogni caso, la mossa di Tokyo aveva evidenziato il
mancato coordinamento fra le parti coinvolte nella gestione della questione della penisola coreana, tanto più che un accordo analogo era già stato
siglato nel 2008, senza portare a risultati concreti.115
Una seconda riunione, ai primi di settembre in Cina, che avrebbe dovuto fornire maggiori informazioni sugli esiti delle indagini da parte della
commissione speciale istituita da Pyongyang, attraverso la consegna di un
primo rapporto, si concludeva invece con molti interrogativi (e molte critiche), da parte giapponese, per la mancata consegna del rapporto, ma con
un «importante» invito per una delegazione ufficiale giapponese a Pyongyang. Abe Shinzō, superate le remore, che derivavano dalle forti pressioni
da parte di una componente del governo, oltre che da parte delle famiglie
interessate, sceglieva di accettare l’invito e inviava una delegazione, capeggiata da Ihara Junichi, direttore generale dell’ufficio per gli affari dell’Asia
e dell’Oceania del ministero degli Affari Esteri. Il segretario generale del
gabinetto giapponese, Suga Yoshihide, si esprimeva in maniera molto chiara a proposito della visita, la prima del genere in dieci anni, mettendo in
evidenza quelle che erano le aspettative di Tokyo: «Cercheremo di usare
questa visita a Pyongyang per dire con forza a chi di dovere che questa questione è per noi una priorità. Vogliamo che la Corea del nord spieghi a che
punto sono le indagini sui nostri concittadini. Vogliamo che siano sinceri
nella risposta».116 In effetti, nei due giorni di incontri (28-29 ottobre 2014),
la delegazione giapponese aveva modo di apprezzare i notevoli passi in
avanti compiuti dal governo nordcoreano e, soprattutto, l’apparente serietà
nella conduzione delle indagini. Durante la prima giornata di incontri, ai
media giapponesi era consentito di riprendere i primi momenti dell’incontro e di riportare così la partecipazione di So Tae-ha, il vice ministro dei
114 Japan and North Korea. Stakes Upped, ‘The Economist’, 22 ottobre 2014 (http://
www.economist.com).
115 Japan, North Korea Diplomats Meet in Beijing to Discuss Abductions, ‘The Wall Street
Journal’, 1° luglio 2014 (http://www.wsj.com).
116 Pyongyang, aperti i colloqui con Tokyo sui giapponesi rapiti dal regime dei Kim, ‘AsiaNews.it’, 28 ottobre 2014 (http://www.asianews.it/notizie-it/Pyongyang,-aperti-i-colloqui-con-Tokyo-sui-giapponesi-rapiti-dal-regime-dei-Kim-32542.html).
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Marco Milani e Barbara Onnis
Servizi per la Sicurezza dello Stato, che, a detta di alcuni osservatori, era di
per sé sufficiente ad avvalorare la determinazione di Kim Jong-un nella risoluzione della questione. Ai media giapponesi venivano inoltre mostrati gli
uffici che ospitavano la sede della commissione d’inchiesta e a la targa, che,
in coreano e in inglese li identificava come tali, a riprova del fatto che, questa volta, il governo nordcoreano era intenzionato a condurre un’indagine
sistematica e, se necessario, prolungata nel tempo sull’intera questione.117
Sul finire dell’anno, tuttavia, il processo sembrava arenarsi, oltre che
a causa del rallentamento determinato dalla mancata presentazione da
parte di Pyongyang del primo rapporto, rimandata sine die,118 anche e
soprattutto per via della condanna della Corea del nord da parte dell’assemblea generale dell’ONU sulla questione della violazione dei diritti
umani (fra i cui sponsor, come già detto, vi era il Giappone).
Vale la pena sottolineare come nel rapporto della commissione di inchiesta dell’ONU, alla sezione Abductions and enforced disappereances from
other countries, veniva dichiarato che: «Al di là dell’ammissione del rapimento di 13 cittadini giapponesi da parte di agenti dello Stato, la Repubblica popolare democratica di Corea non ha mai adeguatamente sconfessato la pratica dei rapimenti internazionali».119 E, ancora, nel rapporto si
sosteneva che «la vasta maggioranza dei rapimenti e scomparse forzate è
legata alla guerra di Corea e al movimento organizzato (di rimpatrio) dei
coreani dal Giappone che ha preso avvio nel 1959».120
La reazione delle autorità di Pyongyang trovava espressione in dure
parole di condanna e di minaccia contro il Giappone da parte della commissione di difesa nazionale nordcoreana. «Il Giappone – affermava
quest’ultima – dovrebbe tenere a mente che se continua a comportarsi così, sparirà una volta per sempre dalla mappa del mondo».121 Tuttavia, significativamente, la commissione nordcoreana non menzionavano
il dialogo sulla questione dei rapimenti e, soprattutto, non minacciava
l’interruzione delle indagini in corso. Il che lasciava ben sperare per la
prosecuzione della collaborazione bilaterale in questo ambito.
117 S.A. Smith, Reading Pyongyang’s Intentions with Japan, ‘38north’, 25 novembre
2014 (http://38north.org/2014/11/ssmith112514).
118 North Korea refuses to say when it will deliver abduction report, ‘The Japan Times’,
29 settembre 2014 (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/09/29/national/politicsdiplomacy/japan-envoy-urges-n-korea-end-delay-report-abductees).
119 Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea cit., parte III, sezione F, pp. 13-4.
120 Ibid.
121 KPA and People Will Not to Tolerate «Human Rights» Racket of U.S. and Its Allies:
NDC of DPRK, ‘Korean Central News Agency’, 23 novembre 2014
(http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm).
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Penisola coreana
***
In 2014, in South Korea, the year under review turned into a negative
watershed for Park Geun-hye’s presidency. In part, this was not only the consequence
of national disasters, but also of deep-rooted bad practices of South Korean political
leadership, such as corruption, collusion between public and private officials and
the failure of control mechanisms. In North Korea, one of the key events was
represented by the elections of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), the first since
Kim Jong-un’s ascent to power. The elections were useful in evaluating the new
power structures of the North Korean regime. Furthermore, considering their
peculiar characteristics, with only one name in each ballot, they became a sort of
political ‘census’ of the population, useful to test the level of loyalty to the regime.
Regarding inter-Korean relations, these followed a pattern which, by now, has
become usual: after a partial thaw marked by family reunions at the beginning of
the year, they suddenly worsened.
As for international relations, in the South a trend of very active diplomacy,
already started in the first year of Park Geun-hye’s administration, was consolidating,
and partly compensated for the difficulties on the domestic front. Among the various
official visits made by the South Korean president − all of which had mainly
economic goals – the one carried out in Central Asia was of particular relevance,
helping to strengthen the ‘Eurasian initiative’ proposal, presented for the first time
in October 2013, during the international conference on Global Cooperation in
the Era of Eurasia. Meanwhile, Seoul continued to strengthen its cooperation with
Beijing, marked in 2014 by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ‘historic’ visit, which,
although successful, also highlighted some limitations in the China–South Korea
partnership. Relations with Japan continued to be very tense, even if the year
under review registered a few positive signs, to the relief of Washington.
On December 29, an important agreement for the exchange of military
information was signed by the United States and its two main Asian allies: Japan
and South Korea. Interestingly, 2014 also witnessed North Korea’s unusual
diplomatic activism, thanks especially to the newly appointed Foreign Minister,
Ri Su-yong. There were basically two reasons behind this charm offensive or peace
offensive, as some observers named it. First, Pyongyang needed to breach the
international isolation which affected the country, especially after it was accused by
the international community of serious human rights violations because of a report
published in February by a UN investigation committee. Second, the new activism
aimed at strengthening old alliances and building up new ones, to counterbalance
the continuing deterioration of Pyongyang’s relations with Beijing.
On the economic front, the year registered no major significant changes. The
anticipated growth rate of South Korea’s GDP, fixed by the Bank of Korea at 3.8%,
was fully respected, confirming the country’s place among the strongest Asian
economies. As for North Korea, the positive trend of recent years continued, although
the continuing deterioration in the country’s relations with Beijing puts in doubt
whether, and for how long, Pyongyang will be able to sustain this positive trend.
135
Indonesia 2014: Joko Widodo e la sfida
all’élite del «new order»
Marco Vallino
Asia Maior – Osservatorio italiano sull’Asia
[email protected]
1. Premessa
In un’era di crescenti tensioni geopolitiche a livello internazionale,
nel 2014 l’Indonesia affrontava un vasto processo elettorale che, non
senza ostacoli, si concludeva in aprile con l’elezione democratica del
nuovo presidente della repubblica, Joko Widodo (Jokowi). Per la prima
volta, dalla fine del regime di Suharto, acquisiva la carica più importante dello stato una persona le cui origini erano estranee all’élite politica ereditata dal regime. Per questo motivo, l’elezione di Joko Widodo
rappresentava sia un cambiamento radicale nella politica indonesiana
post Suharto1 e sia il consolidamento delle forme di rappresentanza
democratica. Il presente capitolo è pertanto focalizzato sull’analisi della
campagna elettorale e delle dinamiche che hanno portato alla vittoria
di Jokowi. Alla trattazione di questi temi farà seguito l’analisi delle conseguenze politiche ed economiche delle elezioni.
2. Le elezioni legislative del 2014
Il 2014 si apriva con la preparazione del quarto appuntamento elettorale dell’Indonesia democratica dalla caduta del regime di
Suharto. Il 6 aprile erano previste le elezioni legislative e, dopo, tre
mesi, a luglio, le elezioni presidenziali.
Nei quindici anni di democratizzazione, due caratteristiche avevano
accompagnato l’evoluzione politica indonesiana: l’assenza di dibattito
ideologico tra i partiti e l’estrema personalizzazione della politica. Questi due fenomeni, alimentati dai mezzi di comunicazione di massa, che
esaltavano le caratteristiche personali dei candidati, avevano contribuito a porre l’elezione legislativa in secondo piano rispetto all’elezione
presidenziale. Di conseguenza, la campagna elettorale del 2014 si è
David Adam Scott, Indonesia’s Elections of 2014: Democratic Consolidation or Reversal?, ‘The Asia-Pacific Journal’, Vol. 12, Issue 10, No. 2, 10 marzo 2014.
1 Marco Vallino
incentrata sulle elezioni presidenziali e sulla personalità dei candidati,
mentre poca attenzione veniva data ai partiti che avrebbero concorso
nell’elezione legislativa.
Il 6 aprile, circa 185 milioni di indonesiani sono stati chiamati alle
urne per votare i nuovi 692 rappresentanti nel parlamento nazionale,
il Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat (MPR). L’MPR, infatti, è composto
da 560 membri della Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR), la camera dei
rappresentanti del popolo, e da 132 membri della Dewan Perwakilan
Daerah (DPD), la camera dei rappresentanti regionali. Oltre ai rappresentanti del governo centrale, lo stesso giorno, l’elettorato indonesiano è stato chiamato a scegliere i propri rappresentanti a livello locale.
In totale dovevano essere eletti 2.112 rappresentanti delle assemblee
provinciali, le Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah-I (DPRD-I), e 16.895
rappresentanti delle assemblee legislative distrettuali, le Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah-II (DPRD-II).
La legge elettorale indonesiana applicata a partire dal 2004 favorisce il mantenimento del potere da parte dell’élite politica esistente e rende difficile l’ingresso di nuove forze politiche attraverso
due meccanismi. Il primo prevede che solo i partiti che ottengono
almeno il 3,5% dei voti possano avere seggi nell’MPR. Questa soglia era stata incrementata dal 2,5% al 3,5% con un emendamento approvato nel 20122. Il secondo meccanismo, invece, limitava la
possibilità che i partiti minori potessero presentare autonomamente
un candidato alla presidenza della repubblica. Infatti, tra i partiti
presenti nel MPR, solo quelli che avevano ottenuto almeno il 20%
dei seggi della DPR e/o il 25% dei voti totali potevano presentare
un candidato per l’elezione presidenziale. Questo secondo vincolo,
anche se implicitamente, limitava a due o al massimo a tre il numero
di potenziali candidati alla carica di presidente. Anche considerando la possibilità dei partiti politici di raggrupparsi in coalizioni per
raggiungere il quorum per la presentazione di un candidato, erano
comunque i maggiori partiti all’interno di ciascuna coalizione quelli
in grado di determinare la scelta del candidato. Non a caso, gli unici
tre grandi partiti in grado di ambire al raggiungimento della soglia
necessaria a designare un candidato alla presidenza rappresentavano le tre grandi famiglie che dominavano la scena politica indonesiana nell’era democratica3. Questi erano il PD (Partai Demokrat)
dell’uscente presidente Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, il PDI-P (Partai
Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan) della ex presidentessa Megawati e il
Golkar guidato dalla famiglia Bakrie, il partito dei gruppi funzionali
Marco Vallino, Indonesia 2013: rallentamento economico e tensioni politiche, ‘Asia
Maior 2013’, p. 268.
3 Derwin Pereira, Indonesia’s narrow road of dynastic politics, ‘The Straits Times’, 12
aprile 2013.
2 138
Indonesia
fondato nel 1964 in opposizione al Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI),
vero veicolo elettorale del regime di Suharto.
Il 9 aprile 2014, 139,5 milioni di elettori, rappresnentanti l’82,9%
dell’elettorato, si recavano alle urne in tutto l’arcipelago indonesiano4. Le votazioni si svolgevano nel rispetto dei regolamenti e, esattamente un mese dopo, il 9 maggio, la Komisi Pemilihan Umum (KPU), la
commissione generale delle elezioni, rendeva noti i risultati ufficiali5.
Dei 12 partiti che avevano partecipato alle elezioni, due non avevano
raggiunto il quorum per l’accesso al parlamento, mentre nessuno aveva ottenuto il quorum per presentare, in autonomia, un candidato alle
elezioni presidenziali del 7 luglio. Il PDI-P di Megawati conquistava
una debole maggioranza (18,95%) al di sotto dei pronostici6. La scelta di voler presentare Joko Widodo come candidato del partito alle
presidenziali era stata confermata troppo tardi per sortire un risultato
decisivo sul voto.
Il Golkar dimostrava di essere ancora la seconda forza politica,
conquistando il 14,75% dei voti7. Si trattava dell’evidente dimostrazione della persistenza delle forze conservatrici legate al «New Order»
di Suharto. 8
Altre forze conservatrici, legate all’apparato militare, erano quelle
che avevano fatto guadagnare voti al Partai Gerakan Indonesia Raya
(Gerindra) dell’ex comandante delle forze speciali Kopassus, Prabowo
Subianto. Il partito di Prabowo, infatti, otteneva l’11,81% dei voti, un
risultato quasi tre volte maggiore rispetto alle precedenti elezioni del
2009, che lo portava al terzo posto tra i partiti più votati nel 2014.
Questo risultato dimostrava il sostegno alla candidatura di Prabowo
da parte dei partiti che volevano bloccare il processo democratico e
che intendevano restaurare un regime militare.
L’evidente impopolarità nella quale era sprofondata la figura di
Yudhoyono provocava invece la secca sconfitta del PD, che riceveva
appena il 10,19% dei voti, meno della metà del risultato ottenuto nel 2009 (quando aveva ottenuto il 20,85% dei voti). Anche due
nuovi partiti nati dalla scissione del Golkar, Hanura e Partai NasDem
riuscivano ad ottenere seggi in parlamento. Infine quattro partiti
Voter turnout data for Indonesia, ‘International IDEA’, (http://www.idea.int).
Deytri Robekka Aritonang, PDI-P Pemenang Pemilu Legislatif 2014, ‘Kompas’, 10
maggio 2014.
6 Joe Cochrane, Early Count in Indonesia Favors Largest Opposition Party, ‘The New
York Times’, 9 aprile 2014.
7 Ibid.
8 «New Order» è la traduzione dal Bahasa Indonesia, la lingua ufficiale indonesiana, di «Orde Baru». Questa definizione era stata coniato da Suharto per indicare la
distinzione tra il sistema politico da lui creato e quello del suo predecessore Sukarno, che veniva indicato appunto come «Orde Lama», ovvero «Vecchio Ordine».
4 5 139
Marco Vallino
islamici - il Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), e i più piccoli Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN), Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB) e Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP) -, pur conquistando una rappresentanza in
parlamento ottenevano consensi minori che nel 2009.9
Risultati delle elezioni legislative del 2014 e del 2009
Partiti
Percentuale del voto
popolare nel 2014
Seggi nel 2014
PDI-P
18,95%
109
Golkar
14,75%
91
Gerindra
11,81%
73
PD
10,19%
61
PAN
7,59%
49
PKB
9,04%
47
PKS
6,79%
40
PPP
6,53%
39
Partai Nasdem
6,72%
35
Hanura
5,26%
16
1,46%
0
0,91%
0
75,11%
560
Partai Bulan Bintang,
PBB
Partai
Keadilan
dan
Persatuan Indonesia, PKPI
TOTALE
Fonti: Keputusan Komisi Pemilihan Umum, Nomor: 411/Kpts/Kpu/Tahun 2014,
Tentang; Keputusan Komisi Pemilihan Umum, Nomor: 412/Kpts/Kpu/Tahun
2014, Tentang; http://www.kpu.go.id/
3. Elezioni Presidenziali: l’inizio di una nuova era?
Come già accennato, il sistema elettorale indonesiano prevedeva
che solo i partiti o le coalizioni che avessero ottenuto almeno il 25%
del totale dei voti o il 20% dei seggi in parlamento potessero presentare un candidato per l’elezione presidenziale. Dal momento che, dopo
le elezioni del 6 aprile, nessun singolo partito rispondeva ai requisiti
richiesti per presentare un candidato alle presidenziali, all’indomani
dell’ufficializzazione dei risultati delle legislative, le forze politiche si
sono mosse per formare delle coalizioni.
9 Ibid.
140
Indonesia
Le forze conservatrici puntavano sull’ex comandante Prabowo Subianto, che, dopo aver ottenuto l’appoggio del Golkar e dei partiti
islamici PAN, PKS e PPP, riusciva a portare dalla sua parte anche il
PD. Ultimo a schierarsi, il partito del presidente uscente, Yudhoyono
dichiarava solo a giugno di condividere l’agenda politica di Prabowo
e, di conseguenza, ufficializzava la candidatura della coppia Prabowo
Subianto - Hatta Rajasa per la presidenza e la vice presidenza della
repubblica10.
Tra le forze progressiste, il PDI-P di Megawati ufficializzava, soltanto poco prima delle elezioni legislative, la sua scelta per Joko Widodo.11 Questo ritardo smorzava l’effetto «volano» sui voti che la nomina di Jokowi avrebbe probabilmente potuto avere.12 In ogni caso,
il PDI-P, osteggiato dalle forze conservatrici, trovava l’alleanza con i
nuovi partiti nati dalla scissione del Golkar, Partai NasDem e Hanura,
oltre che del partito tradizionalista islamico PKB. Per la prima volta
dopo le votazioni del 2004 e del 2009, quindi, lo schieramento politico si polarizzava solo su due candidati. Da un lato Jokowi, persona
ritenuta incorruttibile e vicina al popolo, dall’altra Prabowo, figlio
dell’oligarchia al potere durante l’era di Suharto, personaggio poco
attento al rispetto dei diritti umani, nazionalista e legato a doppia
mandata all’esercito.
Prabowo, sostenuto dalle forze conservatrici, riusciva a formare
una coalizione fra partiti che avevano raccolto la maggioranza del
voto popolare (59,12%). Questa coalizione prendeva il nome di Koalisi Merah Putih, coalizione rosso-bianca, dai colori della bandiera indonesiana. La speranza del candidato conservatore era quella che la
maggioranza del voto popolare andata ai partiti che lo candidavano
si traducesse in una maggioranza del voto popolare per la propria
candidatura, nonostante la popolarità di Jokowi. La campagna elettorale di Prabowo, oltre ad esaltare le sue qualità di leader e a mettere
in evidenza la componente islamica della sua coalizione, era mirata
a minare la popolarità di Jokowi. Nonostante ciò e nonostante una
campagna elettorale del PDI-P molto meno strutturata di quella degli
avversari, la popolarità del giovane riformatore Jokowi è riuscita ad
attrarre voti anche tra gli elettori dei partiti della coalizione che sosteneva Prabowo. Il 22 luglio 2014 la KPU annunciava la vittoria della
coppia Joko Widodo e Jusuf Kalla con oltre il 53% dei voti contro il
46,8% della coppia Prabowo Subianto e Hatta Rajasa13. L’annuncio
10 Syarief Hasan, Indonesia ruling Democrat Party supports Prabowo-Hatta pair, ‘Antara
news’, 30 giugno 2014.
11 Yohanes Sulaiman, No thanks to PDI-P: Jokowi wins despite poor campaign, ‘The
conversation’, 11 luglio 2014.
12 Ibid.
13 Official, final tally: Jokowi 53.15%, Prabowo 46.85%, ‘The Jakarta Post’, 22 luglio 2014.
141
Marco Vallino
ufficiale non fermava però Prabowo, che iniziava una campagna di disinformazione, affermando che gli esiti delle votazioni erano state falsati da pesanti brogli elettorali, cosa che rendeva la vittoria di Jokowi
del tutto illegittima.14 Nonostante l’accanimento dalla campagna diffamatoria del candidato sconfitto, la corte costituzionale indonesiana
vi poneva termine in modo decisivo, confermando con una votazione
unanime la legittimità della vittoria di Joko Widodo15
Il 20 ottobre 2014 Joko Widodo assumeva infine la carica di presidente della repubblica. La sua vittoria rappresentava un netto segnale
di cambiamento nella politica indonesiana. L’elettorato, stanco di essere rappresentato dai soliti nomi, aveva dimostrato di preferire una
persona nuova, che, come Joko Widodo, non avesse legami né con il
passato regime, né con l’esercito. La sua vittoria, inoltre, dimostrava
il consolidamento di due processi politici: il primo era il carattere
fortemente personale della politica indonesiana, ovvero il legame fortissimo tra l’elettorato e i personaggi politici, indipendentemente dal
partito di appartenenza;16 il secondo dimostrava la lungimiranza di
una parte dell’élite politica che aveva visto nella popolarità di Jokowi
l’elemento vincente per le elezioni del 2014.
Joko Widodo doveva la sua popolarità innanzi tutto alle umili origini della sua famiglia. Figlio di un venditore di legno nella città di
Solo, in Giava centrale, era poi riuscito ad entrare in politica con il
PDI-P, fino ad essere eletto, nel 2005, sindaco di Solo17. Da allora la
sua popolarità era cresciuta grazie alle politiche riformiste da lui attuate nella propria città. Il sostegno ai poveri ed alle piccole imprese
gli aveva dato un enorme consenso popolare che gli aveva permesso
di vincere il secondo mandato di sindaco di Solo con oltre il 90%
dei voti18. Compreso il carisma di Jokowi, il PDI-P lo aveva presentato come candidato alle elezioni governative di Giacarta, dove la sua
fama si era già diffusa. Governatore della capitale dal 2012, Jokowi
aveva continuato a portare avanti la sua politica a favore dei poveri. Questo particolare atteggiamento, unito alle sue origini popolari,
l’aveva reso tanto famoso a livello nazionale da renderlo, appunto, un
ottimo candidato per le elezioni presidenziali.
14 Michael Bachelard, Prabowo Subianto ‘withdraws’ from Indonesian presidential election on day vote was to be declared, ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’, 22 luglio 2014.
Andreas Ufen, Jokowi’s Victory: The End of the New Order in Indonesia?, ‘Bertelsmann
Stiftung’, Asia policy Brief 2014/05, Agosto 2014, pp. 5-6.
15 Gayatry Suroyo, Fransiska Nangoy, Indonesia court upholds Widodo’s presidential
victory, ‘Reuters’, 21 agosto 2014.
16 Yoes C.Kenawas e Fitriani, Indonesia’s next parliament: celebrities, incumbents and
dynastic members?, ‘East Asia Forum’, 31 maggio 2013.
17 Profile: Joko Widodo, ‘BBC News’, 22 luglio 2014.
18 Ibid.
142
Indonesia
Tuttavia, la presidenza di Jokowi si avviava con evidenti debolezze,
prima fra tutte, la minoranza parlamentare della coalizione che lo
appoggiava. La coalizione avversa, capeggiata da Prabowo, deteneva
infatti il 63% dei seggi, ciò che la metteva in condizione di bloccare il
programma politico di Jokowi. Dal canto suo, Jokowi, nella sua condizione di «presidente di opposizione», non poteva neppure bloccare
coi soli parlamentari della sua coalizione il programma politico della
coalizione rosso-bianca. In passato, in seguito alle elezioni del 2004,
una simile situazione si era risolta col pragmatico passaggio del Golkar
alla coalizione di Yudhoyono, permettendo così alla coalizione del PD
di poter governare stabilmente il paese. Nel 2014, tuttavia, la coalizione rosso-bianca non dava segnali di voler aiutare Jokowi. Al contrario, le forze conservatrici sfruttavano la maggioranza parlamentare
per varare in tutta fretta alcune riforme a garanzia del mantenimento
dello status quo. Nel settembre 2014, per esempio, la maggioranza
riusciva a far passare una legge per l’abolizione dell’elezione diretta
dei rappresentanti amministrativia livello locale.19 Con questa riforma la coalizione di Subianto toglieva alla popolazione il potere di
eleggere direttamente i propri rappresentanti locali restituendo tale
potere alle legislature regionali come avveniva prima del 2005. Dal
2005 infatti, il cosiddetto Pilkada system consentiva che i rappresentanti amministrativi a livello locale venissero eletti direttamente dall’elettorato. Era proprio questo sistema che aveva permesso a Jokowi di
percorrere una carriera politica che lo aveva portato dal municipio di
Solo alla presidenza della Repubblica. Se da una parte il Pilkada system
comportava maggiori costi ed una proliferazione delle autorità locali,
dall’altra aveva portato notevoli benefici alla democratizzazione del
sistema politico a livello locale, costringendo i candidati a rivolgersi
all’elettorato locale.20
Oltre a dover fare i conti con la maggioranza della coalizione
rosso-bianca, Jokowi doveva anche difendersi dalle influenze conservatrici provenienti dalla sua stessa coalizione, a partire dal PDI-P, il
suo maggiore supporto politico. La nomina dei ministri, per esempio, avveniva con indubbie tensioni tra Jokowi e la coppia Megawati
- Jusuf Kalla.21 La figlia di Megawati, Puan Maharani, infatti, veniva
nominata ministro della Cultura e dello Sviluppo umano,22 pur avendo accettato a fatica la scelta di Jokowi come candidato del PDI-P per
19 Jonathan Chen e Adhi Priamarizki, Why abolishing direct local elections undermines
Indonesia’s democracy, ‘East Asia Forum’, 9 ottobre 2014.
20 Ibid.
21 Togi Pangaribuan, Welcoming Jokowi’s Working Cabinet, ‘The Jakarta Post’, 31
ottobre 2014.
22 Wahayudi Kumorotomo, Indonesia’s cabinet line-up: not all the president’s men, ‘The
Conversation’, 20 ottobre 2014.
143
Marco Vallino
la presidenza. L’ambiziosa figlia di Megawati, infatti, considerava il
partito una proprietà della famiglia.
Oltre al PDI-P, altre forze all’interno della coalizione di Jokowi
avevano forti legami con l’élite politica del regime e non vedevano di
buon occhio i programmi riformisti del neo presidente. I fondatori
dei partiti Hanura e NasDem, infatti - rispettivamente l’ex comandante
delle forze armate Wiranto e Surya Paloh -, facevano parte dell’élite
politica del regime di Suharto.23 Inoltre, per compensare la campagna di Prabowo, che lo dipingeva come cristiano, Jokowi aveva stretto
alleanza col PKB, in modo da ottenere i voti dell’elettorato musulmano. Vale la pena ricordare che il PKB era un partito islamico tradizionalista che, nelle precedenti legislature, aveva partecipato alle
coalizioni conservatrici.
Infine, Jokowi aveva coinvolto sia nella sua squadra di consiglieri
nel periodo di transizione,24 sia nel suo governo, alte figure della gerarchia militare che incarnavano l’eredità del regime. Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, ex comandante dei servizi segreti, veniva incluso nella squadra di transizione nell’agosto 2014, mentre l’ex gerarca
militare Ryamizard Ryacudu veniva nominato ministro della Difesa.
Queste scelte sollevavano preoccupazioni in certi ambienti della società civile. Harris Azhar, direttore esecutivo della Komisi untuk Orang
Hilang dan Korban Tindak Kekerasan (Kontras), Commissione per le
persone scomparse e le vittime di violenza, una delle ONG più importanti dell’Indonesia, metteva in guardia Jokowi, richiamandolo alla
necessità di mantenere il proprio profilo di riformista incorruttibile,
al fine di non perdere l’unico vero alleato che aveva: l’elettorato indonesiano.25
4. La sfida economica del nuovo presidente
Il nuovo presidente entrava in carica dopo un lungo stallo nelle scelte di politica economica da parte del suo predecessore, Yudhoyono. L’ex
presidente, infatti, nonostante che nelle sue due campagne elettorali
avesse promesso programmi di riforme per snellire la struttura economica e farla decollare, non aveva fatto nulla durante l’ultimo mandato per
sviluppare una strategia di crescita.
L’instaurazione del nuovo governo, il 20 ottobre 2014, portava
così una ventata positiva nell’economia indonesiana. Nonostante che,
dopo la crisi del 1998, si sia registrata una progressiva crescita del
Ufen, Jokowi’s Victory: The End of the New Order in Indonesia?, cit.
Il periodo di transizione si riferisce al lasso di tempo che intercorre tra le votazioni presidenziali e la formazione del nuovo governo: luglio-ottobre 2014.
25 Hendropriyono’s appointment raises eyebrows, ‘The Jakarta Post’, 10 agosto 2014.
23 24 144
Indonesia
prodotto interno lordo (PIL), la mancanza di riforme del secondo
mandato del governo di Yudhoyono aveva portato ad un graduale
rallentamento dell’espansione economica. Le previsioni di crescita
del PIL per il 2014 venivano ulteriormente riviste verso il basso, dal
5,2% al 5,1%, a fine anno .26 Questo ribasso era particolarmente significativo, se comparato ai tassi di crescita registrati gli anni precedenti:
+6,5% nel 2011; +6,3% nel 2012; +5,8% nel 2013.27
L’assenza di riforme strutturali durante il governo di Yudhoyono
era però stata compensata principalmente da due fattori che avevano mantenuto, per inerzia, un buon tasso di crescita del PIL. Questi
erano, da un lato, le dimensioni del mercato interno, con oltre 252
milioni di abitanti, capace di garantire una costante domanda di beni
di consumo; dall’altro, un costo molto competitivo della forza lavoro
rispetto alla media dei paesi dell’area del Sud-est asiatico. Quest’ultimo fattore aveva favorito un notevole flusso di investimenti esteri
diretti nel paese.28
Con l’obiettivo di aiutare gli strati poveri e la classe media, stimolando di conseguenza la crescita del mercato interno, il governo Yudhoyono aveva mantenuto una politica di sussidio sui carburanti. La politica
di sussidio ai carburanti era iniziata in Indonesia a seguito della prima
crisi petrolifera degli anni Settanta. Con questa politica il governo aveva
fissato e mantenuto il prezzo dei carburanti ad un livello molto più basso
del prezzo di mercato. Una quota del bilancio statale veniva quindi spesa
per coprire la differenza tra il prezzo amministrativo e quello di mercato.
Nel 2012 il prezzo di mercato della benzina era in media di 1,01 dollari al
litro, mentre quello amministrativo era di circa 0,47 dollari per litro.29 In
totale la spesa per il sussidio dei carburanti, solo nel 2012, ammontava a
circa 21 miliardi di dollari, ovvero il 21% del bilancio del governo centrale
indonesiano.30 Nel corso degli anni, il rapido sviluppo del mercato interno e il conseguente aumento della domanda di carburante aveva portato
ad un incremento insostenibile della spesa pubblica. Sul lungo termine, la
politica del sussidio ai carburanti, unita all’assenza di riforme in grado di
reperire fondi per le opere infrastrutturali necessarie al paese per trasfor-
The World Bank, Delivering Change, ‘Indonesia Economic Quarterly’, dicembre
2014.
27 The World Bank, East Asia and Pacific. Global Economic Prospects, January 2015
(http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/global-economic-prospects/regionaloutlooks/eap).
28 Marco Vallino, Indonesia: la democrazia della Pancasila verso le elezioni del 2014,
‘Asia Maior 2012’, pp. 321-324.
29 Ndiame Diop, Why Is Reducing Energy Subsidies a Prudent, Fair, and Transformative
Policy for Indonesia?, ‘Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network’, The
World Bank, n. 136, marzo 2014.
30 Ibid.
26 145
Marco Vallino
marsi da un’economia di esportazione di risorse naturali ad un’economia
di esportazione di prodotti lavorati, aveva portato a effetti negativi.
Di conseguenza, il 18 novembre 2014, Jokowi annunciava il taglio dei
sussidi ai carburanti. Nei giorni successivi i prezzi della benzina e del gasolio aumentavano di oltre il 30%,31 con un aumento di 2.000 rupie, pari
a 0,16 dollari al litro.32 Il taglio nei sussidi del carburante non era una
sorpresa, in quanto parte integrante dell’agenda di politica economica
di Jokowi.33 Nonostante ciò, la popolazione reagiva con proteste e scioperi, mentre i mercati finanziari davano invece segnali positivi. In effetti,
secondo stime ufficiali, il taglio ai sussidi avrebbe comportato, nel solo
2015, un risparmio di circa 120 mila miliardi di rupie (US$ 9,8 miliardi),
che sarebbero stati reinvestiti nei settori produttivi.
Sulla base delle manovre decise dal nuovo governo, nel dicembre
2014 la Banca Mondiale rivedeva verso l’alto le sue stime sull’andamento macroeconomico dell’Indonesia, dal 5.1% nel 2014 al 5,6% nel
2015.34
5. I movimenti radicali islamici nella nuova Indonesia di Jokowi.
Nonostante che, dopo il 2002, non ci fossero più stati attentati terroristici di matrice islamica, il fondamentalismo islamico non era del tutto
scomparso dall’arcipelago. Esistevano, infatti, ancora gruppi paramilitari
che potevano vantare consensi e complicità nei livelli più alti delle istituzioni governative e che, grazie a queste complicità, potevano attaccare
impunemente, in nome della legge islamica, i gruppi religiosi minoritari, come i cristiani e gli Ahmadiyya.35 Nell’anno sotto esame, mentre
le tensioni provocate dall’estremismo islamico tornavano a farsi sentire
a livello globale, il nuovo governo indonesiano si trovava a fronteggiare
le violenze, giustificate nel nome della ferrea applicazione della shari‘a,
da parte di uno dei più noti gruppi radicali islamici del paese, formatosi
durante la caduta del regime nel 1998, il Front Pembela Islam (FPI, «Fronte
di difesa dell’islàm»).36
31 Michael Taylor e Kanupriya Kapoor, Indonesia hikes fuel prices, saving government
$8 billion next year, ‘Reuters’, 17 novembre 2014.
32 Fuel’s errand, ‘The Economist’, 22 novembre 2014.
33 Dion Bisana, Muhammad Al Azhari, Jokowi Eyes Infrastructure Focus With Fuel
Subsidy Cut, ‘The Jakarta Globe’, 27 febbraio 2014.
34 The World Bank, Delivering Change, in ‘Indonesia Economic Quarterly’, dicembre
2014 (http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2014/12/08/indonesia-economicquarterly-december-2014).
35 Scott, Indonesia’s Elections of 2014: Democratic Consolidation or Reversal? cit., pp.
5-6.
36 Ibid., p. 6.
146
Indonesia
L’FPI si era costituito inizialmente a Giacarta e nella parte occidentale
dell’isola di Giava, per poi diffondersi nel corso degli anni, affiancando,
accorpando o sostituendosi a gruppi radicali islamici esistenti nelle varie
regioni dell’arcipelago indonesiano. Strutturato come forza paramilitare,
l’FPI, agendo in nome del rispetto della shari‘a, da un lato faceva oggetto
di veri e propri attentati terroristici i membri delle minoranze religiose e,
dall’altro, intimidiva con azioni violente anche la maggioranza musulmana.
Durante le ore del giorno, nel mese del ramadan, anche i venditori di strada di cibo e di bevande erano diventati un bersaglio dell’FPI.37 Nonostante
che queste azioni fossero contro la legge e in fondamentale contrasto con
quella libertà di espressione religiosa che era uno dei pilastri della Pancasila (la fondazione filosofica ufficiale dello stato indonesiano), né le due
maggiori organizzazioni musulmane dell’Indonesia, la Nahdlatul Ulama
(NU) e la Muhammadiyah, né la polizia e l’esercito, né, tanto meno, il governo avevano mai preso posizione contro l’operato dell’FPI. Tale silenzio
non poteva che dimostrare il tacito assenso sia delle istituzioni musulmane
sia di quelle pubbliche per l’operato dell’FPI. Se da una parte la NU non
accompagnava le violenze di strada dei membri dell’FPI, dall’altra i suoi
vertici non ne criticavano le violenze. Questo confermava anche le tesi basate su documenti pubblicati da WikiLeaks, dai quali si evinceva l’appoggio
istituzionale della polizia agli atti di violenza dei paramilitari del FPI.38 Nonostante che fosse risaputo che l’FPI si autofinanziava con atti di estorsione
ai danni di nightclub e dei bar di Giacarta, questa non era di certo l’unica
fonte di finanziamento dell’organizzazione.39Ancora una volta, dunque,
come all’epoca dei massacri dei membri del partito comunista indonesiano
tra il 1965 e il 1966, le forze islamiche radicali venivano usate come mano
d’opera da parte delle forze militari e di polizia con l’appoggio o il mandato dell’élite politica conservatrice indonesiana.
Il fatto che l’FPI si fosse particolarmente sviluppato e diffuso a partire dal 2004 dimostrava il tacito consenso della presidenza Yudhoyono
all’operato di tale organizzazione. L’ex presidente, infatti, spinto dal timore di perdere l’appoggio dell’elettorato musulmano, aveva evitato di
condannare o di dichiarare fuori legge l’organizzazione. In questa situazione, l’influenza dell’FPI si era dimostrata particolarmente forte perfino nella capitale, come dimostrato dal fatto che, nel maggio 2012, tale
organizzazione era riuscita a vietare lo svolgimento di un concerto della
cantante pop statunitense Lady Gaga a Giacarta.40 Il fatto aveva avuto una
37 Henky Widjaja, Convenient thugs, ‘Inside Indonesia’, 109, luglio-settembre
2012.
38 Bagus BT Saragih, WikiLeaks: National Police funded FPI hard-liners, ‘The Jakarta
Post’, 5 settembre 2011.
39 Scott, Indonesia’s Elections of 2014: Democratic Consolidation or Reversal? cit., p. 6.
40 Ali Kotarumalos, Indonesia bans Lady Gaga concert over fears she’ll corrupt kids, ‘The
Independent’, 15 maggio 2012.
147
Marco Vallino
notevole risonanza nei media di tutto il mondo ed era stato giustificato
dalla polizia indonesiana in base alla necessità di «preservare la cultura
della nazione», come dichiarato dall’ispettore capo della polizia di Giacarta, il Generale Untung S. Rajab.41
Una possibile svolta per quanto riguarda la capacità di intimidazione
dell’FPI è stata rappresentata dall’elezione di Basuki Tjahaja Purnama,
il 14 novembre 2014, come nuovo governatore di Giacarta, succeduto a
Joko Widodo. Il neo governatore, nato in una famiglia di origini cinesi di
fede cristiana, veniva subito criticato da parte dell’FPI per il fatto di non
essere musulmano. In risposta, Ahok, come veniva soprannominato il neo
governatore, dichiarava la necessità di porre fine all’esistenza di tale organizzazione, chiedendone lo scioglimento al governo centrale.42
Con l’acuirsi del pericolo di attentati a sfondo religioso, il nuovo governo doveva dunque prendere una posizione chiara sull’annosa questione della libertà di religione, un pilastro che – come si è già accennato – è,
da sempre, alla base dell’ideologia della pancasila, sulla quale si fonda
l’idea di nazione indonesiana. In questo contesto bisogna anche sottolineare che, come rivelato dalla Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme
(BNPT), l’agenzia nazionale indonesiana del contro terrorismo, negli ultimi mesi del 2014 veniva registrato un allarmante aumento nel supporto
all’IS, il sedicente stato islamico capeggiato dall’autonominato califfo alBaghdadi, con un forte aumento di cittadini indonesiani imbarcatisi per
raggiungere la Siria o l’Iraq.43
Sebbene Jokowi avesse portato una ventata positiva nel processo di
rafforzamento delle istituzioni democratiche, tuttavia la maggioranza delle strutture del governo centrale era rimasta nelle mani dei poteri conservatori, legati ai militari ed alle forze di polizia. Anche sul tema del
radicalismo islamico la lotta doveva essere giocata tra Jokowi, il nuovo
presidente riformatore, popolare e democratico, e la nuova maggioranza
conservatrice del parlamento indonesiano.
L’anno si concludeva con il nuovo governo in carica da appena due
mesi, un lasso di tempo troppo breve perché fosse possibile esprimere
un giudizio sulla capacità o meno di Jokowi di rompere le resistenze del
vecchio regime. Solo il futuro avrebbe potuto rivelare la capacità d’incidenza del nuovo presidente sui temi caldi della politica economica, della
politica estera, dei diritti umani, della libertà di stampa e del trattamento
delle minoranze etnico-religiose. In questa prospettiva, particolarmente
importante rimaneva la questione dello status delle province periferiche
Iman Mahditama, Police say halting concert was to protect nation’s culture, ‘The
Jakarta Post’, 16 maggio 2012.
42 Deti Mega Purnamasari, Soon-to-Be-Governor Ahok Wants Central Govt to Disband
FPI, ‘The Jakarta Globe’, 10 novembre 2014.
43 Alarming rise in support for ISIS in Indonesia, says counter-terrorism chief, ‘The Straits
Times’, 8 dicembre 2014.
41 148
Indonesia
del Papua Occidentale, a cui i governi indonesiani dell’era democratica
avevano negato libertà civili.
***
2014 was election year in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country and
the most populated in South East Asia. More than 250 million people were called
to vote for more than 235.000 candidates in the national, regional and local
elections across the archipelago. The 2014 elections were the fourth since Suharto’s
fall in 1999, a period of democratic transition which, however, has hitherto been
dominated by political forces strictly linked with Suharto’s old «new order» regime. In
2014, however, for the very first time, the front runner for the presidential elections,
Joko Widodo, was a politician without any personal connections with the Suharto
era. The ensuing electoral campaign was dominated by the presidential election,
seen both as the most important among the many electoral races and a decisive
contest between the old Suharto-related political élites and the representatives of a
completely new pro-democratic political front.
After a long and harshly contested electoral campaign, the pro-democratic forces
won the presidential election thanks to Joko Widodo’s popularity. Nevertheless the
conservative forces, headed by former army general Prabowo Subianto, conquered
a parliamentary majority, potentially able to halt the reformist presidential agenda.
While Widodo’s victory represents a break with Suharto’s «new order» legacy, the
fact remains that the conservative political forces seemed to have become stronger
than during the mandates of Widodo’s predecessor and, accordingly, fully ready
to face Widodo’s challenge. Hence, Indonesia’s political future cannot but be the
result of a harshly contested political struggle which, at the end of the year under
review, appeared to be in the offing.
149
Malaysia 2014: Reforms and challenges
in the year of flight MH370
Stefano Caldirola
University of Bergamo
[email protected]
1. Introduction
In 2014, Malaysian politics were largely determined by the general
election of the year before, in which Prime Minister Najib Razak’s governing alliance, the Barisan Nasional (National Front, BN), led by Najib
Razak’s party, the United Malay National Organization (UMNO, or United
Malays National Organisation), finally achieved a majority.
Yet despite its victory, the BN faced some serious challenges. The first
of them was the matter of the popular vote. The Pakatan Rakyat (People’s
Alliance, PR), an electoral coalition of three opposition parties, won 50.7%
of the popular vote against 47.38% won by the BN.1 The second challenge
was the deepening rural-urban split. Whereas the former tended to vote
for the opposition, the latter tended to support the ruling alliance. Third,
there was another gap highlighted by the 2013 elections that was potentially even more divisive: ethnicity. The ethnic Malay majority (the Bumiputera or «sons of the soil») solidly supported the BN, but the economically powerful minorities in Malaysia, particularly the Chinese, were now
solidly anti-BN.2 In a country where 73% of the population lives in towns,3
and where the minority communities’ dislike of the BN government is
steadily growing, only two factors allowed the BN to retain the majority
of seats in the federal parliament: the distribution of parliamentary seats,
which are heavily weighted towards rural, as opposed to urban, areas, and
the growing importance of Eastern Malaysia (Sarawak and Sabah), whose
major regional parties are aligned with the BN.
With the votes of the rural Bumiputera and the support from the regional parties in Eastern Malaysia, the BN was able to win 133 seats,
which were 22 more than the «magic number» necessary to rule in a parStefano Caldirola, ‘La Malaysia in bilico: Najib Tun Razak alla prova delle elezioni’, Asia Maior 2013, p. 249.
2 Ibid., p. 253.
3 World Bank, Data on World’s Urban Population (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.URB.TOTL.IN.ZS).
1 Stefano Caldirola
liament of 222 seats.4 Although the election provided Najib with electoral
legitimacy, protests arose from the opposition and from many civil society
organizations, particularly in Kuala Lumpur. The protestors not only denounced the electoral system, but alleged electoral fraud and refused to
accept the election results. Although these allegations could not be conclusively proven, they made the political situation extremely tense during
the second half of 2013.
As a result of all of this, many Malaysians have lost faith in the political system. Although the first-past-the-post electoral system can easily
lead to a disconnect between the popular vote and the seats won, in Malaysia, UMNO-dominated governments have caused this disconnect to
occur more frequently by gerrymandering electoral boundaries.
The 2013 election also exacerbated ethnic divisions within Malaysia.
For example, in the rural Malay heartland, the BN consciously branded
itself as pro-Malay, and by extension, anti-minority. It seemed to be shaking off its commitment to ethnic harmony that had, in the wake of the
bloody ethnic riots of the late-1960s, led the UNMO, in an attempt to
mollify ethnic minority opinion, to form the BN in the first place.
This situation was not helped by the poor electoral showing of the ethnic Chinese parties within the BN. Increasingly frequent and vociferous
anti-Chinese remarks now began to appear in Malay-language newspapers
that actively supported the UMNO. Even Prime Minister Razak made no
bones about blaming the Chinese for the BN’s electoral shortfall. Stoking
ethnic politics in this way does not bode well for Malaysian political stability, as it might well revive tensions that have been dormant for the last 40
years or more. Besides the fallout of the 2013 election, in 2014, Malaysian
politics was marked by the reemergence of the Anwar Ibrahim affair. The
Kuala Lumpur Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal of the leader of
the opposition, Anwar Ibrahim, on the charge of sodomy. Curiously, and
conveniently for the BN, this decision came just as Anwar was about to
contest an important by-election on 23 March. An Anwar victory would
have paved the way for him to become the Menteri Besar (Chief Minister)
of Selangor, thus giving him a power base in the richest state of Peninsular
Malaysia, which was already an opposition stronghold.
Yet even this was almost immediately upstaged by breaking news of
the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines MH370 en route from
Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. While the whole MH370 incident is beyond the
remit of this article, we must deal with it in passing, because it has had a
considerable impact on Malaysia, both internally, and in the world arena.
But first, let us examine the Malaysian economy in 2014.
4 Stefano Caldirola, ‘La Malaysia in bilico: Najib Tun Razak alla prova delle elezioni’, p. 249.
152
Malaysia
2. The Economy: robust growth and reforms
The forecast for the Malaysian economy in the year 2014 was good,
and the growth registered for the period was surprisingly high, particularly in the first two quarters. The Malaysian GDP grew at a rate of 6.2%
in the first quarter, and the second quarter registered even higher growth
– 6.4%.5 Among Southeast Asian economies, Malaysia tied the Philippines
for the highest growth in the second quarter of the year.6 Third quarter
growth, though lower, was still respectable, at 5.6%.7 The Malaysian Central Bank thus predicted a growth between 5.5 and 6.0% for the whole of
2014 and between 5.0 and 6.0% for 2015. However, some independent
observers think that this prediction is too optimistic. One of these experts,
Michael Wan, of Credit Suisse in Singapore, said: «Our expectation is that
[in] 2015 [the Malaysian] GDP will continue to disappoint the consensus.
We are calling for a below consensus number of 4.8 percent next year».8
The good economic results of the previous years had a positive impact on the Malaysian economy as a whole. Decisions such as the removal
of fuel subsidies, the pending roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST)
and the introduction of new social safety nets allowed more spending,
which promoted sustainable and equitable medium-term growth. While
private domestic demand is expected to remain strong, the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) said the country would need «steadfast implementation» of some structural reforms to achieve high-income status by 2020.9
On the whole, in recent years, the Malaysian economy has done relatively
well, despite the global crisis.
Malaysia’s increasing national debt, however, concerned the Razak
government. The national debt reached 53% of GDP in 2012, the highest level in 18 years.10 In 2013, a central government program meant
to reduce the debt was not completely successful, and Malaysian debt
remained high, oscillating between 52 to 55% of GDP.11 Meanwhile, in
5 Chong Pooi Koon, ‘Malaysia economic growth unexpectedly accelerates on exports’, Bloomberg, 15 August 2014 (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-15/
malaysia-s-economic-growth-unexpectedly-accelerates-on-exports.html).
6 ‘News analysis: Malaysia top emerging Asian economies in 2nd quarter growth’,
Philstar, 29 August 2014 (http://www.philstar.com/business/2014/08/29/1363446/
news-analysis-phl-malaysia-top-emerging-asian-economies-2nd-quarter).
7 ‘Malaysia’s growth slows to 5.6% in the third quarter’, CNBC On Line, 14 November 2014 (http://www.cnbc.com/id/102184981#).
8 Ibid.
9 MIDA (Malaysia Investment Development Authority), ‘IMF: Malaysia’s growth
prospects remain strong’, 12 December 2014 (http://www.mida.gov.my/home/2324/
news/imf-malaysia%E2%80%99s-growth-prospects-remain-strong).
10 G. Sivalingam, The Deficit Dilemma in Malaysia, Singapore: ISES, 2012, p. 1.
11 Government of Malaysia, Debt Clock (http://www.nationaldebtclocks.org/debtclock/malaysia).
153
Stefano Caldirola
2013, the deficit went down from 4.5% to 3.9%, in accordance with the
government target. The goal was to further reduce the deficit to 3.5% or
less in 2014 and to 3% in 2015, before achieving a balanced budget by
2020. Malaysia’s tax and subsidization reforms point to the likelihood
of more deficit reduction in the coming years, an outcome that was not
foreseen just a year ago.
The debt problem is partially due to the state’s unproductive and
mainly politically-driven expenses, such as farm subsidies. However, the
main problem is the narrow tax base. In October 2014, Razak announced
that a new goods and services tax (GST), which had been debated by the
Malaysian political élite since 1992, was going to be implemented by April
2015. This tax, initially set at 6%, is intended to modernize Malaysia’s
tax system, thus sending a strong signal to international ratings agencies,
such as Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. Najib announced the GST in the
2014 budget.
Under the current system, oil royalties and income tax payments
make up the bulk of the annual federal revenue, accounting for 30% and
58%, respectively. The recent plummeting of oil prices has been a major
cause of concern for Kuala Lumpur. There have been increasing calls for
tax reforms aimed at reducing Malaysia’s dependency on fickle oil prices.
Impelling these calls are some gloomy forecasts predicting the depletion
of the country’s oil and gas reserves within a few years. Compounding
this problem is the statistic that, out of a Malaysian workforce of about 12
million, only 14% (1.7 million) pay income tax. Of course, this points to a
thriving ‘black’ economy, which is estimated to account for between 25%
and 30% of the GDP.12 It is hoped that the GST will help to broaden the
government’s tax base as the economy expands. In addition, export items
will be exempted from the GST, so that they can remain competitive in
the international market.
Malaysian economic analysts are not generally in favor of the government’s projected increasing reliance on a regressive measure like the GST.
This is because the income disparity between the rich and the poor in Malaysia is one of the highest in the world. Where 0 represents perfect equality
and 1 represents perfect inequality, Malaysia ranked as high as 0.46 in 2012.
This made Malaysia 36th in the world for inequality and first in Asia.13
The 2015 budget, which was unveiled on 10 October 2014, will be
the last one under the 10th five-year-plan. It is seen as very important for
paving the way to the next – or 11th – five-year plan. There is a lot riding on the 11th plan, because, by its completion in 2020, Kuala Lumpur
hopes the country will join the ranks of the developed world. The Najib
government also plans to reduce the overall bill for subsidies and cash assistance by 7% from RM (Malaysian Ringgit) 40.6 billion to RM 37.7 billion
12 13 Isabelle Lai, ‘Challenges of a new tax regime’, The Star, 20 September 2014.
‘Malaysia’s income distribution inequality still high’, The Star, 3 August 2013.
154
Malaysia
in 2015.14 The IMF has repeatedly requested this cut. Furthermore, Najib
announced that the bulk of the tax surplus generated by the introduction
of the GST (RM 4.9 billion on a total balance of 5.6 billion) will be used
for assistance and welfare programs aimed at poverty reduction. The government thus intends to mitigate the regressive nature of the new GST.
Such a program is not new. In 2012, Najib launched «1Malaysia People’s
Aid», which distributed RM 500 million to families earning less than RM
3000 monthly.15 In February 2013, a revised scheme, 1Malaysia People’s Aid
2.0, was implemented, which aimed to distribute more than RM 2.5 billion to 5.7 million Malaysians.16 These schemes, seen as an election ploy,
constituted Najib’s attempt to lessen the impact of the rising cost of living
on lower income Malaysians.
These programs are not without their critics. One of the most trenchant is the eminence grise of the Najib government: none other than former
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed. To Mahathir, the schemes are ultimately unproductive, because they do nothing to equip people with the
skills that could help them to look after themselves.17 Progressive and
non-Malay sectors have also criticized Najib’s pro-poor policies. They
claim that 1Malaysia and the other connected schemes are just a way of
distributing money to the UMNO’s potential electors.18 Because most
Malaysian poor people live in overwhelmingly Malay rural areas, these
policies mostly favor the UMNO’s main vote bank. The states that stand
to gain the most from the 1Malaysia People’s Aid policy are the two poorest
– Sabah and Sarawak. Yet these states have become essential for the Najib
government’s survival. The urban poor of the states of Kuala Lumpur,
Selangor and Perak, however, have not benefited from 1Malaysia People’s
Aid and have increasingly voted against the BN. The fact that most of
them are ethically Indian or Chinese only heightens the ethnic divide in
Malaysian politics.19
As has been already alluded to in this article, there has recently been a
significant ramping-up of tension between the ethnic and religious communities in Malaysia. Bluntly put, the ethnic Malay majority is actively
pursuing xenophobic policies. To quote a 2014 investigative report by the
news network Al-Jazeera:
‘Income tax and corporate tax reduced. Budget 2015 highlights’, The Malaysian
Insider, 10 October 2014.
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid.
17 ‘Mahathir: No need to continue BR1M in Budget 2014’, ABN News, 20 October
2013.
18 Philippa Steward, ‘Malaysia: race, politics and representation’, Al Jazeera English
Edition, 27 April 2013.
19 Stefano Caldirola, ‘La Malaysia in bilico: Najib Tun Razak alla prova delle elezioni’, pp. 253-255.
14 155
Stefano Caldirola
«Race and religion are used on a daily basis to rupture the relationships
between the three ethnic groups. Today, unlike in the 1970s and 1980s,
there is very little intermingling between Malays, Indians and Chinese.
The country now has Malay teachers telling their third, fourth and
fifth generation Malaysian-born Chinese and Indian students to go
back to where their forefathers came from and as time goes by, the
Chinese and Indians are finding themselves increasingly politically
and economically crowded out of their home».20
3. The Judiciary vs. Anwar Ibrahim: the never-ending saga
Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the Malaysian opposition, has been fighting charges of sodomy and corruption for more than 16 years. Once
considered the rising star of Malaysia’s most influential political party, the
UNMO, Anwar served as Finance Minister from 1991 to 1998 and was the
deputy prime minister from 1993 to 1998. Thereafter, he began a political struggle against then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed. Due to
his popularity among many sectors of Malaysian society, such as the urban
middle class and minorities, Anwar represented a serious challenge to the
undisputed power of the UMNO and its leader, Mahathir. This is why
Mahathir engineered Anwar’s expulsion from the UMNO in 1998. Soon
after his expulsion from the UMNO, Anwar Ibrahim was charged with the
serious offences of corruption and sodomy. Many in Malaysia felt that these allegations were part of a UMNO plan to persecute Anwar.21 The case
triggered much criticism against Mahathir’s Government, both internally
and abroad. Soon after his dismissal from the government and from the
party, Anwar found himself in jail. He was later convicted and sentenced
to 5 years of imprisonment for corruption and to another 6 years for
having had sex with a male (homosexual acts are illegal in Malaysia). He
spent 5 years in jail before an appeal court in 2004 partially overturned
the sentence for sodomy. Anwar was free. However, his corruption conviction stipulated that he be banned from politics for an additional five
years. Eventually, in 2008, he was able to return to the political arena. But
now, he faced new allegations.
During his years of imprisonment and banishment from active politics, Anwar became the icon of a protest movement named Reformasi, which
demanded that the institutional and political system of the country be
substantially reformed. Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah, launched a new party,
the National Justice Party, which later became the People’s Justice Party
20 Zarina Banu, ‘Malaysia Airlines: Catalyst for political change?’, Al Jazeera On
Line, 26 March 2014 (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/03/malaysiaairlines-catalyst-pol-2014326114154815905.html).
21 Mark Trowell, Sodomy II. The Trial of Anwar Ibrahim, Singapore: Marshall Cavendish International, 2012.
156
Malaysia
(PKR). She contested the 1999 election, while her husband was in jail, and
was able to retain the seat formerly held by him. After the formation of
a broad coalition of opposition parties, the People’s Alliance or People’s
Pact (Pakatan Rakyat, PR), she was able to run in the 2008 election before
her husband returned to active politics.
On 29 June 2008, an allegation of sodomy was once again moved
against Anwar Ibrahim, when his former aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, lodged a police report claiming that Anwar had sodomized him. Anwar emphatically denied the accusation and claimed that it was undoubtedly a
government attempt to discredit and humiliate him, thereby removing
him from the leadership of the opposition and trying to put a dent in PR’s
growing popularity.22 During the trial that followed, Anwar’s legal team
produced medical reports discrediting the prosecution’s case, and these
were sufficient to acquit Anwar. Finally free from legal proceedings, Anwar
was now able to run in the 2013 general election as a prime ministerial
candidate. With Anwar at the helm, the PR obtained the majority of the
popular vote. But unfortunately, this did not translate into a majority of
parliamentary seats. After the election results were announced, Anwar
refused to acknowledge them and led a huge and loud, but ultimately
ineffective, protest movement.
The most recent event in Anwar’s ongoing tribulations occurred in
March 2014. At the time, Anwar was contesting a by-election in Kajang in
Selangor state.23 The ‘Kajang move’ was Anwar’s attempt to get elected
to the Selangor state parliament. A successful bid could, Anwar felt, open
up the possibility for him to become Selangor’s Menteri Besar, thereby replacing the current Menteri, Khalid Ibrahim, who was a PKR member, and
Anwar’s political rival. During this campaign, however, Anwar disavowed
the idea of replacing Khalid, going so far as to say that the PR was proud
of Khalid’s sound and «frugal» administration of Selangor.24
But ill-luck dogged Anwar: On 7 March 2014, the Kuala Lumpur
Court of Appeal overturned Anwar’s acquittal on the sodomy charge, and
in the subsequent re-trial, convicted him again to a five-year prison term.
According to the Court of Appeal, the judgement of the High Court was
invalid, as it had unjustly excluded DNA samples taken from the aide
allegedly sodomized by Anwar.
Anwar immediately appealed the sentence and avoided jail by posting
a RM 10,000 bail. He also told the press in no uncertain terms that the
‘Interview with Anwar Ibrahim’, The Diplomat, 9 September 2009.
This campaign was made possible by the resignation of a member of the State
Assembly, Lee Chin Cheh, from Anwar’s party, the PKR.
24 ‘Kajang movement: Anwar fails to tell all’, Free Malaysia Today, 4 February 2014
(http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2014/02/04/kajang-move-anwar-fails-to-tell-all).
22 23 157
Stefano Caldirola
re-trial was politically-motivated.25 After the judges predictably convicted
Anwar, he shouted at them: «You have got want you wanted».26
The guilty verdict provoked the predictable criticism by the Malaysian
opposition. Soon after, Anwar and his wife launched the Reformasi 2.0 protests to decry the use of justice for political ends in Malaysia. Despite its initial popularity, this protest has had a more limited impact than in the past.
Internationally, as well, Anwar’s conviction has been met with skepticism. According to Phil Robertson, the Deputy Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, the trial was «politically-motivated…[and]
all about knocking Anwar Ibrahim out of politics and the government
was prepared to do whatever it took to make that happen».27 Robertson
added: «Anwar and his family appear [to be] caught in a never-ending
nightmare of his political adversaries’ making, with the courts [acting] as
the instrument of his political execution. It’s truly a dark day for the Malaysian judiciary which has shown itself incapable of standing up straight
when national political issues are in play in cases before them».28 Former
US Vice President Al Gore, who, on many occasions, had criticized the
never-ending judiciary case against Anwar, now wrote an article sharply
critical of this latest conviction. According to him:
«It is extremely disturbing that the government of Malaysia – by
continuing to press this case beyond the bounds of reason, let alone
the bounds of justice – has used the courts to short-circuit the political
process. […] By behaving in the manner it did, the court has, of course,
invited speculation by reasonable friends of Malaysia in the rest of the
world that its independence of judgment and judicial temperament
have been influenced by political fear of, and intimidation by, the
individuals now in control of executive power in Kuala Lumpur».29
The appeal hearing, initially scheduled for 28 October 2014, was then
postponed indefinitely. On 7 November, Chief Justice Tun Arifin bin Zakaria said: «In view of the facts submitted, we will require some time. We
will postpone to a date to be fixed».30 In the meantime, however, Malaysia
is in a state of uncertainty. 4. The Kajang move and the future of the
opposition
Lindsay Murdoch, ‘Anwar Ibrahim sodomy acquittal overturned’, The Sidney
Morning Herald, 7 March 2014.
26 Ibid.
27 Ida Lim, ‘Pakatan MPs, HRW claim sodomy conviction aimed at Anwar’s career’, The Malay Mail Online, 7 March 2014.
28 Ibid.
29 Al Gore, ‘Statement regarding Anwar Ibrahim’, Huffington Post, 10 March 2014.
30 ‘No verdict yet on Anwar’s appeal as court reserves judgement’, The Malaysian
Insider, 7 November 2014 (http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/noverdict-on-anwars-appeal-as-court-reserves-judgment).
25 158
Malaysia
The Anwar case has huge ramifications for the Malaysian political opposition – the PR. This is due as much to its internal dynamics as to the
continued persecution of its leader. The PR is an odd alliance of three
parties representing different classes and having differing visions for the
future of the country. Anwar’s PKR has a mostly urban and educated Malay following. The PAS (Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party), on the other hand,
is an Islamist Party with a strongly conservative base, and the DAP (Democratic Action Party) has a secular and Chinese following. Until now, Anwar’s charisma and his legal troubles have kept these parties together, despite their differences. However, their divisions are increasing. After the
March sentence, Anwar was sidelined again, abruptly halting the ‘Kajang
move’. This led to political infighting within the PR coalition in Selangor.
Eventually, the PKR was able to put forward Wan Azizah as the PR candidate in the Kajang by-election, which she won with a majority of 5,379.
In August, the Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim, of Selangor, was sacked by
his own party due to corruption allegations. Khalid, with the support of
the Sultan of Selangor, who is constitutionally the chief of the State, tried
to resist this move. But Khalid was finally forced to resign on 26 August
2014. At that point, the PKR and the DAP proposed that Wan Azizah
should be the next Menteri Besar. The Sultan resisted this move and was
supported by the Islamist PAS. Eventually, the Sultan decided to appoint
Azmin Ali, a PKR representative with PAS support. Azmin was also able to
secure DAP support and duly became the new Selangor Menteri Besar.
This was a definite setback for Anwar, because it stymied his effort to
gain the Selangor’s highest seat for his wife. More importantly, the outcome of the Kajang move highlighted problems within the PR, especially
the increasing tensions between its constituent parties - the PAS, the DAP
and the PKR. The PAS was not at all comfortable with the Kajang move,
ostensibly because of its dislike of dynastic politics, but more probably, because it was uncomfortable that the PR’s candidate was a relatively liberal
Muslim woman - Wan Azizah.31
Internally, the PAS has faced some serious issues. While it has a modernist leadership, the PAS depends on a conservative base. Moreover, this
powerbase is concentrated in the northeastern states of mainland Malaysia. The party has governed Kelantan state since 1971, which has a mainly
Malay population which is 95% Muslim.32 Many laws enacted by the PAS
government in Kelantan have been openly based on local interpretations
of the sharia’a. These moves have been strongly resisted by the state’s ethMohammed N.M. Osman, Oh Ei Sun and Afif Pasuni, ‘The Selangor Chief
Minister Crisis and the Future of Pakatan Rakyat (PR)’, Rajaratnam School of International Studies Online Journal, October 2014, § 1 (http://www.rsis.edu.sg/wp-content/
uploads/2014/10/NL141007_Malaysia_Update.pdf).
32 This is the largest Muslim majority in the country. Department of Statistics,
Government of Malaysia, 2010, p. 13 (http://www.statistics.gov.my).
31 159
Stefano Caldirola
nic minorities, especially the Chinese, as well as by secular parties, such
as the DAP. Shari’a-type laws were also introduced in the years 2008-13 by
the PAS-led PR government of Kedah state. The PAS’s coalition partners
criticized these moves, and the ensuing disunity between them most probably led to the PK’s defeat in the 2013 State elections, which brought the
BN back to power. The Chinese and Indian voters, who mainly support
the DAP, are becoming increasingly worried about the rising Islamisation
in Malaysian society.
However, the major fracture affecting the PR Pakatan Rakyat seems to
be within the PAS itself, not only in Kelantan, but in Malaysia as a whole.
After joining hands with the DAP and the PKR in the 2008 general elections, the fissures within the party came into the open. During the 2011
party convention, Mohamad Sabu, a moderate candidate considered
close to Anwar, successfully challenged the conservative, ulama-backed
leader, Nasharudin Isa. This lessened the rift between the PAS and the
other two parties in the PR. Sabu also tried to attract the non-Muslim vote
in the 2013 general elections. However, the divisions re-emerged after the
Kajang episode. The new leadership has come under heavy fire from the
conservative wing of the party and is in danger of losing part of the PAS’s
traditionally rural support for the UMNO, which is mounting a concerted
effort to win the Muslim vote.
A confirmation of Anwar’s conviction will probably signal the end of
his political career, as he will be 77 by the time he can re-enter politics.
Therefore, it is only natural that PR politicians are now jockeying for position, anticipating a leadership race in the event of Anwar’s eclipse as the
chief of the opposition.
5. The strange case of flight MH370: political and diplomatic consequences
Like it or not, anyone who wants to analyze 2014 in Malaysian politics
cannot ignore an event, that, at first sight, does not appear to be political
at all. This is the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight
MH370. It vanished on the night of 8 March 2014 en route from Kuala
Lumpur to Beijing. At the time, the disappearance was headline news
worldwide, and the fact that, even now, almost a full year later, there is no
sign of it, only compounds the mystery. The MH370 affair has also severely dented the international image that Malaysia was trying to promote as
a fast-growing and efficient country. Moreover, it exposed some of the inefficiencies of Malaysia’s administration, such as the lack of transparency
in its institutional and political set-up, as well as the absence of an efficient official communication strategy. It also gave rise to many disturbing
doubts about the political system as a whole. Although, given the absolute
mystery that surrounds the case, no clear-cut convincing explanation of
what happened has yet been formulated, the whole episode gave way to
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Malaysia
a general mood of suspicion and accusations, both internally and abroad.
At the domestic level, the issue exacerbated the climate of conflict and
suspicion that had been generated by the Anwar saga. At the international level, it has proven embarrassing to the Malaysian government,
and it has caused diplomatic tension with China, since many of MH370’s
passengers were Chinese. Moreover, the rumour-mill has been working
overtime, giving rise to media stories that the disappearance is somehow
linked to Islamist terrorism.
What we know is this: The plane took off at 00:41 Malaysian time on 8
March 2014. For the first half an hour of its flight to Beijing, radar recorded nothing wrong in MH370’s flight-path, nor in its altitude. At around
1:08, MH370’s flight deck acknowledged their handover from Kuala
Lumpur radar to the Ho Chi Minh Area Control Centre (ACC). This was
the last verbal contact they recorded.33 The flight crew was now expected
to contact the ACC in Ho Chi Minh City as the aircraft passed into Vietnamese airspace. But contact was never made. An attempt to contact the
Malaysian airliner through the International Distress Frequency System
yielded only a mumbled, indistinct answer.34 Many calls were then made
from different Air Traffic Control Units from 2:39 am until 7:13 am. All
went unanswered, but were recorded by communication satellites. Kuala
Lumpur radar recorded the last ‘normal’ signal from MH370 at 1:21 am.
Then, the flight disappeared from Malaysian civil radar. At around the
same time, the flight was recorded missing by Ho Chi Minh City radar. Air
traffic control radar relies on signals emanating from an airplane’s transponder. After 1:21, no more signals came from MH370’s transponder.35
This meant that MH370’s transponder had either malfunctioned or had
been deliberately switched off.
Military radar, which does not rely on transponder signals, now joined
in the search. This indicated that, soon after losing contact with civil air
traffic control, the plane had turned sharply westward. It passed over Penang Island at a much lower altitude than when it had lost civil radar contact.36 The last tracking of the flight by Malaysian military radar traced
it back to the Malacca Strait around 200 Nautical Miles (370 km) off of
the coast northwest of Penang. After that, only Thai radar could track the
flight for a short period. This confirmed that it was headed northwest, on
a completely different route from its flight-plan. Probably, flight MH370
33 Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation, ‘Preliminary report on missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370’, CNN On Line edition, 1 May 2014 (http://edition.cnn.com/
interactive/2014/04/world/malaysia-flight-documents).
34 ‘Pilot: I established contact with plane’, New Straits Times, 9 March 2014.
35 David Cenciotti, ‘What we know and what we don’t about the mysterious Malaysia Airlines MH370 disappearance’, The Aviationist, 3 April 2014.
36 Michael Forsythe and Michael Smith, ‘Radar suggests jet shifted path more
than once’, The New York Times, 14 March 2014.
161
Stefano Caldirola
ventured over Sumatra, although Indonesian authorities deny tracking
the plane at any stage.37
At 7:24 am on 8 March 2014, after many futile attempts by air traffic
controllers of Vietnam, Cambodia, and even China, to locate the missing
jet, Malaysian Airlines issued a statement to the media saying that contact
with MH370 had been lost at 2:40 am, Malaysian time.38 The search was
then resumed.
Only on March 24th, after 16 days of unsuccessful searching, did Malaysian authorities admit that the flight was now considered lost and that
all passengers and crew on board MH370 were presumed dead. Prime
Minister Najib Razak now issued a short statement to the media,39 and
Malaysian Airlines sent a text message offering condolences to the victims’ families.
At the beginning of April, after searching over a wide and watery area
from the Anadaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal to western Australia,
the multinational search effort – which, by then, had became the largest
and most expensive in history – eventually limited their focus to a 60,000
km2 search area in the Southern Indian Ocean, around 1,200 km west of
Australia. In this area – which had been identified through an analysis
of the possible flight paths – four unconfirmed signals were detected by
some ships between 6 and 8 of April, after which the airplane’s distress
beacon’s batteries were likely to have been dead. The underwater search
of this area began on 5 October 2014 and was planned to last up to 12
months, at an estimated cost of around 41 million Euros. Up to the time
of this writing, no trace of MH370 has been found.
In the days following MH370’s disappearance, the international community and the Malaysian government feared that it had been hijacked by
Islamist terrorists who intended to either hold it for ransom or utilize it in
a 9/11-style attack. However, by the third week of March, these scenarios
became untenable. The airplane was nowhere to be found, and the Malaysian authorities went on record contending that it had surely crashed,
Daniel Satcey, ‘Investigators to re-examine clues in missing Malaysia Airlines
flight 370’, Wall Street Journal, 1 May 2014.
38 Later, in another statement, Malaysian Airlines admitted that the actual time
of the disappearance of MH370 was 1:21, Malaysian Airlines, ‘Media Statement’,
8 March 2014, 7:30 AM (http://www.malaysiaairlines.com/ksd-maintenance/DarkSites.html).
39 ‘Using a type of analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort...
Inmarsat and the AAIB have concluded that MH370 flew along the southern corridor, and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth.
This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. It is therefore with
deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data,
flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean’. Najib Razak, March 24 2014,
10 PM (Malaysian Time) (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/24/mh370chinese-plane-spots-white-objects-live-updates).
37 162
Malaysia
and that there were no survivors. Nevertheless, the hijacking hypothesis,
backed by several international media outlets, refused to entirely die. According to some hypotheses, the flight might have crashed after a fight
on board between an indefinite number of hijackers and the crew members or the passengers. Some theorized that the plane might have gone
down as a result of an on-board struggle between passengers and terrorist
hijackers, such as that which had occurred on 9/11 on United Airlines
93, which had crashed in Shankville, Pennsylvania before it reached its
intended target. The news that two passengers on MH370 were travelling
on passports stolen in Thailand seemed to lend credence to this theory.40
Later, it was discovered that the two passengers in question were actually
two Iranians who had entered Malaysia using valid Iranian passports at
the end of February. The authorities concluded that the two were probably
asylum-seekers. Interpol was quick to rule out the possibility that these
two Iranians were involved in any terroristic operation.41
Later, Malaysian authorities checked the backgrounds of all of the
passengers, and similar screenings were conducted by US and Chinese
authorities. American involvement in the investigation was probably motivated by the fear that the eventual target of terrorists might be a US military installation, such as Diego Garcia, or other American targets in South
East Asia or elsewhere. Involvement by some radical Afghani or Pakistani
Jihadi outfits was quickly ruled out. At the same time, the Chinese Government announced on 18 March that it had checked all of the Chinese
citizens on flight MH370 and had not found anyone who might possibly
have been a member of a terrorist group, such as the Uyghur separatists.
Although no evidence that terrorism caused the flight’s disappearance
was uncovered, media sensationalism and other in-depth investigations
had a definite impact on Malaysian politics, as well as on Malaysian society as a whole The simple fact that some of the passengers could use fake
or stolen passports to board an aircraft in Kuala Lumpur generated sharp
criticism from the Malaysian opposition and from within the Malaysian
Government as well. Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi criticized border officials for allowing the two Iranian passengers with fake passports
to pass through security check-points.42 On the other hand, he engaged
in a verbal debate with the Interpol chief over the use of a new Database
System. Zahid suggested in parliament that the Interpol database was
too slow to work with Malaysian systems, a statement that drew an unuLindsay Murdoch, ‘Fake passports on Malaysia Airlines flight reveal flaw in
airline safety’, The Sidney Morning Herald, 10 March 2014.
41 Alice Budisatrijo and Richard Westcott, ‘Malaysia Airlines MH370: Stolen passports no terror link’, BBC News On Line edition, 11 March 2014 (http://www.bbc.
com/news/world-asia-26525281).
42 Lindsay Murdoch, ‘Fake passports on Malaysia Airlines flight reveal flaw in
airline safety’, The Sidney Morning Herald, 10 March 2014.
40 163
Stefano Caldirola
sually sharp rebuke from Interpol.43 Apart from political mud-slinging
and the Malaysian Government’s deep embarrassment over the evident
flaws in the security system, the hijacking-by-passengers theory was dismissed. The same happened to the hypothesis of a simple malfunction or
breakdown. After all, the airliner had continued to fly for several hours
after the communication interruption, and there was evidence that the
transponder had been deliberately switched off and that the route had
deliberately been changed.
Investigators now began to work on a different theory, that MH370’s
flight crew was involved. The pilot and co-pilot, in particular, were now
subjected to in-depth investigations. The personal lives of the two men,
their personal relations, political orientations, and psychological states
were subjected to a fine-toothed-comb probe. A new theory, that the pilot
or co-pilot had suffered a mental melt-down that had provoked either suicidal feelings or terrorist thoughts now came to the fore. The focus here
was especially on the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah. The police searched
Zaharie’s house and interrogated his family members and friends. His financial records were seized. In his house, the police found a flight simulator. It was analyzed in-depth by the Malaysian Police, and then sent to the
US to be investigated by a team of experts. Although the media claimed
that some significant new evidence would be found,44 nothing unusual
ever emerged. Some sources insinuated that Zaharie had committed suicide for personal reasons. These allegations were strongly rejected by Zaharie’s family. Nevertheless, the police could not rule out that a suicidal
tendency motivated by personal reasons might lead to an extreme act.
When it was discovered that Zaharie was a staunch Anwar supporter,
the Malaysian media hotly debated whether Anwar might have another
hypothesis to explain Zaharie’s possible deliberate and suicidal hijacking of MH370. At the beginning, this theory – based only on the simple
proximity between the High Court verdict on Anwar Ibrahim and the
disappearance of flight MH370 – was later strengthened by the fact that
it was discovered that Zaharie Shah was a supporter of Anwar. Zaharie
was described as fanatical in his support of Anwar’s PKR, and rumors
were circulated that he had been deeply upset by the verdict which overturned Anwar’s acquittal. Later on, it was found that he was well known
in party circles and was a close friend of the party vice-president, Sivarasa Rasiah. Speculation circulated that Zaharie’s intent was to down
the plane as an extreme act of protest against Anwar’s conviction. Government members and the Malay pro-UMNO press cunningly fuelled
these speculations.
‘Malaysia digs deeper into airport security, people aboard flight 370’, Wall Street
Journal, 30 March 2014.
44 Michael Sheridan, ‘Suspicion falls again on Malaysian Airlines flight 370’s Captain Zaharie Shah’, The Australian, 22 June 2014.
43 164
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This suddenly changed the situation for Anwar. Since the beginning
of the story, Anwar had been very sharp in criticizing the government’s
work. He had attacked the home minister for the failure of passport controls after the story of the Italian and Austrian fake passports had become
public. Then, he criticized the Government for the lack of information
and for the failure in its communication strategies. But later, in an interview, he went as far as to insinuate possible Government involvement
in the disappearance of the aircraft. Anwar literally said: «[T]he Government knows more than us» because Malaysia has «one of the most sophisticated radar» systems in the world. Then, he stated: «They are privy to
most of these missing bits of information critical to our understanding
of this mysterious disappearance of MH370», adding that «the realm of
possibilities is so vague, I mean, anything can have happened», and «[w]
hether they [the authorities] are complicit in a terrorist act, I’m not in a
position to comment».45 These statements understandably caused a storm
to break out against Anwar, with politicians belonging to the ruling majority and Malaysian press journalists accusing him of trying to manipulate
the truth and exploit the tragedy for political reasons. An anonymous
source close to Government was reported by ‘The Telegraph’ as stating:
«The international media response, completely condemning Malaysia, is
unfair. It’s been partly orchestrated by Malaysia’s opposition».46 Anwar
called for an international committee to take charge of the investigation
«to save the image of the country and to save the country»47.
After details emerged on Zaharie’s political affiliation, Anwar was suddenly forced to move into a defensive posture. At the beginning, he denied having ever met Zaharie. But later, he was forced to admit that he
had met Zaharie many times. Anwar tried to hide the fact that the Captain of flight MH370 was a relative of his daughter-in-law. After one day,
however, evidence of the relationship emerged, and Anwar admitted the
family ties.48 In a statement on 18 March, he wrote an article on his blog
dismissing claims that Zaharie’s political affiliation and family ties had
had an influence on the plane’s disappearance.49 However, media close to
the Government continued to ride this hypothesis. The attack on Anwar,
especially at a time when he was politically vulnerable, insinuated that his
inflammatory speech after the verdict condemning him might have influenced one of his supporters to commit a major terrorist act. In this case,
at least a portion of the responsibility has been placed on Anwar.
Barney Henderson, ‘MH370 Malaysia Airlines: Anwar Ibrahim says government purposefully concealing information’, The Telegraph, 3 April 2014.
46 Ibid.
47 Ibid.
48 Adrian Wan, ‘U-turn as Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim admits
MH370 pilot is in-law’s relative’, South China Morning Post, 18 March 2014.
49 Ibid.
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Stefano Caldirola
On 23 June, an official Malaysian police investigation of the disappearance of the aircraft identified the captain as the prime suspect and
proved that human intervention was involved. These conclusions, however, were not based on any firm ground, as the black box of the aircraft
had not been found, and it probably never will be. Accordingly, there is no
proof of Captain Zaharie’s role in the incident, but only hypotheses.
Apart from these speculations, the case of MH370 affected the political debate in Malaysia in another way. The day after the court’s verdict
against Anwar, the opposition was getting ready to organize large-scale
protests. Then, the news that the Malaysian Airways plane had disappeared put a halt to it. According to Wan Saiful Wan Jan, the chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs: «The opposition was certainly planning to capitalize on the verdict against Anwar. But
obviously with the disappearance of the plane, that derailed everything.
It made Anwar completely disappear from the media».50
What has been clear since the beginning of this story was that it was a
big setback for Malaysia at a diplomatic level. It was evident from the start
that the Malaysian government and the airline released imprecise, inaccurate and incomplete information on the incident. Malaysian authorities
were highly criticized by the international media for releasing contradictory information.51 The lack of transparency was perceived as particularly
stinging by Chinese authorities, mainly because 152 passengers of the total of 239 on board of the aircraft were Chinese citizens. Criticism was expressed on many occasions by the Chinese official Xinhua News Agency,
and later, by the Chinese Foreign Minister, Xie Hangsheng. On 25 March,
Chinese president Xi Jinping said he was planning to send a special envoy
to Malaysia to consult with the local authorities over some unclear issues
relating to the missing airplane.52
Relatives of the Chinese victims organized protests in Beijing in front
of the Malaysian embassy on the same day, and they started a call for a
boycott of Malaysian goods, demanding more transparency from the Malaysian government and demanding an official explanation of the poor
initial handling of the disaster. The boycott was successful. In the following weeks, Malaysia registered a 50% drop in Chinese tourists, while
bookings of Chinese citizens on Malaysian Airlines went down by 60%,
resulting in a big financial loss for the company. Ironically, 2014 was the
‘Malaysian China Friendship Year’, designed to celebrate 40 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Tensions were still evident in
‘Why the Malaysian government’s problems go way deeper than the handling
of MH 370’, The Washington Post, 24 April 2014.
51 Simon Denyer, ‘Contradictory statements from Malaysia over missing airliner
perplex, infuriate’, The Washington Post, 12 March 2014.
52 ‘
China sending special envoy to Malaysia over MH370’, Xinhuanet.com, 25 March
2015.
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Malaysia
May, when Najib visited Beijing to commemorate the anniversary. Chinese social media sharply criticized Najib’s decision not to visit any family
members of the missing flight’s passengers. Even Chinese officials, who
officially praised the ‘friendship’ between the two countries during Najib’s
visit, found it necessary in their speeches to press Malaysia to continue to
search for the truth regarding the missing airplane.
Notwithstanding, even during the chaotic search for flight MH370,
China tempered the impact of the incident on China-Malaysia relations.
Despite the domestic furor over the issue, Beijing ultimately limited its
official response to a delay in the transfer of two giant pandas to a Malaysian zoo. Later, the Chinese Ambassador in Malaysia tried to minimize
the impact of the MH370 case on Sino-Malaysian relations, saying: «[The ]
radical and irresponsible opinions (of the Chinese relatives) [did] not represent the views of [the] Chinese people and the Chinese government».53
At the same time, the Ambassador criticized the Western press for having
«published false news, stoked conflict and even spread rumors»54 to create
problems in Sino-Malaysian relations.
The fact is that Malaysia is considered an important strategic partner in Beijing’s dialogue with ASEAN. Furthermore, China has a territorial dispute with Malaysia, similar to those Beijing has with other South
East Asian countries. The Southern Spratly Islands are an archipelago of
around 700 non-populated islands and atolls off of Borneo’s coastline,
which are claimed by both China and Malaysia in a dispute that also involves Vietnam and the Philippines. In March 2013, four Chinese warships held an amphibious exercise in the waters near the islands. Kuala
Lumpur reacted with an official protest to Beijing. In February 2014, the
Chinese navy sent three other warships to exercise in the same place.55
This was a kind of wake up call for Malaysia. Since then, Malaysia has
begun a dialogue with the Philippines and Vietnam over the disputes in
the South China Sea. Even so, Kuala Lumpur has no interest in fuelling
the conflict with China over these islands. As a multi-racial State, Malaysia does not want to increase the ethnic gulf within its own population, at
least not for an international issue. Furthermore, China is a powerful and
important trade partner. Malaysia’s political elite has not yet been willing
to completely abandon its traditional friendly approach to China, especially if there are economic benefits involved.
Supriya Jha, ‘Developments over Malaysian jet search: as it happened’, Zee New,
3 April 2014 (http://zeenews.in’dia.com/news/world/developments-over-malaysianjet-search-as-it-happened_922001.html).
54 Lindsay Murdoch, ‘Police investigate possible poisoning of food on missing
plane’, The Sidney Morning Herald, 3 April 2014.
55 Felix Chang, ‘Comparative Southeast Asian Military Modernization’, The ASAN
Forum On Line Journal, 1 October 2014 (part one) (http://www.theasanforum.org/
comparative-southeast-asian-military-modernization-1).
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Stefano Caldirola
However, the MH370 affair seems to have put some changes in the
bilateral Kuala Lumpur-Beijing relationship into motion. In April, at the
apex of the MH370 diplomatic rift with China, Barack Obama visited
Malaysia, receiving a very warm welcome. The American president signed
an accord with Najib that elevated the American relationship with Malaysia to a «comprehensive strategic partnership», the same status given to
China in 2013. At the same time, it must be borne in mind that Malaysia is one of the 12 countries that are involved in the TPP (Trans Pacific
Partnership) negotiation, a treaty proposed by the US in a clear attempt
to limit Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific area.56 In any case, a slow
change of alignment in Malaysian foreign policy had probably begun to
take place before the MH370 tragedy. Signals of a new partnership with
Japan also emerged during the two visits to Kuala Lumpur of Japanese
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2013. Indeed, the increasing Chinese presence in the South China Sea and Chinese claims over the Spratly Islands
had possibly worried Kuala Lumpur long before the disappearance of the
aircraft. In fact, if Malaysian foreign policy is going to change, this obviously will not happen because of flight MH370. Nevertheless, the MH370
affair has generated diplomatic rifts and has placed Malaysia at the centre of such a highly politicized issue that some media have described the
whole sequence of events as the «geopolitics of MH370».57
The case of MH370 has slowly disappeared from the headlines, as
another tragedy occurred to a Malaysian Airlines flight. This was the case
of flight MH17, which crashed in Eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014, while
en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Although no clear-cut and
undeniable evidence has surfaced related to the dynamics of the event,
it is at least clear that the crash was not brought about by either a mechanical failure or a human error. In fact, the Western press immediately
espoused the thesis that the plane had been shot down by an air missile
that was probably launched by pro-Russian separatists. However, as noted
above, at least up to the time when these lines were written, no undeniable
evidence supporting this thesis has ever surfaced. The incident created a
diplomatic rift between Malaysia and Russia. Also, the fact that Malaysia
received solidarity from all over the world helped public opinion worldwide to be diverted from Malaysia’s dismal image of faults and reticence
over flight MH370.
See Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Malaysia web site for deep
Malaysian commitments in the TPP agreement. ‘Brief on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (Tpp)’, no date (http://www.miti.gov.my).
57 ‘The geopolitics of MH370, having bashed Malaysia over the missing flight,
China is now making up’, The Economist, 10 May 2014.
56 168
Malaysia
***
Il 2014 è stato un anno molto particolare per la Malaysia. Il governo di Najib
Razak, confermato nelle elezioni politiche del 2013, nonostante la consistente
erosione del consenso popolare si è apprestato ad affrontare le riforme a lungo
ventilate e rimandate negli ultimi anni, prima fra tutte l’introduzione di una Goods
and Service Tax. Nel 2015 l’economia malaysiana à cresciuta a ritmo sostenuto ed
il deficit si è ridotto come previsto dal governo negli obiettivi enunciati nel 2013.
L’opposizione, al contrario, dopo il grande sforzo che l’aveva portata nel 2013 ad
ottenere la maggioranza del voto popolare ma a perdere comunque le elezioni per
via dell’iniqua struttura delle circoscrizioni elettorali, si è dovuta confrontare con
le crescenti divisioni al suo interno. Queste hanno trovato espressione in particolare
nella sostituzione del Menteri Besar (primo ministro) dell’importante stato del
Selangor, frutto di un aspro conflitto interno tra le sue diverse anime, conflitto in
cui sono prepotentemente emerse le divisioni presenti in uno schieramento composito
e potenzialmente disunito.
Due episodi hanno però contribuito in modo decisivo a caratterizzare il 2015
in Malaysia, verificatisi a distanza di meno di 24 ore l’uno dall’altro. Il 7 marzo
2014 l’Alta Corte di Kuala Lumpur ha annullato l’assoluzione di Anwar Ibrahim
nel famigerato caso che lo vedeva accusato di sodomia. La decisione in questione
prospetta la possibilità che le porte del carcere si riaprano per il principale leader
dell’opposizione, scrivendo un nuovo capitolo nella saga apparentemente senza
fine che lo vede contrapposto da anni alla magistratura. Nelle prime ore del giorno
8 marzo 2014, un aereo della Malaysian Airlines, impegnato nell’espletare il volo
MH370, è misteriosamente e improvvisamente scomparso dai radar, suscitando
apprensione in tutto il mondo. Dopo alcuni giorni, le autorità hanno dichiarato
che il velivolo era certamente precipitato e che passeggeri ed equipaggio erano da
considerarsi tutti deceduti. L’intera vicenda è subito apparsa misteriosa quanto
inquietante. Da più parti si sono levate forti critiche e dubbi per la gestione da
parte delle autorità malaysiane dell’intera vicenda. Il caso del volo MH370 ha
aperto contrasti diplomatici in particolare con la Cina ed ha avuto ripercussioni
anche nel dibattito politico interno, andando a surriscaldare un clima politico già
arroventato dalla sentenza sul caso Anwar Ibrahim. L’intera vicenda ha aperto
la strada a sospetti, dietrologie e accuse, ma ha anche sviato in modo decisivo
l’attenzione dell’opinione pubblica dalla vicenda personale e politica di Anwar.
169
C ambodia 2014: T he continuation of the H un S en -S am
R ainsy political duel and the surge in social conflict
Nicola Mocci
University of Sassari
[email protected]
1. Introduction
In late 2013 and early 2014, a lengthy series of working class protests
broke out in several Cambodian towns and violent clashes with the police
were the order of the day. The most serious episode occurred during the
demonstration on January 4, 2014, when four protesters were killed, a
countless number injured, and 23 workers, trade unionists, activists, and
monks were also arrested. The workers, who mainly came from the textile
and garment industries, were demanding better pay and working conditions and also complaining about discrimination against their organizations and trade union representatives.1 The police used disproportionate
force to stop all these spontaneous and unauthorized marches and to curb
the attempts to damage factories or street furniture.2
The protesters immediately received strong support from the main
opposition party, the CNRP (Cambodian National Rescue Party), whose
leader, Sam Rainsy, hoped to discredit Prime Minister Hun Sen and force
him to resign.
The violence also gave the western press their chance to re-voice their
complaints against the Cambodian leader, Hun Sen. At best, he was labelled as an «authoritarian leader»,3 while in the worst cases, he was the
«long-serving prime minister-dictator».4 The Asian and national press
opted for a more cautious approach and made use of milder sounding
expressions such as «the strong men leader».
In recent years, the Cambodian Prime Minister has undoubtedly
maintained stubborn control over the main nerve centres of power. The
1 The demonstrators also included low wage workers in petrol stations, transportation companies, brewery workers, and sanitation workers.
2 On this more later.
3 ‘Crack down in Cambodia’, The New York Times, 8 January 2014.
4 ‘Cambodia Cracks Down on Protest With Evictions and Ban on Assembly’, The
New York Times, 4 January 2014; ‘Crack down in Cambodia’, The New York Times, 8
January 2014.
Nicola Mocci
Cambodian power issue and Hun Sen’s iron-fist rule are amply discussed
in Sebastian Strangio’s latest biography about Premier.5 Moreover, evidence suggests that Hun Sen has actively lobbied to restrict freedom of information and to marginalize the opposition parties. Indeed, a number of
reasons make it probable that Hun Sen will maintain his firm grip on the
country for many years to come. First of all, he has placed his most trusted
men – and his sons – in key positions in the armed forces, and his reform
of the justice system also appears to have been designed to keep him
in power. Furthermore, he has also recently managed to cut the hostile
factions within his own party, the Kanakpak Pracheachon Kampuchea (Cambodia Peoples’ Party, CPP) down to size. And finally, in 2014, during the
clamorous absence of the party chairman, Chea Sim, Hun Sen took over
party leadership on the 63rd anniversary of the founding of the CCP.6
Nevertheless, already back in autumn 2013, after his narrow victory
in the July 2013 elections, the Prime Minister had had to deal with strong
parliamentary opposition from the CNRP, which could count on international political and economic backing, especially from the United States
and European Union. The main opposition party started to actively support the major unions and the workers’ protests. No doubt, these protests
were caused by the workers’ precarious working conditions; the CNRP,
however, did their best to push these protests to the limit, less with the
aim to improve the workers’ conditions than force Hun Sen to resign.
All in all, the workers did manage to get a pay increase, but little has
changed as regards their working conditions in general. For their part,
the opposition parties have never been able to dent the legitimacy of Hun
Sen’s power. In fact, even during the difficult 2014 period, the Prime Minister could always count on two unquestionable advantages. First of all, the
country was making clear progress and seemed to be in a phase of apparently unstoppable economic development, as shown by the exceptional
reduction in poverty rates in the period between 2004 and 2012, which
gradually went down from 53.2% to 18.6%,7 and had already reached the
5 Sebastian Strangio, Hun Sens’s Cambodia, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014, p. XV. Sebastian Strangio, was a former reporter and deputy news
editor for the English-language The Phnom Penh Post, one of the two newspapers
published in English in Cambodia.
6 ‘The slow demise of Hun Sen’s greatest CPP rival’, The PhnomPenh Post, 14 November 2014.
7 The poverty rate in rural areas is still high, even though it has fallen from 59%
to 22.2%, while it is extremely low in the towns. In Phnom Penh, for example, it
affects 3.8% of the population. The poverty line is the cost of a food basket with a
minimum amount of calories, plus an allowance for non-food consumption. Carlos
Sobrado, Where have all the poor gone? Cambodia Poverty Assessment 2013, Phnom
Penh: World Bank, February 2014 (http://www.slideshare.net/WB_Research/cambodia-poverty-assessment-feb-2014).
172
Cambodia
threshold of the Millennium Development Goals in 2011.8 In addition,
even though 2014 was such a difficult year, there was a continuous growth
in national and per capita wealth (GDP + 7.2%)9.
A number of analysts have used these data to try and explain the relationship between economic development and the Cambodian authoritarian drift. Two main schools of thoughts have arisen regarding the issue:
the first offers a culturalist explanation, while the other considers tradition as having little or nothing to do with the rise of authoritarianism.
For the former school, the authoritarian regime is the result of Cambodia’s long history of monarchical tradition and centralized power,10 which
makes it difficult for democratic forms to develop within the Cambodian
system. On the contrary, the latter group suggests that the regime has
taken its present shape as this is functional to the in loco implementation
of neoliberal policies.11 In fact, this system has given birth to a development model, largely based on foreign investment and on export oriented
manufacturing, which needs «order» and «stability» to be effective. In
other words, investors must be able to count on an environment where
production costs are low and there is little danger of social conflict.
With this introduction in mind, our analysis begins with the origins of
the workers’ protests and the resulting consequences for Cambodian politics
and society in 2014. The second part of the present chapter deals with international relations, with particular regard to Cambodia’s increasingly strong
links with China. Finally, the tensions that arose with Thailand, after the
coup of May 2014, and the differences with Australia, following Canberra’s
decision to transfer political refugees to Cambodia will be discussed.
8 The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is a development programme,
elaborated by the United Nations in 2000. It has 8 objectives to be reached before
2015. The first of these was the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger (http://
www.un.org/millenniumgoals).
9 Enrique Aldaz-Carroll and Sodeth Ly, Cambodia Economic Update, October 2014,
The World Bank (http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/cambodia/publication/
cambodia-economic-update-october-2014).
10 Among the scholars who favour the culturalist approach: Abdul Gaffar PeangMeth, ‘Undemanding Cambodia’s political developments’, Contemporary Southeast
Asia, n. 19, 1991, pp. 286-308; Stephan Heder, ‘Cambodia’s democratic transition
to neoauthoritarianism’, Current History, n. 94, 1995, pp. 425-429. David Roberts,
Political Transition in Cambodia 1991-99: Power Elitism and Democracy, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 2001; Alain Forest, ‘Pour comprendre l’histoire du Cambodge’,
A. Forest (sous la direction de), Cambodge contemporain, Bangkok, Paris: Irasec, Les
Indes Savantes, 2008, pp. 17-140.
11 Among the scholars who see neo-liberal ideology as the cause for the slowing
down of democracy: Caroline Hughes, The Political Economy of Cambodia’s transition,
1991-2001. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003; Simon Springer, Cambodia’s Neoliberal Order. Violence, authoritarianism, and the contestation of public space, London and
New York: Routledge, 2010.
173
Nicola Mocci
2. The origin of the protests and the political consequences
There are basically two motives behind the protests carried out by Cambodian workers from Autumn 2013 onwards: the poor working conditions
in the garment factories,12 and the strong support the workers received
from the main opposition party, after the July 2013 election campaign.
In order to illustrate just how these protest movements gathered momentum and eventually erupted in the epiphenomenal violence of January 2014, the first part of the present section studies working conditions
in Cambodia, while the second part focuses on the political exploitation
of workers.
2.1. The textile industries and social conflicts
From the mid-nineties onwards, in the aftermath of the peace agreements of 1991 and after the so-called UN-led peacekeeping mission in
1992-93, Cambodia became a political laboratory of neoliberalism. The
government that was established in the post-Pol Pot era was headed not
by one but by two Prime Ministers: Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen.
Under the auspices of the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the WB
(World Bank), and the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD), it
set up an institutional framework that was capable of creating the perfect
environment to attract foreign investment. As a result, over the next few
years, the Cambodian government created several special economic zones,
where many of the leading garment manufacturers based their factories.
Cambodia soon achieved a substantial FDI (Foreign Direct Investment), since it had a lot to offer investors, not least the low wages and
practically non-existent trades unions. Then, there were numerous benefits and sizeable tax exemptions, as well as the liberalization of the country’s economy and its entry into the WTO (2004). Over 85% of Cambodian garment factories are controlled by overseas investors (Singapore,
China, Malaysia, Taiwan)13 and produce clothes for several major international brands.
In fact, any manufacturers who set up a company in Cambodia are
entitled to tax exemption for the first five years. Most of these factories
have either been built in the central provinces or near to the port city of
Sihanoukville.
Yoko Asuyama and Seiha Neou, ‘How Has the Cambodian Garment Industry
Evolved?’ Fukunishi Takahiro (Ed.), Dynamics of the Garment Industry in Low-Income
Countries: Experience of Asia and Africa (Interim Report), Chousakenkyu Houkokusho,
IDE-JETRO, 2012.
13 Jeroen Merk, Report. Living Wage in Asia, 2014. Clean Clothes Campaign, p. 8
(http://www.cleanclothes.org/resources/publications/asia-wage-report).
12 174
Cambodia
However, although the creation of these industrial districts has allowed
Cambodia to increase its national wealth, it has also given rise to a number
of social problems that the government has found difficult to control. For
example, the country has to face the challenges of uncontrolled urbanization, the massive and sudden depopulation of the countryside, and also
deal with a welfare system that offers no rights to workers when they stop
working. The situation further deteriorated in 2008 and 2009, when the
international economic crisis caused a slowdown in exports that led to
the dismissal of 60,000 workers, while a further 30,000 had their working
hours reduced. When one realizes that the number of workers employed
in the textile/clothing industries in 2008 was just over 360,000, it follows
that, in less than a year, a quarter of the workforce had been affected.
Today, the garment industry remains a key pillar of Cambodia’s economy.
There are approximately 558 garment factories, employing over 475,000
people.14 More than 95% of the workers are young women, who send 3050% of their wages home to their families, and hence it is estimated that
about 1.7 million Cambodians depend on these industries.15
In such a context, it is easy to see that any export fluctuations or, more
generally, any turbulence in international markets has immediate consequences for the workers. This was one of the reasons underlying the continual demonstrations by workers in the crisis years (2008/2009), which,
by the way, were normally quite peaceful affairs (Table 1). Moreover, as
mentioned before, the protests always brought the government to take
some kind of perfunctory action in favour of the workers, although the
minimal pay rises and the introduction of new legislation actually did very
little to improve the welfare system.
Table 1 Number of strikes in the textile / clothing industry
year
strikes
2008
105
2009
58
2010
45
2011
34
2012
121
2013
147
2014
86 till October 2014
Source: Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia(http://gmac-cambodia.org/strike).
CCHR, Map of Garment Factories and Supply Chains, data gathered from GMAC and
local media, May 2013, (www.sithi.org/temp.php?url=bhr/bhr_list.php).
15 Better Factories Cambodia, ILO, The garment industry, 2013
(http://betterfactories.org/?page_id=25).
14 175
Nicola Mocci
The data regarding the number of strikes provide a clear picture of
the unrest in the country. This not only intensified in periods of economic
crisis, like 2008, but also between 2012 and 2013, when production and
employment levels were not really such a cause for concern. This suggests
that the increase in outbreaks of trouble was linked to a worsening in
working conditions. Although the figures in the table only refer to the period up to the month of October 2014, local papers reported that the protests continued until mid-November, when the government announced a
new minimum wage increase to be effective from 1 January, 2015.
The news reports describing the Cambodian strikes reveal the numerous reasons behind the protests: the exhausting shift work; pressure
from employers; forced redundancy for pregnant employees; the different terms of employment from factory to factory, and the general lack of
decent working conditions. Furthermore, many problems were also due to
the division in the trades unions, which was a repercussion of the split between the major political parties. Of the 362 garment factories monitored
by the ILO, 29% had no registered union, 42% only one union, a further
17% two unions, 12% three or more unions.16
The workers’ protests and demands placed the Cambodian government in a difficult position.17 Despite its willingness to take its seat at
the bargaining table, it now had to deal with international pressure to
guarantee the workers’ right to trade union representation, and also
tackle the threats from the multinational corporations to outsource production.
2.2. CNRP mobilization against the CPP
The CNRP leader Sam Rainsy and his populist promises certainly
conditioned the campaign for the 28 July 2013 elections, and, from this
time onwards, the workers’ protests received backing from the opposition
parties. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy had only returned to Cambodia
on the eve of the election, after a time spent abroad to avoid serving a
prison sentence imposed in 2010. During his exile, he had managed to
gain the support of Catherine Ashton, the European Commissioner for
Foreign Affairs, as well as the European Parliament, and the Congress in
Washington. The moral suasion used by the great Western powers against
the government in Phnom Penh resulted in an unexpected pardon for the
opposition leader on 12 July 2013, and his immediate return to Phnom
Penh. Although he had very little time to organize his campaign, Sam still
ILO, better factories Cambodia, Thirty First Synthesis Report On Working Conditions In Cambodia’s Garment Sector, 2014, p. 8.
17 ‘Cambodian garment strikers victimised as unions enter talks’, World Socialist Web
Site, 1 October 2010 (http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2010/10/camb-o01.html).
16 176
Cambodia
managed to mobilize his supporters by making a series of electoral promises. These included the doubling of the minimum wage for all workers,
a pension increase, reduced fuel, fertilizer, and electricity costs, and also
medical care for the poor.
National and international observers monitored the elections on 28
July 2013, which were held in a peaceful manner. Hun Sen’s party was
declared victor,18 with 48.8% of the vote. However, this was less than a
decisive victory, as the CNRP gained almost as big a share of the popular
vote, namely 44.6%, which was a mere four percentage points less than
the winner.
Immediately after the election, the CNRP questioned the validity of
the vote. They denounced cases of electoral fraud and irregularities and
staged a parliament walkout, calling on voters to take to the streets in protest. Meanwhile, on 23 September 2013, Hun Sen was asked by the King
to form a new government, and, on 24 September, obtained the vote of
confidence from the Lower House.
September 2013, therefore, marked the start of a long protest by the
CNRP, who refused to sit in the National Assembly. They also did their
best to instigate the workers to take to the streets to demand higher wages
and force the government to resign. Demonstrations started to spring up
in every town and especially in Phnom Penh, the scene of huge protest
marches and ever-increasing tension between the police and the protesters. In December 2013, the CNRP announced that the protests would not
end and that there would be non-stop demonstrations, with permanent
sit-ins in the town squares, until Hun Sen handed in his resignation.19
The various attempts on the part of the Prime Minister to meet with Sam
Rainsy all came to nothing, until the tentative offer of the CNRP to sit
down and negotiate with the CPP, on 1 January 2014.20
Over the next few days, the news was filled with reports of the army’s
use of violence to repress the demonstrations and the deployment of a
special fully armed unit to arrest protestors. Indeed, this was the first time
the Special Forces Airborne Unit 911 had been used against demonstrators, when it arrested, among others, five monks.21 In answer to the ensuing public outcry, a police spokesman said that the arrested protesters had
been caught trying to destroy some factories.22
‘Gambit by CNRP an «all-in» move, The Phnom Penh Post, 16 December 2013.
Ibid.
20 ‘CNRP, CPP set table for meet’, PhnomPenh Post, 1 January 2014.
21 ‘Cambodian activist decry crackdown on strikers’, Agence France Presse, 2 January
2014. Some accounts related to the threats and violence against the demonstrators
are given in Kouth Sophak Chakrya, ‘Ven Sreng’s voices’, The Phnom Penh Post, 6
January 2014
22 ‘Monks, labor leaders detained as Cambodian troops quash protest at garment
factory’, Associated Press, 2 January 2014.
18 19 177
Nicola Mocci
In the face of this violence, the CNRP refused to take part in negotiations with the CPP, and the political stalemate continued.23 On 2 January,
2014 the workers returned to work, putting an end to a long and tiring
week of strikes.24 However, a large group of protesters continued to occupy
Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, the scene of the permanent sit-ins, and they
never stopped organizing protest marches or traffic blocks in all the main
streets of the town. On 3 January 2014, the police attacked a march organized near a factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, and things came to a
dramatic end. Three or four people were killed (although police sources
give the number as being just one25), 23 activists were arrested, and a significant number of people were injured. The body of one wounded man
now presumed dead has never been found.
2.3. The political stalemate after the violence
The days immediately following the violence were tension-filled. Several diplomats, including those from China26 and Japan27, asked the two
conflicting parties to resume talks. On 4 January 2014, the army dispersed
the permanent rally in Freedom Park and removed the protesters.28
The whole situation was extremely embarrassing for many of the bigname brands, whose clothes and shoes were manufactured in Cambodia,
and they agreed to adopt major wage concessions.29 This was also the period
when thousands of activists, with the help of the social media, organized protests against Cambodian violence in all parts of the world (in Bangkok and
Hong Kong on 10 January 2014, and in London on 13 January 2014).
Sam Rainsy, along with Kem Sokha, member of parliament and deputy chairman of the CNRP (an experienced democratic politician who
founded the Human Rights Party in 2007), organized a number of sit-ins
23 ‘Cambodia’s opposition party suspend talk plan with ruling party, Xinhua News
Agency, 2 January 2014.
24 ‘Cambodian garment workers return to work as factory reopen’, Philippines News
Agency, 2 January 2014.
25 ‘Cambodian premier steps on curbs on opposition’, The Telegraph On line, 5
January 2014.
26 ‘China calls on Cambodia Parties to settle problems through «friendly» talks’,
BBC, 6 January 2014.
27 ‘Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Statement by the Press Secretary, Ministry
of Foreign Affairs of Japan, on Clashes between Demonstrators and Security Authorities in Cambodia’, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 8 January 2014 (http://
www.mofa.go.jp/press/release/press2e_000001.html).
28 ‘Cambodian police disperse opposition rally’, Agence France Press, 4 January
2014.
29 ‘Global Brands Urge Renewed Talks in Cambodia’, WWD, 8 January 2014
(http://www.wwd.com).
178
Cambodia
to commemorate the workers who had died in the struggles. However, it
was not long before they were summoned to court on charges of inciting
the protests and encouraging the use of violence against the police. Naturally enough, these accusations only served to increase tensions.30
While the government hastened to announce that 85% of the workers had returned to work,31 the United States officially declared its outrage over the events. Furthermore, the Chinese government expressed its
hope for a peaceful solution to the conflict between the two Cambodian
parties.32 In the days following the violence, despite several reports of a
series of more or less secret meetings between Hun Sen and the opposition leaders, nothing concrete ever happened.
A situation of extreme tension between the government and the opposition forces came into being. On several occasions, the CNRP announced
the organization of further sit-ins and protests, while the government’s
answer was to close Freedom Park and ban demonstrations. The media,
mostly in line with the government, tried to lighten the mood in the country, by highlighting news about other events that had nothing to do with the
protest movements. For example, ample space was given in all the papers,
both before and after his trip, to the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen
Tan Dung’s two-day official visit from January 12 to 14. Then again, the
benefits Cambodia would receive from the strengthening of bilateral relations with Vietnam, including the construction of a new bridge across the
Mekong, close to the border, filled the newspaper, trying to convey a picture
of everyday normality. Hun Sen used the National Bank of Cambodia’s
announcement of an improved GDP growth rate of 7% in 2013 to remind
the people that this increase was thanks to his government. Also, in most of
his many public speeches, Hun Sen never failed to mention, among other
things, the 69% increase in domestic and foreign investment projects, as
compared to 2013, valued at 4.9 billion US dollars.33
As regards the clampdown on violence, Hun Sen declared on more
than one occasion that he had no intention of relinquishing his mandate
or resigning. At the same time, he accused the members of the CNRP of
conspiring to destabilize the country.34
‘Leadership of CNRP digging in’, The Phnom Penh Post, 6 January 2014.
‘Cambodia: Cambodian garment workers return to work’, Thai News Service, 6
January 2014.
32 House Foreign Affairs Committee News Release, Chairman Royce Responds to
Reports of Violence in Cambodia, Congressional Documents and Publications, 5 January 2014 (http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/press-release/chairman-royce-respondsreports-violence-cambodia).
33 ‘Cambodia attracts 4.9 bln USD of investments in 2013: PM’, Philippines News
Agency, 13 January 2014.
34 ‘I will not resign: premier’, The PhnomPenh Post, 15 January 2014.
30 31 179
Nicola Mocci
2.4. Small steps towards an agreement between the CPP and the CNRP
The stalemate between the CPP and CNRP parties became even
more worrying in the next few months. Both groups seemed intent on
pursuing a policy of brinkmanship, which would have gradually brought
them to a point of no return. If they were to return to parliament, the
CNRP required a series of their demands to be unequivocally met: vicepresidency of the National Assembly; their own TV channel; and a joint
Committee on electoral reform.35 But, according to unofficial sources
– records of the meetings were never made public – any eventual concessions made by the CPP were continually met with further demands from
the CNRP, with their ultimate request being for new elections, which
was totally unacceptable to Hun Sen and his party.36 At the same time,
CNRP supporters continued to demonstrate, which led to the enforcement of crowd control measures and, in some cases, further episodes of
police brutality.37
For his part, Hun Sen officially asked the UN to appoint a mediator to
negotiate with the opposition and convince the CNRP to discuss reforms
in parliament and not on the streets.38 In the eyes of analysts like Kem Ley,
Hun Sen’s request for a UN envoy was a politically risky move, because he
did not involve the King.39 From a constitutional point of view, the King
was responsible for settling all disputes of a political nature.
On February 5, against an extremely complex backdrop, with the two
parties unable to come to an agreement, Hun Sen promoted 29 officers to
the highest rank of 4-star generals. This brought the Cambodian armed
forces to count around 2,200 generals, and indicated Hun Sen’s desire to
give further strength to the military leaders within the existing delicate
political context.40 In fact, the Prime Minister was sending a very strong
message to the armed forces and all his possible opponents, following
Sam Rainsy’s repeated attempts to induce the soldiers to side with the
workers during demonstrations.41 It is worth remembering that Hun Sen
had only had full control over the army for a relatively short time; in fact,
until 2009, the army had been under the command of the Generals who
35 ‘Political deal on horizon’, The PhnomPenh Post, 14 January 2014; ‘Cambodia
govt, rival «hold secrets talks»’, The Straits Times, 15 January 2014.
36 ‘Key demands lingers: Rainsy’, The PhnomPenh Post, 23 January 2014.
37 ‘Cambodian Police Clash With Protesters’, Newswire Dow Jones, 26 January 2014;
‘Cambodia police use smoke granade to break up rally’, Agence France Press, 27
January 2014.
38 ‘Hun Sen Asks UN Envoy to Help End Cambodia’s Political Crisis’, Government
Publications and Press Releases, 15 January 2014.
39 ‘CNRP looks to UN, King’, The Phnom Penh Post, 20 January 2014.
40 ‘CNRP eyes March for «final» push’, The Phnom Penh Post, 13 January 2014.
41 ‘Cambodian PM promote 29 to Four Star General’, Governement Publication and
Press Releases, 5 February 2014.
180
Cambodia
were close supporters of Chea Sim and Sar Kheng, two of Hun Sen’s leading opponents inside the CPP.42
This being the situation, the deadlock could not be broken. The CPP
wanted to go beyond the other party’s call for early elections and, only if
this hurdle could be overcome, were they willing to tackle the CNRP’s other
requests, such as the reform of the NEC (National Election Committee), the
body responsible for overseeing the legality of electoral processes.
Months passed before an agreement was reached on who should be
part of the NEC, and the event was overshadowed by several disputes in
the national and international courts. In fact, on 21 March 2014, around
20 Cambodian human rights groups and victims filed a complaint against
Hun Sen at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.43 On his
part, on 7 April 2014, Hun Sen accused Sam Rainsy of having insulted
the King, an offence which carried a year’s prison sentence.44 Meanwhile,
the demonstrations and workers’ protests went on, notwithstanding the
ban imposed by the authorities. On 15 July 2014, the police dispersed
the demonstrators, several people were injured45 and seven members of
parliament were arrested for insurrection, namely a charge which could
carry up to 30 years in jail.46
Ultimately, when it seemed that nothing could break the impasse, July
22, 2014 saw the announcement of the historic agreement between the
two parties and the CNRP ending its boycott of the National Assembly.47
The CNRP obtained the release from prison of seven politicians and
an activist,48 Freedom Park was re-opened, and the ban on demonstrations was lifted. According to the agreement, Kem Socka, the No. 2 of the
CNRP, became the first vice-president of the National Assembly, and his
party obtained the chairmanship of five of the ten parliamentary commissions, including the one on anti corruption.49 Finally, the two sides
managed to agree on the composition of the NEC, with four members
Nicola Mocci, ‘La Cambogia di Hun Sen, tra le pressioni degli Stati Uniti e gli
aiuti della Cina’, Asia Maior 2013, p. 278.
43 ‘Anti-Hun Sen filings piling up in Hague’, The Phnom Penh Post, 21 March
2014.
44 ‘Cambodian gov’t considers lawsuit against opposition chief ’, Xinhua News
Agency, 7 April 2014.
45 ‘Cambodian police fire tear gas to break up protest clashes’, Agence France Press,
15 July 2014.
46 ‘Six Cambodian opposition politicians charged with insurrection’, Agence France
Press, 16 July 2014.
47 ‘Cambodians Reach Deal to End Political Deadlock’, Dow Jones Institutional
News, 22 July 2014.
48 ‘Cambodian court frees 8 opposition politicians on bail after political deal
reached’, Xinhua News Agency, 22 July 2014.
49 Until this agreement was reached, only CPP members chaired the 9 commissions.
42 181
Nicola Mocci
from the CPP, four from the CNRP, and another to be chosen by mutual
agreement between the two parties. 50
2.4. What the workers achieved
The long series of protest movements during these struggles brought
the workers a small number of quite important benefits:
- Wage increases; 51
- A government pledge to revise the minimum wage system;
- Suspension of union registration by the government;
- Renewed push for a trade union law;52
Wages: on May 1, 2013, when the electoral campaign was in full
swing, Hun Sen’s government established the Labour Advisory Committee and set up a tripartite bargaining system to negotiate wages with unions and companies.53 This led to a minimum wage increase equivalent
to US$15 in 2013, which brought minimum wages up to the equivalent
of US$80 a month; Moreover, a further increase in minimum wages,
which brought them up to the equivalent of US$95 was assured starting
with December 2013. The promise was maintained, and an extra $5
was added for health care benefits, to be effective as of February 2014.
Despite this concession, the Ministry of Commerce’s statistics show that
garment and footwear exports from Cambodia grew by $560 million or
12% in 2013.54
The workers, who never completely put an end to their protests, managed to elicit a further 28% increase in November 2014, bringing the
minimum wage to the equivalent of US$128, as of January 1, 2015.55 In
actual fact, this increase was not to everyone’s liking as some unions had
asked for as much as $140. Moreover, the repression of the demonstrations in January 2014 led to the spontaneous formation of several unions, especially on the social networks. Many of these unions also have the
50 ‘Sam Rainsy Defends Opposition Deal with Cambodia’s Ruling Party’, Governement Publications and Press Releases, 23 July 2014.
51 Article 104 of the Labour Law contemplates that the minimum wage is designed
to «ensure every worker of a decent standard of living compatible with human
dignity». The Arbitration Council Resolving collective Labour Disputes, Minimum
wage determination in Cambodia, 30 November 2014 (http://www.arbitrationcouncil.org/en/post/6/Minimum-wage-determination-in-Cambodia).
52 ILO, better factories Cambodia, Thirty First Synthesis Report On Working Conditions In Cambodia’s Garment Sector, 2014 (http://betterfactories.org/?p=9172).
53 The Labour Advisory committee is a tripartite institution that is composed of 14
government, 7 trade union and 7 employer representatives.
54 ILO, better factories Cambodia, Thirty First Synthesis, p. 3.
55 ‘Cambodian garment workers get $128 a month minimum wage’, CBCnews, 12
November 2014.
182
Cambodia
backing of NGOs and international solidarity groups and have continued
to pressurize the government to bring the threshold to $177. 56
Apart from these wage increases, little has changed regarding the
other parameters that measure the quality of the working environment
and the recognition of workers’ contracts by the factories.57 Furthermore,
trade union legislation has yet to be discussed in Parliament.
2.5. Increased support for the CNRP and the budget
Urban workers and rural population continued their protests in
the months following the agreement between the CPP and CNRP. The
former group was intent on gaining further wage increases, while the latter challenged the state’s illegal expropriation of land. Then there were
the CNRP supporters who never stopped lobbying the government to
ensure that the agreements reached in July 2014 were put into force. The
farmers whose lands had been expropriated staged a sensational protest
at Phnom Penh airport on the eve of Hun Sen’s departure for the Myanmar summit of ASEAN countries. They turned up with huge banners that
expressed their message of SOS to the whole world.58 This was much the
same protest as the one in 2012, when the US President Barack Obama
came to the capital. Two years later, the problem of illegal expropriation
had still to be solved.
Once again, in early November 2014, numerous activists, monks, and
CNRP politicians were arrested for having taken part in unauthorized
demonstrations or for resisting a public officer.59
From a political point of view, the 2014 protests undoubtedly allowed
the CNRP to strengthen its status and brought about a democratic rebalancing in parliament. In fact, in November, the process of approving
NEC regulations was set underway at the National Assembly, and a decree was issued that assigned a TV channel to the CNRP. The CNRP also
played an essential role in the elaboration and approval of two important
laws: an amendment to the constitution and the 2015 budget. The former
elevated the country’s opposition party leader to a legislative rank on par
with Prime Minister Hun Sen, and National Assembly lawmakers voted to
allow Sam Rainsy to become the house minority leader with 102 votes in
‘Cambodian garment workers demand higher minimum wage’, Cleanclothes.org
(http://www.cleanclothes.org/news/press-releases/2014/09/17/cambodian-garmentworkers-demand-higher-minimum-wage).
57 Ibid., p. 5, Graph 5, 6, 7, Table 3.
58 ‘«SOS» to PM this time’, The Phnom Penh Post, 14 November 2014.
59 ‘CNRP official arrested, charged’, The Phnom Penh Post, 12 November 2014;
‘Hundreds Demand Cambodia’s Parliament Push For Release of 16 Jailed’, Government Publications and Press Releases, 14 November 2014.
56 183
Nicola Mocci
favour of the move from members of both the CPP and CNRP.60 The second important matter was the approval of the 2015 budget, which the opposition’s votes helped to pass at the end of November. The new budget
had a radically different allocation of expenses compared to the previous
one. The overall 2015 budget amounts to $3.9 billion compared with the
2014 budget of $3.4 billion.61 Some $536 million of the total budget will
be allocated to defence and security, an increase of $68 million from this
year’s $468 million. However, the main change in the budget regards the
areas of Education and Health. Education will receive $453 million, an
increase of $118million from the current $335 million, while the health
sector will receive $324 million, up from this year’s $244 million.62
3. International relations
When Hun Sen’s aspirations of getting a permanent seat on the UN
Security Council went up in smoke in 2013, the Cambodian government’s
international policy in 2014 was to follow two main directions. First of all,
it adopted a policy of non-alignment with the major powers and the main
donor countries (China, Japan and US), in line with a tradition that dated
back to the policies of Norodom Sihanouk. Then, there was the attempt to
further relations with the ASEAN countries and, in particular, with the reinvigorated CLV development triangle (Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam).63
Moreover, ever since 2014, when Cambodian foreign relations were at
their weakest, on account of the international outrage over the violent
repression of the workers’ protests, the country has always been able to
count on increasing political and economic support from China. In addition, during the months of political deadlock, the country was also faced
with two international crises. The first was caused by the difficult relations
with the new Thai military junta which had seized power in Bangkok on
May 22; the second was triggered by Australia sending its Rohingya refugees to Cambodia.
The following paragraphs will be limited to the analysis of the increasingly symbiotic relationship between Cambodia and China, the USA’s loss
of appeal, and a description of the crises with Thailand and Australia respectively.
‘Cambodian Parliament Votes to Create House Minority Leader Post’, Government Publications and Press Releases, 19 December 2014.
61 ‘Cambodia’s parliament approves $3.9 bil. budget for 2015, Kyodo, 29 November 2014.
62 Ibid.
63 ‘Eighth CLV summit affirms determination to enhance links’, Vietnam News
Summary, 26 November 2014.
60 184
Cambodia
3.1. Relations with key donor countries, China and the USA
2008 marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations with China
and the event was celebrated in great pomp and ceremony. Ever since,
relations between Phnom Penh and Beijing have been growing hand over
fist. Indeed, China has become Cambodia’s top foreign investor and most
generous donor. As a result, the strong ties between the Cambodian government and the United States, established back in 1991, were weakened
and, indeed, the latter gradually lost all its former appeal.
In 2014, Beijing was not only ready to offer Hun Sen economic aid
and investments, but it also provided constant political backing, especially
during the months of political deadlock, when Cambodia was under such
harsh criticism from the West. China had also sent political and financial aid to the Phnom Penh government when 1,500 Chinese refugees
had sought asylum in Cambodia to escape the threats and violence they
had suffered in Vietnam. The anti-Chinese demonstrations and protests
against employers and workers had been sparked off in several Vietnamese provinces in May, after the Chinese government had chosen to erect
an oil rig in disputed waters off the Spratly islands.64
From an economic point of view, Chinese FDI, which in 2012 amounted to US$263 million, went up to the US$427million in 2013.65 It appears
that Chinese aid and investment were still in place in 2014, although
there is a lack of official data. Chinese aid and loans have been used by the
Cambodian government to support both private investment, especially in
the garment and in the land and resource sector, as well as state owned
enterprises (SOEs) in the hydropower sector.66
Expectations for Cambodia in 2015 are even more optimistic. In fact,
after Hun Sen’s brief official visit to Beijing in November 2014, China
made the decision to allocate aid and loans to Cambodia amounting to
between US$500 and 700 million.67 The first part of this aid was formalized during Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi’s visit on 31 December
2014, with the allocation of 700 million yuan aid (about US$112.7 million) in grants and 200 million yuan (US$32.2 million) in interest-free
loans.68 The sum is further increased by the aid that China intends to
‘Anti-Chinese Violence Convulses Vietnam, Pitting Laborers Against Laborers’,
The New York Times, 15 May 2014; ‘Factories burned in anti-China protest in Vietnam’, The Washington Post, 14 May 2014.
65 ‘Chinese investment in Cambodia up in 2013’, Xinhua News Agency, 18 January
2014.
66 For an in-depth analysis of the investment strategies of Chinese companies in
Cambodia, see Daniel O’Neill, ‘Playing Risk: Chinese Foreign Direct Investment in
Cambodia’, Contemporary Southeast Asia, 36, 2, August 2014, pp. 173-205.
67 ‘China doles out more loans’, The Phnom Penh Post, 10 November 2014.
68 ‘Chinese state councillor meets Cambodian PM, pledges continued support’,
Xinhua News Agency, 31 December 2014.
64 185
Nicola Mocci
provide for the building of infrastructures and for poverty alleviation in
the Great Mekong Subregion.69
In addition, military cooperation between the two countries was further strengthened on May 12, 2014, when Cambodia sent more than 400
of its military officials to China to receive training.70 A few days later, on
May 18, Hun Sen flew to Shanghai to attend the 4th Summit of Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA).
The alignment between China and Cambodia became all the more obvious on 20 November 2014, when the Cambodian delegation at the UN
abstained from voting a historic resolution encouraging international action on the abysmal state of human rights in the Democratic People’s
Republic of Korea.71
In recent years, Cambodia has accepted Chinese aid with open arms,
because of China’s declared policy not to interfere in other countries’
internal policies. From this point of view, the US and Western donors
have found it extremely difficult to exercise soft power on Cambodia, on
account of the conditionalities that they pose.72
The US economic crisis also led to a reduction in financial aid from
Washington. The amount funded by the Americans was far less than Chinese economic support, and therefore utilized for far smaller (compared
to the Chinese) cooperation programmes in various sectors. In particular,
one of these projects was the LMI (Lower Mekong Initiative), a cooperation program launched and funded by the US in 2009 to create an alternative platform to the GSM (Greater Mekong Sub-region), in order to
counter the growing dominance of China in the region.73
In July 2010, the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the
United States and Cambodia provided an occasion to try and restore the
American image in Cambodia. Accordingly celebrations were held with
The offer includes 1bn U.S. dollars for infrastructure inter-connectivity, 490m
dollars in grant for poverty alleviation and 1.6 bn dollars in special loans for China’s production capacity export. ‘China pledges 3bn-dollar aid to neighbouring
countries at Mekong summit’, BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, 20 December 2014. The
Greater Mekong Subregion is a development project launched in 1992 by the Asian
Development Bank, and includes the six countries bordering the Mekong river:
Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and China.
70 ‘Chinese training for Cambodian soldiers’, The Phnom Penh Post, 12 May 2014.
71 ‘Kingdom abstains on NK vote’, The Phnom Penh Post, 20 November 2014.
72 Julie Walz and Vijaya Ramachandran, Brave New World: A Literature Review of
Emerging Donors and the Changing Nature of Foreign Assistance, Center for Global
Development, Working Paper 273, November 2011
(http://www.cgdev.org/files/1425691_file_Walz_Ramachandran_Brave_New_
World_FINAL.pdf).
73 LMI includes Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and US to cooperate in six pillar areas: agriculture and food security, connectivity, education,
energy security, environment and water, and health (http://lowermekong.org).
69 186
Cambodia
great pomp and ceremony at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh. The US
authorities were convinced that the political and cultural events which they
had organized would show the Cambodians that America was still close to
their country. Moreover, this was a chance to regain at least a small part of
the appeal that the USA had gradually lost under the onslaught of massive
Chinese aid.74 In the words of the US Ambassador Carol Rodley, the goal at
that time was to «enhance the investments in infrastructure and in human
capital that the United States had made in Cambodia in the fifties».75
At the same time, however, the US continued to put pressure on Hun
Sen’s government by continuously demanding the repayment of loans
that the Washington government had made to Marshal Lon Nol’s government in 1970. There was a widespread belief that Lon Nol, whose
coup had ousted Sihanouk in 1970, had seized power with the help of the
CIA.76 He had incurred debts with his American patrons, whose interest
rates had caused to rise from an initial $162 million dollars in 2010 to
$321 million.77
On the subject of returning these loans, Hun Sen has always tried to
postpone and sideline the issue. During a meeting with US Congressman
Eni Faleomavaega, on January 7, 2010, to celebrate the end of the Khmer
Rouge regime, Hun Sen said: «Cambodia is delighted to cooperate with the
US in various sectors and welcomes Obama’s new commitment in Asia».
«However, – he warned –, if the question of debt were to be revealed to the
general public, it could lead to a number of real risks. It would, therefore,
be necessary to devise a plan under which any loans returned to the US
could be entirely reinvested in Cambodian development projects».78
During the Cambodian political crisis in 2013 and 2014, the US continually condemned Hun Sen’s authoritarian government, and even went
as far as to stop all military aid.79 On the other hand, however, it has never
failed to lend support to the CNRP, its leader Sam Rainsy, and to the
Cambodian community in the US, which is particularly linked to Sam. In
this regard, it is also important to recall that the resolution to recognize
the Khmer and Lao/Mong Freedom Fighters for supporting and defend‘Commemoration Of The 60th Anniversary Of U.s.’, WikiLeaks, 26 febbraio
2010.
75 Ibid., §4.
76 Alain Forest, ‘Pour comprendre l’histoire du Cambodge’, pp. 77-83.
77 ‘Scenesetter For Senator Jim Webb Visit To Phnom Penh’, WikiLeaks, 11 agosto
2009; ‘CODEL Faleomavaega discusses debt, trade and future relations with cambodian leadership’, WikiLeaks, 19 gennaio 2010.
78 Ibid.
79 US Congress, ‘S.Res.271 - A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that
United States military assistance for Cambodia should be suspended until an independent and credible investigation occurs into the July 28, 2013, parliamentary elections, and election reforms are being implemented by the Government of
Cambodia’, 16 October 2013 (www.congress.gov).
74 187
Nicola Mocci
ing the United States Armed Forces during the Vietnam War made rapid
progress through US Congress in 2104.80 It goes without saying that this
American initiative will do little to improve trust in the relations between
the USA and the Cambodian government.
3.2. Difficult relations with the new Thai Military Junta
On May 22, following the coup in Thailand, relations between the
Cambodian government and the Thai Military Junta became extremely
strained. The two neighbouring countries had been at odds for years over
the border near the temple of Preah Vihear and the offshore one in the
gas-rich Overlapping Claims Area (OCA).81 A further source of tension was
provided by the Cambodian illegal immigrant workers in Thailand. Both
issues had caused several diplomatic clashes, ever since the military junta
had come to power in Thailand, and Cambodia had accused the Thai troops
of erecting new barbed wire fences in front of the Preah Vihear temple.82
For its part, the Bangkok junta had immediately condemned the Phnom
Penh government for hosting a number of Thai political leaders, with the
alleged purpose of forming a government in exile. The news, which was immediately denied by Hun Sen,83 continued to circulate for much of the year,
being made credible by the long-lasting friendship that existed between
Hun Sen on one side and the Shinawatra brothers and some members of
their entourage on the other.84 Whatever the case may be, just a few weeks
later, another even more serious problem occurred, with the mass exodus
of Cambodian workers from Thailand. Thousands of immigrants returned
home, afraid of the Junta’s clampdown on illegal immigrants in Thailand.
Unconfirmed reports also indicated the death of some workers.
US Congress, ‘S.Res.462 - A resolution recognizing the Khmer and Lao/Hmong
Freedom Fighters of Cambodia and Laos for supporting and defending the United
States Armed Forces during the conflict in Southeast Asia’, 24 July 2014 (www.
congress.gov). The ‘freedom fighters’ referred to US Congress resolution were the
khmer and lao forces, who had been trained in the USA to fight against the Viet
Minh, during the Vietnam war. In fact, to avoid being bombed by the Americans,
the Viet Minh made use of the famous Ho Chi Min trail, which ran through the
Laotian and Cambodian forests, to supply the troops fighting in South Vietnam.
81 For details on Cambodian-Thai border dispute over the Preah Vihear temple,
please refer to Charnvit Kasetsiri, Pou Sothirak, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Preah
Vihear: A Guide to the Thai Cambodian Conflict and its Solutions, Bangkok: White Lotus,
2013.
82 ‘Cambodia army asks Thailand to remove new barbed wire near Preah Vihear
temple’, Xinhua News Agency, 2 June 2014.
83 ‘Hun Sen: No Thai Shadow Government in Cambodia’, Thai News Service, 29
May 2014.
84 ‘Cambodia - Hun Sen denies hiding reds’, Bangkok Post, 27 December 2014.
80 188
Cambodia
On 13 June, 2014, Cambodian government funds had already helped
40,000 workers to return home.85 This number was to increase so rapidly,
that, after a few days, sources spoke of 150,000-250,000 repatriated workers.86 The immense size of this exodus brought the Cambodian government
to lodge an official protest with the Junta, complaining about the persecution of Cambodian citizens, whatever their legal status, and also and, above
all, because Phnom Penh had never been consulted in the matter.87
The first official meeting between the two foreign ministers took place
on 1 July, 2014, when the Thai Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, Mr. Sihasak Phuangketkeow came to Phnom Penh to discuss the
migrant situation. The negotiated solution was the issue of a temporary
work permit to the illegal migrant workers (at a cost of 1,305 Bath, equal
to about three months pay for a common labourer). This managed to
put an end to the workers’ panic and an unknown number returned to
Thailand. The agreement also foresaw the release of prisoners in both
Cambodia and Thailand and a promise from Prime Minister Hun Sen to
lend no support to the opponents of the Thai Junta.88
3.3. The difficult negotiations with Australia as regards political refugees in
Cambodia
In May 2014, the Australian government started negotiations with the
Phnom Penh government to bring around 1,100 Rohingya refugees from
the camp on the Island of Nauru to Cambodia. Myanmar’s Rohingya are
a Muslim minority, who, just like the Kaman, had never been recognized
by the Myanmar government. In June 2012, both groups suffered persecution by the Arakanese Buddhists and 25,000-30,000 took refuge in
neighbouring countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Many of them
then tried to reach Australia by makeshift boats, but the Canberra government often denied them entry and made them disembark on the Island of
Nauru, which became an Australian funded refugee camp in 2001.89
85 ‘Thailand repatriates 40,000 illegal migrant workers back to Cambodia: official’, Xinhua News Agency, 13 June 2014.
86 ‘More than 150,000 Cambodian flee jobs in Thailand post coup’, Agence France
Presse, 16 June 2014.
87 ‘Thai-Cambodia relations unlikely to improve under military rule, resolution on
disputed offshore gas blocks also unlikely’, IHS Global Insight Daily Analysis, 24 June
2014; ‘Over 250,000 Cambodian migrant workers flee Thailand in fears of junta’s
crackdown: PM’, Xinhua News Agency, 26 June 2014.
88 ‘Cambodia promises not to support opponents of Thai junta’, dpa International
Service in English, 2 July 2014.
89 ‘Rohingya Refugees Ponder Future Minus Australia Option’, The Irrawaddy, 14
October 2014 (www.irrawaddy.org). The refugee camp on the Island of Nauru was
set up in 2001, as a result of the Australian policy that came to be known as the
189
Nicola Mocci
The news of these negotiations infuriated several human rights groups
and NGOs for two basic reasons. First of all, there was the Australian government’s restrictive refugee policy and the fact that no illegal immigrants
had been accepted since 2008. And then, it was also true that Cambodia
was a poor country, which could certainly not guarantee adequate care
and protection for any refugees sent there.90
Ultimately, the issue of the Rohingya refugees reverberated on the already weakened Cambodian government, and Hun Sen came under further attack from the international press for his continued human rights
violations and his inability to deal with the Vietnamese minority in Cambodia.91 The police immediately suppressed the sit-in protest staged by
a hundred Cambodians outside the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh,
on September 27, 2014. The next day, September 28, Australia’s Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, and Cambodia’s Interior Minister, Sar
Kheng, signed a Memorandum of Understanding stipulating that Cambodia was to resettle an unspecified number of refugees currently held
in the Australian-run Nauru detention centre in exchange for an extra
A$ (Australian dollars) 40 million (€ 27.49m) in aid over the next four
years.92 Negotiations between the two governments had been going on
secretly for months, although the only news that transpired from a hastilyconvened press conference was about the A$ 40 million the Cambodian
government was to receive in return for its willingness to accommodate
the refugees.93 Eventually, under the relentless pressure from various human rights groups, during a bilateral meeting at the ASEAN summit in
November 2014, Hun Sen and Prime Minister Tony Abbott signed an
agreement that refugees would only be sent to Cambodia on a volunteer
basis.94
«Pacific Solution». In this period, Howard’s government had intended to negotiate with the Pacific Islands to set up camps for refugees and asylum seekers who
attempted to land on the Australian coast. In exchange for economic aid, the governments of Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Kiribati, Fiji, Palau, Tuvalu, Tonga
and France (in relation to French Polynesia), had built structures, which all too
often were ill-equipped to meet the numbers and needs of the refugees. Parliament of Australia, The «Pacific Solution» revisited: a statistical guide to the asylum seeker
caseloads on Nauru and Manus Island, 4 September 2012. (http://parlinfo.aph.gov.
au/parlInfo/download/library/prspub/1893669/upload_binary/1893669.pdf;fileTy
pe=application%2Fpdf).
90 ‘Cambodia is willing, but history shows it’s not able’, The Sydney Morning Herald,
3 May 2014 (www.smh.com.au).
91 ‘Concerns exist with Human rights in Cambodia’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 1
May 2014 (www.smh.com.au).
92 ‘Australia offers new home to its would-be migrants in…Cambodia’, The Independent, 28 September 2014 (www.independent.co.uk).
93 ‘Refugee deal to bring $35m in aid’, The Phnom Penh Post, 26 September 2014.
94 ‘Hun Sen and Tony Abbot affirm deal’, The Phnom Penh Post, 14 November 2014.
190
Cambodia
***
Il 2014 in Cambogia è stato condizionato dall’acuirsi del conflitto sociale,
alimentato dai lavoratori delle grandi industrie del tessile e dai contadini. I primi
da anni portano avanti lotte per ottenere migliori condizioni di lavoro e garanzie
sociali, mentre i contadini cercano, con difficoltà, di limitare il sistema pervasivo
di espropri di terre da parte del governo, che vengono concesse alle multinazionali
dell’edilizia o destinate alle culture intensive. Agli inizi dell’anno le proteste dei
lavoratori venivano represse con la forza da parte dell’esercito e, il 4 gennaio,
durante una manifestazione, alcuni attivisti rimanevano uccisi dalle forze
dell’ordine e altri venivano arrestati. È stato questo l’apice di uno scontro politico
tra il partito di maggioranza del primo ministro Hun Sen (CPP – Cambodian
People’s Party) e quello di minoranza, CNRP (Cambodian National Rescue
Party), guidato da Sam Rainsy, che era iniziato nel luglio del 2013 all’indomani
delle elezioni legislative. Il CNRP, infatti, per contestare l’esito delle urne aveva
deciso di non partecipare ai lavori parlamentari fino al momento in cui Hun
Sen si fosse dimesso e si fossero decretate nuove elezioni. Di fronte a tali richieste,
e per di più di fronte ai fatti luttuosi dell’inizio del 2014, lo stallo politico si è
perpetuato fino al mese di luglio, quando i due partiti trovavano un insperato
accordo. Gli operai, dal canto loro, riuscivano a ottenere, nell’arco di un anno, un
incremento sostanziale dei loro salari, ma pochi miglioramenti dal punto di vista
delle condizioni lavorative.
Anche nell’ambito delle relazioni internazionali, il governo di Hun Sen ha
dovuto fronteggiare diversi elementi di crisi, ad iniziare dalle tensioni legate al
colpo di stato in Thailandia, che ha deposto il governo amico di Shinawatra.
In seguito alle minacce e alle pressioni della nuova giunta tailandese al potere,
centinaia di migliaia di lavoratori cambogiani emigrati in Thailandia facevano
ritorno in Cambogia. Tuttavia, Hun Sen, forte dell’appoggio politico ed economico
del governo cinese, riusciva a trovare soluzioni diplomatiche per risolvere le tensioni
e per instaurare con il governo militare tailandese rapporti di buon vicinato.
191
Thailandia 2014: nascita di una dittatura nel nome del re
Vitaliano Civitanova
Asia Maior - An Italian think tank on Asia
[email protected]
1. Introduzione
La fragile democrazia tailandese nel 2014 ha conosciuto il più triste
degli epiloghi. Il 22 maggio l’esercito ha attuato un colpo di stato e ha preso la guida del paese, approfittando del vuoto di potere conseguente alla
destituzione del primo ministro, la signora Yngluck Shinawatra, da parte
della suprema corte. L’evento del 22 maggio non è arrivato inaspettato
ma era stato preannunciato e preparato da una serie di atti, orchestrati in
una strategia di lungo periodo. Nel novembre 2013, infatti, erano iniziate
proteste di piazza che avevano paralizzato ampie zone della capitale. I
manifestanti chiedevano le dimissioni del primo ministro a seguito del
tentativo di far approvare una legge di amnistia di cui avrebbe beneficiato
il fratello del primo ministro, Thaksin Shinawatra. Le proteste avrebbero
potuto apparire anche legittime, ma oltre le dimissioni, la piazza chiedeva
non tanto nuove elezioni, ma l’affidamento l’incarico di procedere a riforme istituzionali ad un consiglio formato da «autorevoli».
Il primo ministro scioglieva il parlamento il 9 dicembre 2013 e indiceva le elezioni per il 2 febbraio successivo. La tornata elettorale si è
svolta nonostante il boicottaggio degli oppositori e numerose azioni di
disturbo che hanno impedito lo svolgimento delle operazioni elettorali in
numerosi seggi. Il risultato a favore del partito di governo era scontato.
Successivamente, le elezioni sono state dichiarate nulle perché a molti
elettori è stato fisicamente impedito di accedere ai seggi dagli oppositori
del governo. Il 7 maggio 2014 la suprema corte ha dichiarato destituita
dall’incarico Yngluck Shinawatra, riconosciuta colpevole di aver abusato
del proprio potere, rimuovendo il capo della polizia nel 2011. Nella conseguente fase di vuoto istituzionale si è inserito l’intervento dell’esercito.
In una prima fase è stata proclamata la legge marziale e i rappresentanti
delle opposte componenti politiche sono stati convocati per trovare un
punto di intesa. Verificata l’incolmabile distanza delle loro posizioni, il 22
maggio 2014 è stato portato a termine un vero e proprio colpo di stato,
guidato dal generale Prayut Chan-ocha.
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Tutti i rappresentanti delle forze politiche convocati per trovare una soluzione all’impasse istituzionale sono stati arrestati, compreso il primo ministro ed alcuni membri del suo governo, così come molti rappresentanti del
mondo accademico e della società civile1. Immediatamente è stato istituito
il coprifuoco in tutto il paese e sono state sospese le garanzie costituzionali.
Le emittenti televisive e le radio per giorni hanno trasmesso solo musiche
patriottiche. Inoltre, in un pesante avvertimento alla cittadinanza, è stata
interrotta per circa un’ora la funzionalità del sito di Facebook. Quest’ultima azione è stata interpretata come un avvertimento ai cittadini affinché
l’uso di internet e dei social network non fosse finalizzato ad organizzare il
dissenso e la protesta. La dittatura insediatisi in seguito al colpo di stato
del generale Prayut Chan-ocha ha subito mostrato che l’intervento militare non era destinato a riportare l’ordine e a reintrodurre la democrazia
nel breve periodo. La motivazione non dichiarata del colpo di stato era,
infatti, la necessità di governare il paese nella fase di successione al trono,
considerata ormai imminente viste le condizioni di salute dell’anziano re
Bhumibol Adulyadej (conosciuto anche come Rama IX, in quanto nono
monarca della dinastia Chakri). Come spesso è accaduto in Thailandia,
anche in questo caso è stata strumentalizzata la legge sulla lesa maestà per
mettere a tacere avversari politici e critici dell’istituzione monarchica.
La presa di posizione contro il colpo di stato degli Stati Uniti, del
Consiglio europeo e dell’Australia hanno fatto sì che la Thailandia si avvicinasse alla Cina e al Myanmar.
L’economia ha subìto un rallentamento, con la conseguente diminuzione del PIL su base annua, e si è registrato un importante calo degli arrivi nel settore turistico. Di difficile soluzione si è rivelata la questione del
fallimentare schema di sussidi destinati ai produttori di riso. In ogni caso,
sotto la pressione del regime militare, l’assemblea legislativa ha approvato
una legge di bilancio che prevedeva un deficit pari al 10%.
Infine, la giunta militare è apparsa intenzionata a usare il pugno di
ferro contro i movimenti separatisti delle province del sud, dove l’etnia
malese è maggioritaria.
2. Cronaca di un colpo di Stato annunciato
Il colpo di Stato del 22 maggio 2014 può definirsi annunciato non solo
perché in modo ricorrente le crisi politiche in Thailandia hanno avuto
questo tipo di esito, ma anche perché le manifestazioni, che hanno semi
paralizzato Bangkok per mesi, sembravano avere esattamente l’obiettivo
di indurre l’esercito ad intervenire. Sono emersi, infatti, anche contatti
1 Giorgio Cuscito, Il colpo di stato getta la Thailandia nell’incertezza, ‘Limes – rivista italiana di geopolitica’, 1° giugno 2014 (http://temi.repubblica.it/limes/il-colpo-di-statogetta-la-thailandia-nell%E2%80%99incertezza/62461#.U4hNcwO5uAU.gmail).
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tra gli organizzatori delle proteste e i vertici dell’esercito2. A capo delle
proteste si è posto l’ex vice primo ministro Suthep Thaugsuban, ritenuto
tra i responsabili, nel 2010, dell’uccisione di alcuni manifestanti nel corso
dell’ondata di proteste contro il governo guidato da Abhisit Vejjajiva3. Il
governo, guidato da Yingluck Shinawatra, ha voluto evitare di porre in
atto azioni di forza contro i manifestanti.
Dopo aver presentato le dimissioni, Yingluck Shinawatra ha indetto le
elezioni, che si sono svolte il 2 febbraio 2014. L’opposizione ha in realtà
boicottato la tornata elettorale e ha messo in atto vere e proprie azioni
di disturbo, tanto che in molti distretti è stato impedito ai cittadini di
esercitare il loro diritto di voto. Successivamente, la Corte Costituzionale,
il 21 marzo 2014, ha dichiarato che le eccessive irregolarità durante il
voto rendevano nullo il risultato elettorale. Il governo Shinawatra ha così
continuato le attività di normale amministrazione. Nel frattempo, la città
di Bangkok diventava teatro di manifestazioni quotidiane sia da parte
dell’opposizione sia da parte dei sostenitori del governo e soprattutto
dei seguaci dei fratelli Shinawatra. Il 2 aprile la Corte Costituzionale ha
fatto propria una sentenza della Corte Suprema e ha annullato il trasferimento del capo della polizia, avvenuto nel 2011, poiché ritenuto un
abuso di ufficio da parte del primo ministro.4 Di conseguenza, la Corte ha
poi destituito il 7 maggio per via giudiziaria il premier Yingluck Shinawatra ed altri otto ministri. Si è venuta quindi a creare una situazione di
vuoto istituzionale, mentre il conflitto politico assumeva toni sempre più
accesi e nelle piazze si verificavano i primi scontri tra le opposte fazioni.
La Commissione Elettorale, nel frattempo, stabiliva la data del 20 luglio
2014 per le successive elezioni generali. L’ex primo ministro Abhisit Vejjajiva sembrava voler proporre un’apertura sul percorso di approvazione di
una riforma del sistema elettorale, ma nella sostanza, non andava al di là
degli annunci.
Ad alimentare le tensioni è intervenuto il 23 aprile l’omicidio del poeta Kamol Duangpasuk, critico della legge sulla Lesa Maestà.
La fatale e ricercata combinazione di vuoto di potere, proteste di
piazza, livelli di tensione crescenti ha costituito il pretesto fondamentale
per la realizzazione dell’ennesimo colpo di stato, iniziato il 20 maggio,
con la promulgazione della legge marziale, e portato a termine il 22
maggio. Gli esponenti politici delle due fazioni erano stati convocati
dalla giunta militare per trovare una soluzione politica. Preso atto della
distanza incolmabile tra le diverse posizioni, la giunta militare procedeva al loro arresto e conferiva poteri dittatoriali al generale dell’eser2 Embarrassing Cracks Emerge in Thailand’s Post-Coup, Establishment, ‘The Wall Street
Journal’, 23 giugno 2014 (http://www.wsj.com).
3 Monica Ceccarelli, La crisi politica in Thailandia, ‘Asia Maior 2010’, pp. 203-215.
4 Thailand court ousts PM Yingluck Shinawatra, ‘BBC news Asia’, 7 maggio 2014
(http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27292633).
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cito Prayuth Chan-ocha. Quest’ultimo annunciava che, entro 15 mesi,
sarebbero state indette nuove elezioni, precedute da alcune riforme5.
A distanza di sei mesi, tuttavia, il generale ha dichiarato che le elezioni generali potranno invece svolgersi nel 2016.6 Il generale Prayuth
Chan-ocha, dapprima ha assunto il ruolo di capo della giunta militare
denominata National Council for Peace and Order(NCPO). Successivamente, la giunta ha nominato i componenti dell’assemblea, con compiti sia
legislativi che costituenti. Il 95% dei 300 membri dell’assemblea sono
militari in pensione o ancora in attività. Ha suscitato grandi polemiche
l’accettazione dell’incarico da parte di Somkit Lertpaithoon, rettore della Thammasat University, un’istituzione accademica sempre distintasi
come laboratorio politico progressista favorevole alla democrazia.7 Il 25
agosto 2014 l’assemblea ha poi nominato il generale Prayuth Chan-ocha
capo del governo,8 passaggio obbligato che ha fornito una parvenza di
legittimità alla sua presa di potere. Il generale ha così concentrato su di
sé i poteri legislativo, esecutivo e militare ricoprendo il ruolo di guida
dell’NCPO, di primo ministro e di capo dell’Esercito: in breve il dittatore della Thailandia del XXI secolo. Ognuno di questi incarichi ha avuto
l’avvallo della firma del re.
3. Un re malato, un principe non amato: successione o crollo della
monarchia?
La Thailandia sta per attraversare uno dei momenti storici più difficili
ed importanti della sua storia. L’anziano re è malato e già nel 2013 erano
emerse voci di una sua possibile abdicazione a causa dei gravi problemi
di salute. Nel 2014, il monarca non ha potuto né presentarsi in pubblico
in occasione del suo compleanno, né pronunciare l’atteso discorso alla
nazione. Nonostante le sue precarie condizioni di salute, il sovrano ha
comunque avallato con la sua firma sia la presa di potere da parte del
generale Prayuth Chan-ocha, sia i successivi provvedimenti presi dal generale.
La successione al trono è considerata da molti analisti come la fase di
maggiore instabilità e incertezza nel futuro prossimo del regno. In questo
contesto, la nascita della dittatura è giustificata dall’esigenza di esercitare uno stretto controllo sulle istituzioni, sui cittadini e sul territorio in
Thai junta chief declares 15 months of reforms before general elections, ‘The Guardian’,
31 maggio 2014 (http://www.theguardian.com).
6 No election in Thailand seen until 2016, in ‘Voice of America’, 27 novembre 2014 (http://
www.voanews.com/content/thailand-junta-delays-elections-until-2016/2536510.html).
7 For students, rectors armyties are too close for comfort, ‘The Bangkok Post’, 31 agosto
2014 (http://bangkokpost.com).
8 Thailand’s military prime minister triple crown, ‘The Economist’, 26 agosto 2014
(http: /www.economist.com).
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una fase che viene prevista come di grande difficoltà. L’erede al trono,
il principe Maha Vajiralongkorn, non ha l’apprezzamento del popolo.9
Fino ad oggi gli apparati di corte non sono riusciti a rendere popolare la
sua immagine; il compito è stato quindi affidato ai militari. Nel mese di
novembre 2014 ha suscitato grande clamore l’arresto di numerosi esponenti del corpo di polizia per corruzione e associazione a delinquere.10 Lo
scandalo ha riguardato anche alcuni parenti della consorte del principe.
L’erede al trono ha immediatamente richiesto ed ottenuto che venisse
tolto loro il cognome Akkarapongpreecha, concesso in quanto parenti
della principessa. La vicenda è stata letta, da alcuni analisti, come dettata
dalla necessità di fare pulizia in casa dell’erede al trono prima della successione.11 In seguito, la principessa ha chiesto di rinunciare a tutti i titoli
e privilegi reali, richiesta che è stata immediatamente accolta dal re. Tale
atto probabilmente è da considerarsi propedeutico al divorzio, considerato necessario per portare a termine l’azione di pulizia. La decisione di
porre in atto il colpo di stato è stata sicuramente determinata anche dalla
nota vicinanza del principe all’ex primo ministro Thaksin Shinawatra.
Rapporto valutato in modo negativo dai più alti esponenti della corte,
come il presidente del consiglio privato del re, Prem Tinsulanonda.12 È
probabile dunque che si sia voluto mettere il principe ereditario sotto
controllo, non essendoci le condizioni per dichiararlo incapace o per sperare in una sua morte precoce.13 L’ascesa al trono del principe è temuta
dalla maggior parte della popolazione, che da sempre lo ha ritenuto una
figura inadeguata perché, tra l’altro, pare sia stato responsabile di traffici
illeciti. Già negli anni ‘80 la maggior parte dei tailandesi si riferiva a lui
con il nomignolo di «Sia O»14 ovvero l’equivalente del nostro «don» per
i capi mafia, a causa di suoi collegamenti con ambienti criminali. In più
occasioni sono stati riportati dalla stampa, e subito censurati, comportamenti del principe considerati moralmente inaccettabili per la cultura locale. Di grande impatto fu alcuni anni fa la diffusione di un video in cui la
moglie del principe, in sua presenza, festeggiava nuda il compleanno del
loro cane. La povera bestiola tra l’altro era stata nominata dal suo padrone maresciallo dell’aeronautica e ha preso parte in qualità di commensale
ad alcune cene ufficiali.15 La faticosa opera realizzata da re Bhumipol,
Monica Ceccarelli, La crisi politica in Thailandia, ‘Asia Maior 2010’, pp. 203-215.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Thai crown prince causing the elites anxiety, ‘Japan
Times’, 4 dicembre 2014 (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2014/12/04/commentary/thai-crown-prince-causing-the-elites-anxiety/#.VIBVppRdU09).
11 Ibidem.
12 Monica Ceccarelli, La crisi politica in Thailandia, ‘Asia Maior 2010’, pp. 209-210.
13 Ibid.
14 As father fades, his children fight, ‘The Economist’, 18 marzo 2010 (http://www.
economist.com/node/15718981
15 Secret cable reveal fears over health of Thai king and HIV son, ‘CNN iReport’, 27
novembre 2013 (http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1064218).
9 10 197
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che ha restituito dignità e prestigio alla corona thailandese, rendendola
il terzo pilastro del regno insieme alla religione e alla nazione, rischia di
essere vanificata qualora a salire sul trono sia il principe Maha Vajiralongkorn. Al di là di questo va tenuto in considerazione che il re ha guadagnato prestigio soprattutto grazie ai progetti che ha finanziato a favore
della popolazione, come per esempio la riconversione delle colture di
oppio, l’irrigazione nella regione del nord-est, l’attuazione dell’economia
di sufficienza16 e molti altri, seguìti personalmente dallo stesso sovrano.
Il principe sembra non essersi mai preso cura di tali progetti o averne
promossi di simili. Questo aspetto ha sicuramente un risvolto importante
per il futuro di tali iniziative. A prendersi cura dei progetti paterni e a
promuoverne altri di pari importanza è la principessa Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, amata da tutta la popolazione. Tuttavia, le probabilità che possa
essere designata a salire sul trono sembrano ormai svanite.
4. Nascita di una dittatura
Il colpo di stato del 22 maggio è stato giustificato dai suoi promotori
con l’esigenza di riportare ordine e pace alla nazione. Tanto che la giunta
si è data come denominazione National Council for Peace and Order(NCPO).
Quello che è apparso immediatamente chiaro è che i militari non avevano
intenzione di restituire il paese ad un sistema nel breve periodo. In questa
chiave sono da interpretarsi gli interventi sul sistema educativo a tutti i
livelli. Nelle scuole sono stati subito promossi 12 princìpi dalla giunta a cui
devono conformarsi i giovani studenti: 1. sostenere la nazione, le religioni
e la monarchia, che è l’istituzione chiave; 2. essere onesti, pronti al sacrificio e pazienti con atteggiamento positivo per il bene comune dei cittadini;
3. essere grati ai genitori, tutori e insegnanti; 4. cercare la conoscenza e
l’istruzione, direttamente e indirettamente; 5. fare tesoro della preziosa tradizione tailandese; 6. mantenere moralità, integrità, augurare il bene agli
altri, oltre ad essere generosi e pronti alla condivisione; 7. comprendere,
apprendere la vera essenza degli ideali democratici con Sua Maestà il Re
come Capo dello Stato; 8. mantenere la disciplina, rispettare le leggi e gli
anziani; 9. essere cosciente e consapevole di azioni in linea con le dichiarazioni di Sua Maestà il re; 10. praticare la filosofia dell’economia di sufficienza di Sua Maestà il Re. Risparmiare di denaro per il tempo del bisogno.
Essere moderati e utilizzare il surplus per la condivisione o l’espansione degli affari, pur avendo una buona protezione; 11. mantenere la salute fisica
e mentale e mantenersi inflessibili alla forza oscura o ai desideri, con senso
Teoria economica elaborata dal re Bhumibol basata sui tre principi di moderazione, ragionevolezza e auto-immunità, che insieme alle condizioni di moralità e
conoscenza può essere applicata a tutti i livelli della società, dal singolo individuo
fino all’intero paese.
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di vergogna per le colpe e i peccati secondo i principi religiosi; 12. mettere
l’interesse pubblico e nazionale prima degli interessi personali.
In tutti gli istituti, nel momento dell’alzabandiera, all’inno nazionale
è stato aggiunto il canto «Restituire la felicità alla Thailandia», composto
dallo stesso generale Prayuth Chan-ocha. Inoltre è stata avviata una riforma del sistema scolastico che ha previsto l’inserimento di «dovere civico»
come materia di studio dalla prima elementare all’ultimo anno di scuola
superiore. Sono stati previsti pesanti interventi nelle versioni dei testi di
storia interpretata in chiave patriottica e nazionalista. L’attuazione della
riforma è iniziata con la formazione dei docenti.17
Per illustrare i 12 principi è stato chiesto ad alcuni registi di realizzare dei cortometraggi da diffondere nelle scuole e nei cinema; tali cortometraggi sono stati raccolti in un film collettivo intitolato: «Thai Nyom»
(Orgoglio thai). Grande clamore ha suscitato il pezzo da Kulp Kaljaruek,
«30», in cui si vede un ragazzo realizzare un ritratto di Adolf Hitler e un
suo compagno di scuola applaudire entusiasta. Inizialmente il regista ha
difeso la sua scelta, ma dopo la formale protesta dell’ambasciatore dello
stato di Israele, ha apportato delle modifiche.18 Per quanto riguarda le
istituzioni universitarie, l’azione della giunta è stata soprattutto in senso
repressivo ed intimidatorio. Immediatamente dopo la presa del potere
da parte dell’esercito sono stati arrestati docenti e studenti sospettati
di attività sovversiva. Una libreria di Chiang Mai ha subìto diverse perquisizioni in quanto nei suoi locali spesso si organizzavano dibattiti e
seminari su tematiche considerate sovversive.19 L’azione intimidatoria
dell’esercito appariva mirata a soffocare sul nascere qualsiasi tentativo
di protesta. Fra le forme di intimidazione utilizzate vi è stata la collocazione di un presidio militare all’entrata dei dormitori dell’università.
Un episodio più clamoroso è stata l’irruzione da parte dell’esercito in
un’aula dell’Università Thammasat di Bangkok, dove si stava svolgendo
un seminario sulla caduta delle dittature occidentali. Docenti e studenti
sono stati trattenuti alcune ore e poi rilasciati. I militari hanno motivato
la propria azione ritenendo che tale dibattito avrebbe potuto creare divisione nella società thailandese.20 Un aspetto sicuramente inquietante
Fall into line youngsters, ‘The Bangkok Post’, 21 luglio 2014 (http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/investigation/421370/fall-into-line-youngsters).
18 Bizarre Hitler cameo sneaks into Thai junta propaganda video, ‘Asian Correspondent’, 9 dicembre 2014 (http://asiancorrespondent.com/128914/bizarre-hitler-cameo-sneaks-into-thai-junta-propaganda-video).
19 The Thai coup makers and the use of lèse majesté law to purge anti-coup activists,
‘thaicoup2014.wordpress.com’, 1° giugno 2014 (http://thaicoup2014.wordpress.
com/2014/06/01/the-thaicoup-makers-and-the-use-of-lese-majeste-law-to-purgeanti-coup-activists-in-thailand).
20 Military blocks academic panel on foreign dictatorship, ‘Khaosod English’, 18 settembre 2014 (http://www.khaosodenglish.com/detail.php?newsid=1411048091&s
ection=11).
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è che la dittatura sembra essersi già avviata nella spirale di paranoia caratteristica di altre esperienze dittatoriali. Sono stati già presi dei provvedimenti che potrebbero essere definiti ridicoli se non comportassero
la possibilità per chi ne è vittima di essere arrestati e perseguiti in base
alla legge marziale vigente nel paese: divieto di mangiare sandwichin
pubblico; di leggere in spazi pubblici testi considerati sovversivi, come
«1984» di Orwell; di fare il saluto con la mano alzata e le tre dita distese come nel film «Hunger Games».21 Questi divieti nascono a seguito
di episodi di protesta che hanno utilizzato tali forme per esprimere il
dissenso nei confronti della dittatura. La stampa è stata sottoposta a
censura e sono stati epici quanto vani i tentativi di tenere sotto controllo
la rete internet. La giunta si è sforzata a rendere irraggiungibili molti
siti grazie ad un sistema di filtri sempre più sofisticato; almeno per il
momento, però, risulta semplice aggirare questo ostacolo grazie a programmi gratuiti. Come già ricordato, pochi giorni dopo il colpo di stato,
i militari avevano chiuso per circa un’ora Facebook, un episodio che è
stato interpretato come un avvertimento a non utilizzare internet e le
sue reti per attività di opposizione alla giunta. Il dissenso, in quella fase,
non è ancora apparso in forma organizzata e diffusa. Episodi di contestazione si sono verificati soprattutto a Bangkok. Ha anche suscitato
grande clamore la protesta messa in atto da cinque studenti universitari
a Kon Kaen durante la visita del generale Prayuth il 19 novembre 2014.
I cinque si sono alzati durante il suo discorso indossando magliette nere
che componevano la scritta «No al colpo di stato», salutando come i dissidenti del film «Hunger Games» e urlando frasi inneggianti alla libertà. Hanno pagato il loro coraggio non solo con l’arresto ma anche con
l’espulsione dall’università. 22 Alcuni docenti universitari hanno espresso il loro dissenso contro la privazione della libertà accademica, presentandosi in occasioni ufficiali indossando in testa una scatola di metallo.
In questo modo si alludeva a un detto thailandese, in cui si sollecita chi
prova vergogna a coprirsi la faccia.23
21 Sandwich eating and 1984 8 things that can get you arrested in Thailand, ‘The Telegraph’, 11 settembre 2014 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/asia/
thailand/11090565/Sandwich-eating-and-1984-8-things-that-can-get-you-arrested-in-Thailand.html).
22 Thailand: Unending Repression 6 Months Post-Coup, ‘Human Rights Watch’, 25 novembre 2014 (http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/11/24/thailand-unending-repression6-months-post-coup).
23 When junta control universities metal box becomes symbol of the fight for the academic
freedom in Thailand, ‘Prachatai English’, 24 settembre 2014 (http://prachatai.org/
english/print/4355).
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4.1. Il generale che divenne dittatore
Un profetico editoriale pubblicato nel 2010 dal quotidiano thailandese ‘The Nation’ si interrogava se il generale Prayuth ocha fosse l’uomo da
temere.24 L’allora vice comandante dell’esercito aveva sempre mantenuto
un basso profilo, ma sembrava inevitabilmente destinato ad assumere su
di sé l’incarico di guidare un possibile colpo di stato. Nel 2006, infatti, era
luogotenente del generale Anuphong Phaochinda, il capo dell’esercito
che aveva rovesciato il primo ministro Thaksin Shinawatra. In seguito,
nell’ottobre del 2010, Prayuth Chan-ocha ha sostituito Anuphong Phaochinda come comandante capo dell’esercito e ha mantenuto l’incarico
anche sotto il governo guidato da Yingluck Shinawatra.
Il generale Prayuth ocha ha frequentato la prestigiosa Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, dove ha conseguito anche una laurea in scienze. Ha prestato servizio nel 21° reggimento di fanteria ovvero il corpo di guardia della
regina.25 Un fedelissimo dell’istituzione monarchica, considerato uno dei
più strenui difensori, nel 2012 il generale Prayuth ocha, quando un gruppo
di intellettuali propose una revisione della legge sulla lesa maestà, dichiarò
che chiunque avesse voluto criticare tale legge avrebbe fatto bene ad andarsene dalla Thailandia.26 Già l’anno prima, il generale aveva denunciato
e fatto perseguire il parlamentare Jatuporn Promphan, uno dei principali
esponenti delle «Red Shirts», il movimento dei sostenitori di Thaksin Shinawatra. In quell’occasione Prayuth aveva dichiarato che la sua azione non
aveva motivi politici ma solo l’obiettivo di difendere la monarchia.27
5. Diritti umani
Amnesty International in apertura del suo dossier sui primi 100 giorni
di dittatura ha riportato una dichiarazione del vice commissario di polizia
incaricato di rispondere ad una richiesta della nota organizzazione internazionale. L’ufficiale afferma che le persone vengono invitate secondo la
legge marziale per dei colloqui finalizzati a correggere il loro modo di
pensare. Prosegue affermando che le persone con un pensiero differente
hanno la tendenza a creare violenza. L’ufficiale, quindi, ha spiegato che
dopo aver corretto il loro modo di pensare tali persone sono restituite alla
società e non vengono sottoposte ad alcun successivo controllo.28
Should we fear this man?, ‘The Nation’, 30 gennaio 2010 (http://www.nationmultimedia.com).
25 General Prayuth: Thailand’s new strongman, ‘DW.de’, 27 maggio 2014 (http://www.
dw.de/generalprayuththailandsnewstrongman/a17665821).
26 Ibidem.
27 Profile: thai general Prayuth chan-ocha, ‘BBC news’, 21 agosto 2014 (http://www.
bbc.com/news/worldasia27526495).
28 Thailand: attitude adjustment 100 days under martial law, ‘Amnesty International’, 2014.
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Tale affermazione è estremamente indicativa dell’incapacità degli uomini del regime militare di comprendere la gravità delle loro azioni.
Il rapporto di Amnesty International elenca una lunga serie di violazioni e di abusi oltre ad almeno due casi di tortura e di scomparsa. Sono
stati ritirati 11 passaporti di cittadini tailandesi che si trovavano all’estero.
Tali atti, secondo l’organizzazione internazionale, non sono giustificabili
né proporzionati all’esigenza di sicurezza nel paese. Gli arresti e le detenzioni ingiustificati sono quasi 600. Questo in base a notizie ufficiali; in
realtà i numeri sono più alti, in quanto i militari agiscono senza mandati
e le convocazioni spesso sono fatte in modo informale. Nel rapporto non
è mancata una stigmatizzazione della legge sulla lesa maestà, che, sempre di più, è diventata strumento per mettere a tacere avversari politici,
poiché è stata utilizzata in modo pretestuoso e grottesco. Sotto la legge
marziale, ad occuparsi delle denunce riferite all’articolo 112 del codice
penale (cioè alla legge sulla lesa maestà) sono funzionari di polizia. In
base a tale articolo i funzionari incaricati sono obbligati a procedere, poiché, in caso contrario, potrebbero essere perseguiti per aver infranto la
stessa legge.29
6. Dagli USA verso la Cina
Alcuni stati hanno ufficialmente condannato il colpo di stato e hanno
chiesto il ripristino delle libertà democratiche nel paese. Gli Stati Uniti30
hanno preso una posizione molto dura che non ha precedenti nelle relazioni tra i due paesi.31 Tra l’altro, l’amministrazione americana ha tagliato
tutti i fondi non ancora erogati per gli aiuti militari per un totale di tre
milioni e mezzo di dollari. Ha inoltre annullato la partecipazione delle
sue truppe all’esercitazione multinazionale denominata «Cobra Gold»,
che si svolge ogni anno in Thailandia.32
Il Consiglio europeo33 ha rimesso in discussione le relazioni con la
Thailandia, sospendendo ogni visita ufficiale tra rappresentanti dell’Unione Europea e dello stato tailandese. Il Consiglio, inoltre, ha disposto che
nessuno stato membro possa firmare accordi con il governo di Bangkok,
Ibid., p. 36.
Coup in Thailand, comunicato stampa del segretario di stato John Kerry (http://
www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2014/05/226446.htm).
31 U.S. condemns thai takeover as a coup, leaving aid in question, ‘Time’, 22 maggio
2014 (http://time.com/109601/usthailandcoup).
32 The case for Cobra Gold, ‘Asia Sentinel’, 3 novembre 2014 (http://www.
asiasentinel.com/politics/case-cobra-gold/?utm_content=buffer029f3&utm_
medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer).
33 Council conclusions on Thailand, ‘Foreign affairs council meeting’, 23 giugno 2014
(http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/143330.
pdf).
29 30 202
Thailandia
fino a quando la Thailandia non sarà guidata da un governo eletto. Infine,
ha chiesto la liberazione dei prigionieri politici.34 Il governo australiano ha
duramente condannato il colpo di stato e ha sospeso quasi completamente
ogni collaborazione con la giunta militare. Inoltre, Canberra ha posto il
veto all’ingresso in Australia dei rappresentanti della giunta tailandese e
ha posposto alcune attività di difesa congiunta già programmate.35 La condanna da parte degli alleati storici come USA, Australia e Unione Europea
ha provocato uno spostamento delle relazioni estere. La Cina, infatti, non
ha espresso condanne e ha continuato a mantenere rapporti commerciali
con la Thailandia. Secondo il professor Pavin Chachavalpongpun, è stato
un caldo abbraccio quello che la Thailandia ha ricevuto da parte della Cina.36 Il generale Min Aung Hlaing, comandante supremo dell’esercito del
Myanmar, è stato il primo rappresentante di un paese membro dell’ASEAN
(Association of South East Asian Nation) a compiere una visita ufficiale in
Thailandia, dopo il colpo di stato. Min Aung Hlaing ha espresso apprezzamento alla giunta militare per aver fatto la cosa giusta; si è trattato di un
appoggio di grande importanza in quanto Myanmar nel 2014 aveva la presidenza dell’ASEAN.37 In ottobre, il generale Prayuth Chan-ocha ha partecipato al decimo incontro EU/ASEM che si è svolto a Milano. Arrivato in
Italia alla ricerca del consenso dei paesi occidentali, Prayuth Chan-ocha ha
ricevuto un’accoglienza estremamente fredda e non ha avuto la possibilità
di incontri bilaterali. Oltre a questo, si sono verificate proteste nelle strade
di Milano da parte di giovani tailandesi ed anche di italiani che chiedevano
giustizia per la morte del fotografo Fabrizio Polenghi, avvenuta nel 2010
a Bangkok.38 Il generale Prayuth Chan-ocha non ha ricevuto una buona
accoglienza nemmeno nel Regno Unito, a seguito del terribile omicidio
nell’isola di Koh Tao di due cittadini inglesi e della modalità con cui sono
state condotte le indagini. Inoltre aveva suscitato grande indignazione la
dichiarazione del generale che, in riferimento al grave fatto di sangue, ne
aveva attribuito la responsabilità al fatto che le ragazze straniere si mostrano in bikini.39
Europe must support Democracy in Thailand, ‘The Diplomat’, 3 luglio 2014 (http://
thediplomat.com).
35 Australia pressures thai generals over coup, ‘Wall Street Journal’, 31 maggio 2014
(http://www.wsj.com).
36 Pavin Chachavalpongpun, The new Thailand Myanmar axis, ‘The Diplomat’, 29
luglio 2014 (http://thediplomat.com).
37 Ibid.
38 Prayuth a Milano: dittatore non sei benvenuto, ‘Le Terre sottovento’, 17 ottobre
2014.
39 Insecurity hangs over Thai generals as they take world stage, ‘Asian Review’, 16 ottobre
2014 (http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/International-Relations/Insecurity-hangsover-Thai-generals-as-they-take-world-stage).
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7. Economia
L’economa ha subìto un rallentamento, con una faticosa ripresa nel
terzo quadrimestre, nonostante la fine dei disordini politici. Durante questo periodo, il PIL (Prodotto interno lordo) è cresciuto solo dello 0,6% su
base annua, mentre la crescita nei due quadrimestri precedenti era stata
soltanto dello 0,2%. Le esportazioni hanno continuato ad essere deboli,
mentre la ripresa della domanda interna è risultata essere graduale. La
previsione di crescita per l’intero anno è stata rivista all’1,0%, mentre precedentemente era stata calcolata all’1,4%.40
In agosto, l’assemblea legislativa, che ha funzioni di parlamento
«fantoccio», ha approvato il bilancio dello stato, presentato dal generale
Prayuth Chan-ocha. Senza alcun voto contrario è passato un deficit del
10%. Tutta l’operazione è stata svolta in poco più di mezz’ora.41 Il settore
del turismo ha risentito in modo particolare della situazione venutasi a
creare dopo il colpo di stato. Il calo degli arrivi all’aeroporto di Bangkok
è stato del 15,61%. La perdita in termini economici è calcolata in 200 miliardi di baht (6,1 miliardi di dollari USA).42 Un discorso a parte riguarda
il riso. A causa del populistico, quanto fallimentare, schema di sussidi
per i produttori del riso, adottato dal governo Shinawatra, nei magazzini
di tutto il paese sono conservate milioni di tonnellate di riso di pessima
qualità.43 L’ex primo ministro Yingluck Shinawatra è finita sotto inchiesta
per corruzione proprio a causa di questo programma di aiuti pubblici. La
Thailandia non ha ancora recuperato il primo posto nelle esportazioni e
il calcolo delle perdite, per quanto riguarda la credibilità sul mercato, è
molto difficile.44 La mancata vendita del riso aveva fatto mancare al governo Shinawatra i fondi per erogare i sussidi ai coltivatori.
Per questo motivo, uno dei primi provvedimenti del generale Prayuth
Chan-ocha, in questo settore, è stato proprio il sequestro di milioni di baht
presso le banche legate allo stato per pagare i sussidi ai coltivatori, in attesa
Growth Hesitates in developing Asia, ‘Asian Development Outlook Supplement’,
dicembre 2014 (file:///C:/Users/Hoeard%20Paul/Desktop/Asia_Maior_2015/Asia%20
Maior%202015/Economia%20e%20riso/ado-supplement-december-2014.pdf).
41 I vantaggi della dittatura: in Thailandia il ‘Parlamento’ approva un grosso deficit di
bilancio, ‘FIRST online’, 19 agosto 2014 (http://www.firstonline.info/a/2014/08/19/ivantaggi-delle-dittature-in-thailandia-il-parlam/7a0398d3-6c09-4e5e-97d2-5e4d7581277c).
42 28 weeks later: Thailand tourism down, but not out, ‘Asian Corrispondent’, 20 novembre 2014 (http://asiancorrespondent.com/128429/28weekslaterthailandtouris
mdownbutnotout).
43 Bad rice and loss of stock discovered, ‘The Nation’, 5 luglio 2014 (http://www.nationmultimedia.com).
44 Thai rice subsidy program ends whit a whimper, ‘Asia Sentinel’, 11 aprile 2014 (http://
www.asiasentinel.com/econ-business/thai-rice-subsidy-program-ends-whimper).
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Thailandia
da oltre un anno45. In questo modo, il generale ha messo subito in atto una
politica molto elementare per accattivarsi le simpatie di chi gravitava in
un’area vicina al governo appena deposto. 8. Il conflitto separatista
Il conflitto separatista che sconvolge il Sud della Thailandia ha fatto
ormai 6.000 vittime.46 È evidente l’assoluta incapacità dei governi che si
sono succeduti nell’interpretarne le cause e nel voler realmente trovare
una soluzione condivisa. Nonostante che le tre province di Pattani, Yala
e Narathiwat siano in uno stato di militarizzazione da anni, (sono circa
150.000 i militari dispiegati sul territorio), quasi quotidianamente si registrano attentati ed omicidi.47
Il generale Prayuth Chan-ocha ha proclamato l’intenzione di continuare il dialogo di pace con la principale organizzazione dei separatisti,
il Barisan Revolusi Nasional(BRN), grazie alla mediazione della Malaysia.
Nel contempo, però, il nuovo governo militare ha distribuito tra i civili
lealisti 2.700 fucili d’assalto a scopo di autodifesa; un provvedimento sulla
cui pericolosità sono stati espressi molti dubbi, dato che esso favorisce la
possibilità di realizzare vendette personali e incoraggia i conflitti armati
fra civili.48 Secondo i programmi della giunta, entro un anno sarà riportata la pace nella zona; molti osservatori hanno però fatto notare che un
approccio più repressivo rispetto ai precedenti governi civili non ha la
possibilità di una ripresa dei colloqui di pace. Le cause del lungo conflitto
sono da ricercare nel desiderio della maggioranza della popolazione di
etnia malese di separarsi dalla Thailandia e di unificarsi alla Malaysia. La
miopia dei governi centrali di Bangkok ha fatto sì che il conflitto abbia assunto sempre più un carattere religioso su basi integraliste. I ribelli sono
arrivati ad ipotizzare la formazione di un califfato islamico; ma va sempre
tenuto in considerazione che la motivazione originale e principale dei
ribelli rimane il separatismo e non l’islamizzazione della zona.
L’efferatezza degli omicidi e la crudeltà delle rappresaglie da entrambe
le parti in conflitto possono essere considerate pari all’indifferenza della
comunità internazionale. La maggioranza delle vittime è costituita ancora
una volta dai civili: monaci, insegnanti e rappresentanti delle forze di sicurezza sono stati colpiti in quanto simboli dello stato Tailandese. Human
Rights Watch ha dichiarato che i ribelli hanno diffuso il terrore colpendo
soprattutto le donne, decapitandole e bruciandone i corpi.49 Non sono
Anger over coup trumps payouts to Thai farmers, ‘The New York Times’, 27 maggio
2014 (http://www.nytimes.com).
46 Thai army hands out weapons to civilians in southern conflict, ‘Vice news’, 7 novembre 2014 (https://news.vice.com).
47 Thailand’s deep south: living in conflict, ‘The Diplomat’, 7 maggio 2014 (http://
thediplomat.com).
48 Thai army hands out weapons to civilians in southern conflict, ‘Vice news’, 7 novembre 2014 (https://news.vice.com).
49 Thailand southern separatists target women, in ‘Human Rights Watch’, 4 aprile 2014
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mancate denunce di abusi perpetrati dall’esercito, come l’uccisione per
vendetta a Narathiwat di tre bambini e il ferimento dei loro genitori, che
hanno evidenziato il tragico e «naturale» ciclo della violenza.50
***
In 2014, the fragile Thai democracy saw the saddest of the epilogues. On 22
May the army took power in a coup. The supreme court had already dismissed the
then Prime Minister, Yngluck Shinawatra. However, the coup of 22 May did not
arrive unexpected, being announced by a series of developments, part of a longterm strategy..
The main reason for the coup was the need to keep the country under control
during the King’s succession, an event widely recognized as imminent.
General Prayuth, commander of the army, placed himself at the head of the
military junta. The junta also appointed the members of the legislative assembly.
This body then appointed General Prayuth head of government. All these moves
were ratified by the signature of the King.
(http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/04/04/thailandsouthern-separatists-target-women).
50 Rights group urges prosecution of troops for killing teenager in deep south, ‘Kahosod
English’, 29 October 2014 (http://www.khaosodenglish.com/detail.php?newsid=14
14567169&section=12).
206
Myanmar 2014: un processo di democratizzazione
molto lento ma reale
Piergiorgio Pescali
Asia Maior – Osservatorio italiano sull’Asia
[email protected]
1. Introduzione: attesa e stagnazione
Dal 2010, anno delle elezioni generali che hanno decretato la svolta
riformatrice e il progressivo allontanamento dei militari dal potere assoluto, che detenevano da quasi cinquant’anni, i cambiamenti avvenuti
sono stati tali da ridisegnare l’intero assetto politico, sociale, economico
del Myanmar. Senza dubbio si è trattato di una svolta che ha avuto ripercussioni positive anche sull’intera regione.
È però vero che le trasformazioni hanno inevitabilmente inciso su delicati equilibri politici, demografici, economici, sociali e religiosi. Ai conflitti etnici, solo in parte acquietati grazie ad una serie di fragili accordi di cessate il
fuoco, si sono sovrapposti conflitti dettati da motivi religiosi, che hanno reso
più tese le relazioni con gli stati confinanti, in particolare con il Bangladesh.
Nonostante che la situazione economica sia progressivamente migliorata, i conflitti sociali sono continuati tanto da arrivare a veri e propri
scontri in seguito ad una serie di sentenze ai danni di giornalisti, uno dei
quali è stato perfino ucciso dai militari.
In sede internazionale, il governo di Thein Sein è stato oggetto di
critiche per il rallentamento delle riforme, ma queste sono state in gran
parte sopite dall’approvazione del presidente degli Stati Uniti, Barack
Obama, che, durante la sua visita di novembre, ha sottolineato lo sforzo
del governo birmano nel proseguire sulla strada della democratizzazione.
Un duro colpo per l’opposizione birmana, in particolare per la National
League for Democracy (NLD), la quale sperava di incassare l’incondizionato
appoggio delle democrazie occidentali per emendare la costituzione e
poter candidare Aung San Suu Kyi alla presidenza.
2. La visita di Obama e la fine del sogno di Aung San Suu Kyi
È proprio dalla visita di Obama in Myanmar che occorre partire per
delineare gli eventi accaduti in Myanmar durante l’anno qui analizzato.
Piergiorgio Pescali
Tra il 12 e il 15 novembre 2014, il presidente statunitense ha calpestato il
suolo birmano per la seconda volta durante il suo mandato, incontrando
il suo omologo birmano Thein Sein e la leader dell’opposizione Aung
San Suu Kyi.
A differenza del precedente viaggio avvenuto nel 2012, durante il
quale era apparsa chiara l’intesa tra la Casa Bianca e Aung San Suu Kyi,
quello del 2014 è stato segnato da scambi di battute acide tra diversi esponenti dell’amministrazione Obama e la stessa Suu Kyi.
Il vice Consigliere per la Sicurezza Nazionale USA, Ben Rhodes, il 31
ottobre aveva affermato che «parte degli sforzi di riforma sono in stallo,
alcuni sono avanzati e taluni abbiamo visto che sono arretrati. Penso quindi che siamo di fronte ad una visione mista».1
La risposta di Suu Kyi è stata lapidaria e chiaramente irritata, chiedendo di poter «sfidare quelli che parlano così positivamente del processo di
riforma»2 e invitando a elencare «quali riforme siano state fatti negli ultimi
mesi».3 La leader dell’NLD ha anche aggiunto che gli Stati Uniti sarebbero
«troppo ottimisti sul programma di riforme iniziato dall’attuale governo».4
Altrettanto raggelante per la leader dell’opposizione è stato il discorso
di Obama al termine della sua visita in Myanmar. Proprio accanto ad Aung
San Suu Kyi, il presidente degli USA, pur evidenziando che «il processo di
riforma non è né completo né irreversibile [e] per tanti versi non procede
con sufficiente velocità», ha indirettamente elogiato il governo di Thein
Sein. Obama ha continuato il suo discorso, affermando: «l’economia ha
iniziato a crescere, i prigionieri politici sono stati liberati, circolano più
giornali e i bambini non vengono più obbligati al servizio militare. Questi
sono importanti cambiamenti che hanno aperto grandi opportunità al
popolo birmano».5
Pur condannando l’ingiusto articolo costituzionale che impedisce a
chiunque abbia parenti con passaporto straniero di candidarsi alle elezioni presidenziali del 2015, l’affondo della Casa Bianca al governo di Nay
Pyi Taw6 non è andato oltre, isolando, di fatto, l’opposizione democratica
birmana.
1 Obama in Myanmar: Rohingya crisis could dim ASEAN summit, ‘CNN’, 12 novembre 2014 (http://edition.cnn.com/2014/11/13/politics/myanmar-obama-asean-visit/
index.html).
2 Obama Faces Rift With Suu Kyi in Myanmar, ‘The Wall Street Journal’, 11 novembre
2014.
3 Suu Kyi Urges U.S. to Keep Pressing for Change in Myanmar, ‘The Wall Street Journal’, 5 novembre 2014.
4 US ‘Too Optimistic’ About Burma Reform: Suu Kyi, ‘The Irrawaddy’, 5 novembre
2014.
5 Obama, Suu Kyi Pledge Solidarity Amid ‘Bumpy Patch’ in Reforms, ‘The Irrawaddy’,
14 novembre 2014.
6 Nay Pyi Taw, una città di nuova creazione, situata a circa 320 chilometri a nord di
Yangon, ha sostituito dal 2006 quest’ultima come capitale del Myanmar.
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Myanmar
La pesantezza delle affermazioni di Obama, non riportate con la dovuta attenzione dalla stampa mondiale, hanno avuto immediate conseguenze sul piano politico quando, appena cinque giorni dopo la sua partenza dal Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi ha gettato la spugna, affermando
che l’NLD non sarebbe riuscito a cambiare l’articolo 59f della costituzione
che impedisce alla premio Nobel per la pace di candidarsi per le elezioni
presidenziali.7
Una disgrazia non solo per la Lady, la quale aveva speso gli ultimi due
anni di attività politica proprio con l’intento di garantirsi appoggi internazionali che spingessero Thein Sein e Shwe Mann a cambiare la costituzione, ma per l’intero processo di democratizzazione del Myanmar.
Non potendo partecipare alle prossime consultazioni, Aung San Suu
Kyi dovrà aspettare un altro lustro, sperando nella capacità sua e del partito di convincere il parlamento e il futuro governo a emendare il testo
costituzionale. Allora, però, Suu Kyi avrà già 75 anni; un’età avanzata,
anche se, di per sé, non ne pregiudicherebbe la candidatura. Il pericolo
maggiore per la leader dell’NLD potrebbe arrivare, in realtà, soprattutto
dal suo stesso partito, divenuto oramai l’ombra di sé medesimo. Infatti, i
suoi membri più carismatici e integerrimi sono morti (il 21 aprile 2014 è
scomparso anche Win Tin) o troppo anziani per avere la forza di controllare un movimento sempre più indebolito dalla corruzione e governato
da una nuova leva di politici rampanti e ambiziosi, poco propensi al ruolo
marginale cui li ha costretti la propria leader.
3. La corsa alla candidatura presidenziale
Con l’esclusione della concorrente più agguerrita, la corsa alla candidatura per divenire presidente del Myanmar si è ristretta a poche figure.
Sebbene nessuno dei possibili aspiranti si sia ufficialmente esposto, nel
corso del 2014 si sono delineati alcuni schieramenti, tutti in seno alle
componenti di maggioranza che formano l’attuale governo o che lo appoggiano.
Il candidato più forte sarebbe il sessantasettenne Shwe Mann, attuale presidente dell’Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), nonché
portavoce della Pyithu Hluttaw, la Camera Bassa birmana. Generale in
pensione, è stato considerato uno dei pupilli di Than Shwe durante il
periodo in cui nel paese regnava la giunta militare. La sua abilità bellica nel fronteggiare la guerriglia karen gli è valsa il titolo onorifico di
«Thura», coraggioso. Dopo le elezioni del 2010, Shwe Mann ha mostrato
ineccepibili doti di organizzatore, riuscendo a sorprendere anche i suoi
detrattori con la riforma del parlamento che è stato trasformato in un’efficiente macchina al servizio del governo. Tra l’altro, è stato Shwe Mann
7 NLD admit cannot fight to change constitution, ‘Mizzima’, 19 novembre 2014.
209
Piergiorgio Pescali
che, il 18 novembre 2014, ha escluso ogni possibile modifica della costituzione prima delle elezioni del 2015.8 Le sue capacità organizzative e la
lealtà (anche se spesso opportunistica) mostrata verso l’attuale esecutivo
farebbero di lui il candidato preferito dai governi occidentali nel caso
in cui l’opposizione non arrivi a scegliere un proprio rappresentante.
Una parte dell’NLD, ormai fiaccato dalle lotte interne, avrebbe mostrato
interesse per la candidatura di Shwe Mann in alternativa ad Aung San
Suu Kyi, anche se le dichiarazioni in questo senso riportate dalla stampa
sono state successivamente smentite dal direttivo del partito.9 La famiglia
Mann, inoltre, ha continuato a detenere il monopolio di importanti settori dell’economia birmana: Toe Naing Mann e Aung Thet Mann, figli di
Shwe, presiedono la Redlink Communications Ltd., la Ayer Shwe Wah e
la Htoo Trading Company10, quest’ultima sussidiaria della Htoo Group of
Companies, il primo conglomerato privato birmano.11
Il secondo possibile candidato alla presidenza del Myanmar nel prossimo quinquennio potrebbe essere il comandante del tatmadaw (l’esercito
birmano), il generale Min Aung Hlaing.12 Il suo attuale ruolo è comprensibilmente guardato con sospetto dalle democrazie occidentali, ma, forse
anche in previsione di una sua candidatura alla presidenza, nell’ultimo
anno Min Aung Hlaing ha mostrato aperture verso le riforme. In particolare, nel discorso da lui pronunciato in occasione della giornata delle
forze armate, ha specificato che il ruolo dei militari verrà gradualmente
ridotto mano a mano che nella nazione maturerà la democrazia.13
Da sempre considerato moderato, Min Aung Hlaing ha da tempo
intrapreso una riforma all’interno delle leve militari, imponendo anche
cambiamenti strategici e logistici ai battaglioni impegnati nelle zone di
conflitto. È a lui che si deve la diminuzione delle angherie perpetrate dal
tatmadaw nelle aree abitate dalle minoranze etniche, compresi i reclutamenti forzati di minorenni. Ed è sempre all’esercito che i leader rohingya
si sono appellati per la difesa delle loro comunità dagli assalti organizzati
dai rakhine in combutta con le autorità di polizia locali.
8 No constitution change before 2015 elections: Thura U Shwe Mann, ‘Myanmar Times’,
19 novembre 2014.
9 Report Myanmar’s NLD May Support Ruling Party Chief For President ‘Incorrect’,
‘Radio Free Asia’, 24 settembre 2014 (http://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/
report-09242014180945.html).
10 Market Open for More ISP Players:Minister, ‘Myanmar Business Today’, 19 novembre 2014 (http://www.mmbiztoday.com/articles/market-open-more-isp-playersminister).
11 Tracking the Tycoons, ‘The Irrawaddy’, settembre 2008, vol. 16, n. 9.
12 The man to watch, ‘Foreign Policy’, 15 gennaio 2014 (http://foreignpolicy.
com/2014/01/15/the-man-to-watch).
13 Commander-in-Chief says Armed Forces responsible for ‘safeguarding constitution’ as
69th Armed Forces Day is marked with parade, ‘The New Light of Myanmar’, 28 marzo
2014, p. 3 (http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs17/NLM2014-03-28.pdf).
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Myanmar
4. Il problema dei rohingya e il conflitto religioso
L’esercito, così come era stato concepito dopo l’indipendenza della
Birmania nel 1948, è sempre stato una delle poche organizzazioni multietniche presenti nel paese e, quindi, elemento unificatore di una nazione divisa, ufficialmente, in 135 gruppi minoritari. Questa caratteristica è
divenuta particolarmente importante dopo il 2010 quando, con l’inizio
della democratizzazione, le tensioni sociali e religiose, sino ad allora represse con la forza, hanno potuto erompere in tutta la loro violenza. I governatori, che erano anche capi militari e come tali avevano come priorità
la difesa della stabilità regionale, potevano usare – e non avevano esitato a
farlo – il pugno di ferro per reprimere ogni forma di conflitto. Ma, dopo
il 2010, i governatori erano diventati funzionari esclusivamente civili che,
in varie occasioni, si erano trasformati in veri e propri difensori di una
delle fazioni coinvolte nelle lotte.
È quello che è accaduto anche nello stato del Rakhine, dove la maggioranza buddista, prima ostile al governo centrale, ha trovato proprio
nel governo di Nay Pyi Taw un formidabile alleato per far valere i propri
diritti sulla minoranza musulmana rohingya, ora unico nemico da fronteggiare.
I conflitti tra le due comunità si sono acuiti nel 2014, sfociando anche in
scontri a fuoco lungo la frontiera con il Bangladesh, un chiaro segno che Dacca si sta preoccupando sempre più della situazione nell’attigua regione.14
L’internazionalizzazione del problema dei rohingya, termine utilizzato anche dal presidente Obama nella conferenza stampa tenuta accanto
ad Aung San Suu Kyi, ha portato il Bangladesh a definire ufficialmente
per la prima volta gli appartenenti a questa comunità come cittadini del
Myanmar, quantificando la loro presenza tra le 300 e le 500.000 unità.15 Il
grande timore del governo bengalese e del suo maggiore partito, l’Awami
League, è che i rohingya possano diventare sostenitori dei due movimenti
dell’opposizione, il National Party e il Jamaat-e-Islami, che hanno nelle provincie di Chittagong e di Cox’s Bazar i loro principali serbatoi elettorali.
Dalla fine del 2013, Sheikh Hasina, primo ministro del Bangladesh, ha
ristretto l’accesso alle zone di confine alle organizzazioni non governative
(ONG) e alle agenzie umanitarie internazionali, mentre nel luglio 2014
ha bandito i matrimoni tra bengalesi e rohingya.16
Le politiche adottate da Bangladesh e Myanmar nei confronti di questa comunità sono drammaticamente simili: così come ha fatto il governo
14 Bangladesh, Myanmar at odds over deadly border clash, ‘Reuters’, 1° giugno 2014
(http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/01/us-bangladesh-myanmar-clashesidUSKBN0EC19Q20140601)
15 Goverment strategy paper on Rohingya, ‘The Daily Star’, 21 giugno 2014 (http://
www.thedailystar.net/government-strategy-paper-on-rohingyas-29526)
16 Marriage ban on Rohingya, «The Daily Star», 15 luglio 2014 (http://www.thedailystar.net/marriage-ban-on-rohingyas-33343).
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Piergiorgio Pescali
Hasina anche quello di Thein Sein ha ordinato, nel febbraio 2014, la
sospensione delle attività di diverse ONG, tra cui Médicins san Frontières
(nel luglio 2014 MSF è stato invitato a rientrare nello stato Rakhine).17
L’avversione da parte dei rakhine verso le organizzazioni internazionali,
viste nell’ottica dello scontro frontale come alleate dei rohingya, si è riversata negli scontri avvenuti tra il 26 e il 27 marzo a Sittwe, dove 33 uffici
di ONG e agenzie delle Nazioni Unite sono state assaltate e distrutte,
costringendo 300 cooperanti ad abbandonare temporaneamente la città.
Motivo del contendere è stata la rimozione (rivelatasi del tutto innocente
e priva di intenzioni provocatorie) di una bandiera buddista da un ufficio
di rappresentanza internazionale da parte di una cooperante.18
Il 27 maggio 2014 il parlamento ha approvato il Religious Conversion
Bill, che, assieme all’Interfaith Marriage Bill, il Monogamy Bill e il Population Control Bill, faceva parte dei documenti contenuti nel pacchetto della
National Race and Religion Protection, tutti rivolti a contrastare la comunità
islamica presente in Myanmar.19 Fortemente voluto dai movimenti buddisti sorti nel paese per contrastare la supposta espansione delle comunità
musulmane, il National Race and Religion Protection obbliga, tra le altre
cose, ad una lunga e costosa registrazione presso una serie di uffici statali
chiunque voglia convertirsi all’islàm e, per le donne non musulmane che
intendono sposare un musulmano, l’approvazione delle autorità locali.20
Il pacchetto si aggiunge ad una serie di iniziative che limitano la libertà
di movimento dei rohingya e il numero dei figli per le coppie musulmane
(che ne possono al massimo avere due).21
Il timore dei buddisti dello stato Rakhine (il 60% dei 3,2 milioni
di abitanti) è che ben presto l’immigrazione dal Bangladesh, sommata
17 Myanmar: MSF concerned about the fate of thousands of patients after being ordered to
cease activities, ‘Médicins sans Frontières’, 28 febbraio 2014 (http://www.msf.org/article/myanmar-msf-concerned-about-fate-thousands-patients-after-being-orderedcease-activities); MSF welcome offer to resume operations in Rakhine, Myanmar bur
remains cautious, ‘Médicins sans Frontières’, 25 luglio 2014 (http://www.msf.org/article/msf-welcomes-offer-resume-operations-rakhine-myanmar-remains-cautious).
18 OCHA, Humanitarian Bullettin, Myanmar, Issue 3, 1-31 marzo 2014 (http://
reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Bulletin_Humanitarian_OCHA_
Mar2014.pdf).
19 Myanmar: UN experts alarmed at draft bill imposing restrictions on religious conversion, ‘UN News Centre’, 20 giugno 2014 (http://www.un.org/apps/news/ story.
asp?NewsID=48094#.VGovVvmG-Zs).
20 Burmese Govt Published Draft of Religious Conversion Bill, ‘The Irrawaddy’, 27
maggio 2014 (http://www.irrawaddy.org/burma/burmese-govt-publishes-draft-religious-conversion-bill.html); Myanmar Leader Backs Buddhist Monks’ Calls for Laws
to ‘Protect’ Religion, Race’, ‘RFA’, 27 febbraio 2014 (http://www.rfa.org/english/news/
myanmar/laws-02272014174350.html).
21 Burmese Muslims given two-child limit, ‘The Guardian’, 25 maggio 2013 (http://
www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/25/burma-muslims-two-child-limit).
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Myanmar
all’aumento naturale della componente rohingya, possa ribaltare l’equilibrio demografico a favore di quest’ultimi. In realtà, questo processo
si è già verificato nel Nord dello stato, dove i kaman, un altro gruppo
musulmano, riconosciuto dal governo birmano, superano le restanti
etnie.
A questo si aggiunga che, secondo l’UNICEF il tasso di povertà del
Rakhine è del 44%, ciò che ne fa lo stato più povero del Myanmar dopo
il Chin22.
Sballottati da un confine all’altro, molti rohingya cercano di rifugiarsi
in altri paesi, spesso con la pressione degli stessi governi di Nay Pyi Taw e
di Dacca, creando ulteriori problemi umanitari e diplomatici.23 L’ASEAN,
pur consapevole della situazione drammatica in cui vivono queste popolazioni, è stata incapace di dare una risposta globale ed esauriente, perché
ogni qualvolta la questione si pone in sede ufficiale, prevale tra gli stati il
principio di non interferenza negli affari interni.
5. Il censimento
All’interno della questione etnico-religiosa si è inserito, nel corso del
2014, il programma di censimento avviato dal governo birmano; strumento indispensabile per il regolare svolgimento delle riforme, delle politiche economiche e delle elezioni presidenziali del 2015.
Era dal 1983 che una rilevazione statistica di tale portata non veniva
effettuata, ma a causa delle numerose aree inaccessibili per via dei conflitti in atto in quel periodo, bisogna risalire al 1931 per poter avere dati
completi inerenti all’intera nazione.
Sebbene numerosi governi, per la maggioranza occidentali, abbiano
compreso l’importanza di tale impresa per il futuro del Myanmar, poco è
stato fatto affinché potesse essere portata a termine con successo. L’operazione è costata 73,5 milioni di dollari di cui 58,5 finanziati con l’aiuto
dell’United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) e di otto nazioni, tra cui
l’Italia.24
22 Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development and Unicef, Situation Analysis of Children in Myanmar, July 2012, p. XIV (http://www.unicef. org/eapro/
Myanmar_Situation_Analysis.pdf). Secondo uno studio della Banca Mondiale, la
quale ha utilizzato nuovi metodi di analisi, il tasso di povertà dei rakhine salirebbe al 77,9%, superando anche lo stato Chin. Data tweaks change face of poverty,
‘Myanmar Times’, 19 maggio 2014 (http://www.mmtimes. com/index.php/homepage/143-editor-s-pick/10427-data-tweaks-change-face-of-poverty-2.html).
23 Si veda, in proposito, Nicola Mocci, ‘Cambodia 2014: the continuation of the
Hun Sen-Sam Rainsy political duel and the surge in social conflict’, in questo stesso
volume.
24 Funding, ‘UNFPA’, 12 luglio 2013 (http://countryoffice.unfpa.org/myanmar/
2013/07/12/7329/funding).
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Piergiorgio Pescali
Il governo aveva chiesto di rendere opzionali domande riguardanti i
dati più sensibili, quali l’appartenenza etnica, linguistica e religiosa, ma
la proposta è stata bocciata dal gruppo di quattordici esperti statistici e
tecnici internazionali che formavano l’International Technical Advisory
Board perché, a loro avviso, avrebbe creato pericolo di rivolte tra i gruppi
maggioritari.
Dalla parte opposta, rappresentanti di 31 nazioni etniche birmane
avevano chiesto di rivedere la divisione etnica in 135 gruppi proposta nelle schede, risalente all’epoca coloniale, mentre altri gruppi contestavano
l’inclusione in etnie a cui non sentivano di appartenere.25
Diverse, invece, erano le obiezioni avanzate dalla Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), l’unico gruppo che non ha ancora siglato un
cessate il fuoco con Nay Pyi Taw (dal maggio 2013 vige nello stato Kachin
una fragile tregua spesso interrotta da sporadici, ma intensi, combattimenti). L’organizzazione separatista contestava la suddivisione dell’etnia
in 12 sottogruppi che, secondo i loro leader, era stata redatta ad hoc per
smembrare l’unità della nazione kachin.26
Infine, come era da aspettarsi, particolarmente problematica è stata la
conduzione del censimento nel Rakhine. L’iniziale proposta dell’UNFPA
di includere la possibilità di dichiarare la propria appartenenza all’etnia
rohingya è stata fonte di scontri e di proteste da parte dei buddisti. La
minaccia di boicottaggio del rilevamento da parte dei rakhine ha indotto
il governo a escludere l’opzione etnica, chiedendo agli operatori di interrompere immediatamente la compilazione della scheda se, dopo la prima
domanda, l’interpellato si dichiarava di etnia rohingya.27
La macchina del censimento ha comunque portato a termine il compito tra il 29 marzo e il 10 aprile 2014, stabilendo, in forma ufficiosa (i dati
definitivi verranno resi noti solo nel maggio 2015), la popolazione birmana in 51.429.420 persone, di cui 50.213.067 conteggiate e 1.206.353
stimate nelle tre aree degli stati Rakhine, Kachin e Kayin dove non è stato
possibile avere stime precise.28
Ethnicity without Meaning, Data without Context. The 2014 Census, Identity and Citizenship in Burma/Myanmar, ‘Transnational Institute’, febbraio 2014, p. 7 (http://
www.tni.org/sites/www.tni.org/files/download/bpb_13.pdf); Ethnic groups resist census,
object to question of ethnicity, ‘DVB’, 18 febbraio 2014 (https://www.dvb.no/news/ethnic-groups-resist-census-object-to-question-of-ethnicity-burma-myanmar/37394).
26 Ethnicity without Meaning, Data without Context. The 2014 Census, Identity and Citizenship in Burma/Myanmar, ‘Transnational Institute’, febbraio 2014, p. 16 (http://
www.tni.org/sites/www.tni.org/files/download/bpb_13.pdf).
27 STATEMENT: UNFPA Concerned about Decision Not to Allow Census Respondents
to Self-Identity as Rohingya, ‘UNFPA Myanmar’, 1° aprile 2014 (http://countryoffice.
unfpa.org/myanmar/2014/04/01/9376/statement_unfpa_concerned_about_decision_not_to_allow_census_respondents_to_self_identify_as_rohingya).
28 UNFPA Press Release: Myanmar releases population count from census, ‘UNFPA’»,
30 agosto 2014 (http://countryoffice.unfpa.org/myanmar/2014/08/30/10473/un25 214
Myanmar
6. Le riforme allo stallo?
Se il censimento ha chiarito qual è lo stato attuale della popolazione e della società birmana, manifestando la volontà di procedere con il
modello di sviluppo fin qui seguito, nell’ultima parte del 2014 le riforme
sembrano aver subìto, se non proprio uno stallo, un rallentamento.
L’attesa delle elezioni, con i dibattiti focalizzati prevalentemente sugli
emendamenti costituzionali, ha certamente contribuito a raffreddare gli
entusiasmi del nuovo corso politico ed economico, ma sono in molti a
riproporre lo spettro della dittatura militare nel paese, anche se, nella
realtà, pochi ci credono.29
Il tatmadaw non ha più il potere che aveva fino al 2010: nel potente
Consiglio di Difesa e Sicurezza Nazionale, il comitato che nomina i comandanti militari regionali e che si riunisce settimanalmente per decidere
le eventuali amnistie e gli stati di emergenza, i rappresentanti delle forze
armate sono la minoranza: 5 membri su 11. Anche il monopolio economico è oramai solo un lontano ricordo: ai due conglomerati appartenenti
al tatmadaw, l’Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (UMEHL)
e il Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), nel 2011 è stato revocato lo
status di esenzione erariale per ogni esportazione effettuata e, dal 2010,
è in atto un processo di restituzione delle terre che sono state confiscate
a partire dal 1988. Sebbene molto a rilento e con riluttanza, il ministero
della Difesa ha restituito ai precedenti legittimi proprietari 18.000 acri sui
300.000 illegittimamente estorti.30 Solo il 6%, ma è molto più di quanto
abbiano fatto tutti gli altri ministeri. Su 2.689 richieste di annullamento
di confisca inviate al ministero della Difesa dal 2010, 583 sono andate a
buon fine, mentre nello stesso periodo gli altri organi statali hanno chiuso
solo 299 pratiche su 6.599 contestazioni pervenute.31
Importante è anche il fatto che persino le spese destinate alla difesa
sono oggi rese note, attraverso la loro incorporazione nel bilancio ufficiale. Questo rappresenta una soluzione di continuità rispetto agli anni in
cui era al potere la Giunta militare, quando tali spese erano mantenute
occulte, ma si stimava che ammontassero al 40% del bilancio nazionale.
Nell’anno fiscale 2014-15 la spesa destinata alle forze armate è stata del
14%, con una riduzione, rispetto al 2011, del 5%.32
fpa_press_release_myanmar_releases_population_count_from_census).
29 Return of the Myanmar Military?, ‘The New York Times’, 17 novembre 2014 (http://
www.nytimes.com/2014/11/18/opinion/return-of-the-myanmar-military.html?_r=0).
18.000 acri sono pari a 7.284 ettari e 300.000 acri corrispondono a 121.405 ha.
30 Ministry agrees to return fraction of land confiscated by military, ‘DVB’, 18 luglio
2013 (https://www.dvb.no/news/ministry-agrees-to-return-meagre-fraction-of-landconfiscated-by-military/29992).
31 MPs Urge Prompt Return of Confiscated Land, ‘The Irrawaddy’, 26 settembre 2014
(http://www.irrawaddy.org/burma/mps-urge-prompt-return-confiscated-land.html).
32 Myanmar declares USD2.4 billion defence budget for 2014, ‘IHS Jane’s Defence
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Piergiorgio Pescali
Anche così è legittimo ritenere che il volume di spesa per le forze
armate sia ancora troppo elevato, specialmente se rapportato agli stanziamenti riservati alla salute (3,38 %) e alla pubblica istruzione (5,92%).
E proprio la scuola è stata al centro di imponenti manifestazioni da
parte degli studenti nelle principali città del Myanmar, scesi in piazza per
protestare contro la nuova Legge sull’istruzione nazionale. Il provvedimento, accentrando i programmi di insegnamento, impedirebbe al sistema educativo flessibilità e, soprattutto, proibisce ogni possibilità di scelta
linguistica nelle aree etniche, essendo il birmano l’unica lingua franca
accettata.33
Altrettanto problematica è la situazione della libertà di stampa. Nonostante che il Myanmar nel 2014 sia risalito di sei posti (dal 151° al 145°)
nella classifica del World Press Freedom Index, rispetto al 201334, superando altri paesi dell’ASEAN, come Malaysia (147°), Singapore (150°),
Laos (171°) e Vietnam (174°), nella seconda metà dell’anno si sono registrati episodi di violenza nei confronti di giornalisti. In luglio, cinque
reporter dello «Unity Weekly» sono stati condannati a dieci anni di lavori
forzati con l’accusa di aver violato segreti di stato, svelando l’esistenza di
una fabbrica di armi chimiche nella regione di Magway;35 il 16 ottobre,
inoltre, cinque redattori del settimanale «Bi Mon Te Nay» sono stati condannati per aver riportato la notizia, rivelatasi poi falsa, che Aung San
Suu Kyi sarebbe stata nominata a capo di un governo ad interim.36
Benjamin Ismail, responsabile dell’ufficio Asia-Pacifico di «Reporters
Without Border», ha convenuto che, pur essendo «stati fatti progressi
[nella libertà di stampa], la sentenza [che condanna cinque giornalisti per
aver svelato l’esistenza di una fabbrica chimica] ci riporta indietro a tempi
bui, quando i giornalisti ed i blogger che facevano il loro lavoro erano
imprigionati in base a motivazioni che facevano riferimento alla sicurezza
nazionale o con l’accusa di tentare di abbattere il governo».37
Weekly’, 15 gennaio 2014 (http://www.janes.com/article/32436/myanmar-declaresusd2-4-billion-defence-budget-for-2014); US$1.2 billion proposed for Burma’s Defence
budget, ‘DVB’, 15 gennaio 2014 (http://english.dvb.no/news/us1-2-billion-proposeddefence-budget-burma-myanamar/36079).
33 Myanmar students protest against education law for third day, ‘Reuters’, 16 novembre
2014 (http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/16/us-myanmar-protest-idUSKCN0J00MD20141116).
34 World Press Freedom Index 2014, ‘Reporters Sans Frontières’, febbraio 2014, p. 31
(http://rsf.org/index2014/data/index2014_en.pdf).
35 Five journalists get ten-year jail terms for ‘Violating State Segrets’, ‘Reporters Without
Borders’, 10 luglio 2014 (http://en.rsf.org/burma-five-journalists-get-ten-year-jail10-07-2014,46618.html).
36 Five journalists get two years in prison for mistaken report, ‘Reporters Without Borders’, 16 ottobre 2014 (http://en.rsf.org/burma-four-journalists-now-only-facing-05
-08-2014,46762.html).
37 Five journalists get ten-year jail terms for ‘Violating State Segrets’, ‘Reporters Without
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Myanmar
Infine il giornalista Aung Kyaw Naing «Par Gyi», arrestato alla fine del
settembre 2014, mentre seguiva nello stato Mon il conflitto tra il tatmadaw
e il Democratic Buddhist Karen Army, è stato ucciso agli inizi di ottobre
dopo essere stato torturato.38 La notizia è stata resa nota solo il 25 ottobre, pochi giorni dopo che Thein Sein era tornato da un viaggio in Italia,
durante il quale si era lamentato che l’Europa non riconosceva gli sforzi
compiuti dal Myanmar nel campo del rispetto dei diritti umani.39
7. Eppur si muove…
Il clima di incertezza che si è respirato in Myanmar si rifletteva anche nell’economia, in particolare in quella parte di popolazione che, per
fronteggiare il forte aumento dei prezzi dei beni primari, deve affidarsi a
quelle istituzioni statali che sono delegate a garantire la distribuzione di
beni di consumo a prezzi calmierati. .
L’indice di povertà del paese ha raggiunto il 25,6% secondo le stime
del 2010 Integrated Household Living Condition Survey (IHLCS) dell’United
Nations Development Program, ma supererebbe il 37% in base ai calcoli
della Banca Mondiale, che ha alzato la soglia di povertà da 376.151 kyat
(pari a circa 288 euro) per adulto per anno a 440.345.40
La sfiducia verso il sistema bancario diviene addirittura imbarazzante
quando l’International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) rilascia dei rapporti in cui si afferma che ognuno dei 5 milioni di birmani
all’estero (il 10% della popolazione) invia solo 566 dollari all’anno in patria, tramite i canali ufficiali, quando la media delle rimesse dei migranti
asiatici dall’estero è di 4.000 dollari all’anno.41 La spiegazione è che i
birmani preferiscono affidare i loro risparmi a mediatori privati, meno
costosi e più efficienti delle loro banche. Questa diffidenza verso lo stato risulta evidente nei dati dell’economia sommersa, che rappresenta il
Borders’, 10 luglio 2014 (http://en.rsf.org/burma-five-journalists-get-ten-year-jail10-07-2014,46618.html).
38 A freelancer died in Burmese army custody, with the military claiming he was shot while
trying to grab a soldier’s weapon, ‘Reporters Without Borders’, 31 ottobre 2014 (http://
en.rsf.org/birmanie-a-freelancer-died-in-burmese-army-30-10-2014, 47178.html).
39 President U Thein Sein urges EU to end submission of reports on human rights situation
in Myanmar at UN General Assembly, ‘The Republic of the Union of Myanmar – President Office’, 17 ottobre 2014 (http://www.president-office.gov.mm/en/?q=issues/
myanmar-europe/id-4307).
40 Data tweaks change face of poverty, ‘Myanmar Times’, 19 maggio 2014 (http://
www.mmtimes.com/index.php/home-page/143-editor-s-pick/10427-data-tweakschange-face-of-poverty-2.html).
41 Sending Money Home to Asia, ‘IFAD – The World Bank’, maggio 2013, p. 12
(http://www.ifad.org/remittances/events/2013/globalforum/resources/sendingmoneyasia.pdf).
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Piergiorgio Pescali
50,7% del PIL del paese, seconda solo alla Thailandia (51,9%), entrambe
le più elevate del continente asiatico.42
Se le famiglie birmane devono cercare altre vie per sopravvivere o
arrotondare i magri stipendi, molto più rosea appare la situazione della
macroeconomia e delle multinazionali, le quali fanno a gara per ottenere i permessi per investire nel settore delle risorse naturali del paese.
Secondo il Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA), nella nazione hanno investito 772 compagnie straniere
in 12 diverse filiere economiche, per un totale di quasi 50 miliardi di
dollari.43 Una cifra notevole, se si pensa che il Myanmar è stato soggetto
ad embargo fino al 2011, cifra che può, almeno in parte, spiegare l’entusiasmo con cui oggi i governi europei e americani sostengono il gabinetto
di Thein Sein.
I principali settori su cui le compagnie straniere investono sono quelli
energetico e petrolifero (compreso il gas naturale), i quali assorbono rispettivamente il 33,79% e il 36,36% degli investimenti stranieri.44 Il 26
marzo 2014, il ministero dell’Energia ha concesso a 12 società, tra cui
la Chevron, la Total, l’ENI, la Statoil e la Shell, il mandato per iniziare
le esplorazioni nelle acque del golfo di Martaban.45 L’accordo prevede
investimenti per 3 miliardi di dollari, di cui 226,1 milioni andranno alla
Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), la compagnia statale. Alla fine
del 2014 i progetti in corso per l’estrazione di petrolio e di gas naturale
sono saliti a 115, per un totale pari a 14 miliardi di dollari di investiti
provenienti dall’estero.46
La Cina continua ad essere il paese maggiormente presente nel Myanmar, in particolare nel settore energetico. Nell’agosto 2014 è stato completato l’oleodotto tra Kyaukpyu e Kunming che, accanto al già esistente
gasdotto, porterà all’assetata economia di Pechino altri 2 milioni di tonnellate di petrolio grezzo.47
42 Shadow Economies All over the World-New Estimates for 162 Countries from 1999 to
2007, ‘The World Bank & Europe and Central Asia Region Human Development
Unit’, luglio 2010, p. 20 (http://www-wds.worldbank.org/servlet/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2010/10/14/000158349_20101014160704/Rendered/PDF/WPS5356.
pdf). Per la definizione di «economia sommersa» (shadow economy), ibid., p. 4.
43 Foreign Investment of Existing Enterprises as of (31/8/2014), ‘Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA)’ (http://dica.x-aas.net/dica).
44 Ibid.
45 Offshore block winner announced, ‘Myanmar Times’, 26 marzo 2014 (http://www.
mmtimes.com/index.php/business/9977-government-announces-offshore-blockwinners.html).
46 Foreign investment in Myanmar’s oil, gas sector gets over 670 mln USD in Aug,
‘Xinhuanet’, 24 settembre 2014 (http://news..com/english/business/2014-09/24/
c_133669469.htm).
47 China-Myanmar joint pipeline starts delivering gas, ‘CCTV’, 6 agosto 2014 (http://
english.cntv.cn/2014/08/06/VIDE1407301800241634.shtml)
218
Myanmar
Tali progetti, però, hanno un impatto deleterio sull’ambiente e, spesso, sulla stessa popolazione birmana. A questo proposito, infatti, sono continuate le proteste di intere comunità in varie regioni del paese, costrette
a subire le angherie delle autorità locali (principalmente la polizia) e,
in alcuni casi, delle stesse manovalanze delle multinazionali. Oltre ai già
noti malcontenti per l’ampliamento delle miniere di Monywa,48 nel corso
dell’anno si sono aggiunti quelli di 3.000 contadini che si sono opposti
alle operazioni di scavo nella regione di Namkham, al confine con la Cina
e con lo stato Shan, dove sei società stanno estraendo silicio, causando un
aumento di malattie dovute alla silicosi.49
Nel febbraio 2014, l’approvazione della costruzione di sei nuove dighe lungo il corso del fiume Salween negli stati Shan, Karenni e Karen,
ha avviato una nuova ondata di proteste interetniche.50 I progetti, che
coinvolgono cinque società cinesi, tre birmane e la Thailand’s Electricity
Generation Authority, dovrebbero avere, una volta terminati, una capacità energetica produttiva di 15.000 MW. Essendo situati in zone dove
ancora permangono tensioni tra gli eserciti etnici e il tatmadaw, l’intera
area interessata è stata militarizzata e l’ingresso nelle regioni è proibito
e rigidamente controllato. La conseguenza è stata l’isolamento delle popolazioni che ha reso difficile, oltre che pericolosa, l’organizzazione di
campagne di informazione e di dissenso.
Accanto a imposizioni che lasciano poca scelta ai cittadini ci sono
anche progetti miliardari temporaneamente abbandonati o addirittura
cancellati, in seguito all’opposizione delle comunità locali. Il caso emblematico (e primo nella storia del Myanmar) della diga di Myitsone51 non è
rimasto isolato. Nel luglio 2014 è stata cassata (non è chiaro se in modo
definitivo o meno) la costruzione della linea ferroviaria tra Kyaukpyu e
Kunming, che seguiva lo stesso percorso del gasdotto e dell’oleodotto già
esistenti.52 L’annullamento del progetto è stato particolarmente significativo perché il governo birmano aveva riposto nella ferrovia le speranze di
sviluppo della Zona ad Economia Speciale di Kyaukpyu, nel problematico
stato del Rakhine.53
Piergiorgio Pescali, Myanmar: manovre presidenziali tra guerre etniche e riforme, ‘Asia
Maior 2013’, p. 222.
49 Thousands of Farmers Protest Mine Projects in Myanmar’s Shan State, ‘RFA’, 5 settembre
2014 (http://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/protest-09052014154137.html).
50 Hydropower Projects on the Salween River: An Update, ‘Salween Watch’, 14 marzo
2014 (http://www.salweenwatch.org/images/PDF/Salween.ENG14.03.2014.pdf).
51 Piergiorgio Pescali, Myanmar: l’anno della svolta, ‘Asia Maior 2011’, p. 207.
52 Kyaukpyu-Kunming railway’s cancelled due to public disapproval, ‘Eleven Myanmar’,
19 luglio 2014 (http://www.elevenmyanmar.com/index.php?option=com_content
&view=article&id=6842:kyaukpyu-kunming-railway-s-cancelled-due-to-public-dis
approval&catid=44:national&Itemid=384).
53 Twelve Companies short-listed of Kyaykpyu SEZ, ‘Charltons Solicitors’, Ottobre 2014
(http://www.charltonsmyanmar.com/twelve-companies-shortlisted-participate48 219
Piergiorgio Pescali
Inoltre la Cina, che nel progetto aveva preventivato un
investimento di 20 miliardi di dollari, potrebbe cominciare a valutare
se diminuire la sua presenza nel Myanmar, la cui affidabilità come
partner commerciale sta venendo meno.54
La strada intrapresa nel 2010 sta comunque procedendo, anche
se, come ci si poteva aspettare, comincia a trovare alcuni ostacoli che
potrebbero far pensare ad un possibile riflusso. Anche se non si può
escludere questa possibilità, occorrerà attendere le prossime elezioni
presidenziali per delineare quale sarà il futuro del paese e le alleanze
che si formeranno all’interno del parlamento.
***
Since 2010, the entire social, economic and political structure of Myanmar has
been changing. US President Obama’s visit to Myanmar (November 2014) was
marked by verbal confrontation between members of the Obama administration,
who spoke quite positively about the reform process in the country, and Aung San
Suu Kyi, who did not see any progress in reforms. Obama, while condemning the
constitutional article which prevented Suu Kyi from being presidential candidate at
the next general elections, stated that Burmese President Thein Sein had introduced
major democratic changes.
The ethnic conflicts, partly defused by a series of agreements, have been
replaced by religious conflicts. Particularly dangerous appears to be the conflict
between the Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine communities, at the border
with Bangladesh. In 2014, fearing that the two main Bangladeshi opposition
parties, the National Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami, could use the Rohingya issue
to increase popular discontent, the Bangladesh government, led by the Awami
League, for the first time officially stated that the Rohingya are not Bangladeshi,
but Myanmar citizens.
In 2014, the Myanmar government enacted the anti-Muslim National Race
and Religion Protection laws. These laws aim to prevent easy conversion from
Buddhism to Islam and intermarriage; moreover, they limit the maximum number
of children for Muslim couples to two.
The census, the first since 1983, reflected all the ethnic−religious problems
affecting the country. Many among Myanmar’s ethnic nations asked to reform the
ethnic classification, claiming that the existing one, although officially recognizing
135 groups, excludes a number of ethnic nationalities.
On its part, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the only ethnic
group which has hitherto signed a ceasefire with the Myanmar government,
phase-kyaukpyu-sez).
54 Myanmar-Yunnan railway canceled due the public opposition, ‘Want China Times’, 23
luglio 2014 (http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20140723
000057&cid=1101).
220
Myanmar
disputed the division of the Kachin people into 12 sub-ethnic groups. In fact, the
KIO claimed that this division aimed at dividing the Kachin people.
In 2014, the power of the military appeared much weaker than in 2010. In
fact, military conglomerates such as the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding
Limited (UMEHL) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) no longer
monopolized the economy’. Moreover, during the year under review, the Defence
Ministry appeared on the verge of returning the lands illegally confiscated by the
military junta. Also, between 2011 and the fiscal year 2014–15, the share of
military expenses in the budget declined from 19 to 14%. This, however, still is
too big a share, when compared to the 3.38% given to health and the 5.92% to
education.
Student rallies were held in the main cities to protest against the new National
Education Act, which centralizes the educational system. Press freedom was still at
risk, with several journalists being jailed for revealing the existence of a chemical
weapons factory. One journalist was tortured and killed by the army, being found
guilty of reporting the civil war in Mon state.
In 2014, propelled by foreign investments, particularly in the energy and oil
fields, the macroeconomic index showed significant increases. However, the Country
Poverty Index was at its worst since 2010. Not surprisingly, during the year under
review, the country was criss-crossed by social protests.
221
Bangladesh 2014: Old Patterns, New Trends
Marzia Casolari
University of Turin
[email protected]
1. Preface
2014 opened in Bangladesh with the elections, held on 5th January
amidst unprecedented political violence which led to the killing of 29
people. The 2014 elections were recorded as the most violent in Bangladesh’s history.1
Throughout 2014, the government of the re-elected Prime Minister
Sheikh Hasina faced several challenges. Firstly, the political crisis, fuelled
by an alliance of 18 political parties led by the Bangladesh Nationalist
Party (BNP), threatened to trigger a wave of protests similar to those of
2013. In turn, political instability brought to the fore the risk of adverse
fallout on the economic situation. Secondly, the trials for the 1971 war
crimes started in 2010, reaching their highest momentum in 2013 and
continuing in 2014, with varied reactions from national and international
public opinion. Thirdly, Sheikh Hasina’s government was charged with
corruption and human rights abuses.
In 2013, for the first time in Bangladesh’s history, the incumbent
prime minister gained a second mandate.2 The large majority obtained
by the Awami League allowed Sheikh Hasina to lead the country with
a steadiness never experienced before, not even by Hasina’s main rival,
Khaleda Zia.
A multifaceted and ambitious foreign policy has been a new factor,
with stronger ties to India and promising relations with several countries,
especially China, Japan and Russia.
2. Bangladesh politics after the 2014 elections
The 2014 elections represented a watershed in Bangladesh’s politics.
One year is not enough to evaluate the long-term effects of the elec1 ‘Bangladesh has little to celebrate after the most violent election day in its history’, The Guardian, 15 January 2014; Marzia Casolari, ‘Bangladesh in fiamme:
dallo scontro politico alla guerriglia urbana’, Asia Maior 2013, pp. 167-80.
2 Ibid.
Marzia Casolari
toral results (Awami League’s 40% majority and 232 out of 300 seats in
parliament).3 It is, however, a sufficient lapse of time to draw some conclusions on the short-term effects.
The entire electoral process, including the results, was very much
criticized, not only by the opposition but also by some prominent international actors.4 The nature of the Bangladeshi democracy was questioned.
Only 40% of the electorate voted. The restrictions imposed on the two
main opponents, Khaleda Zia and Mohammad Hossain Ershad, were justified as measures to prevent violence, but on the polling day alone over
20 people were shot by the police. In spite of this gloomy start, which
brought about fears of more violence in 2014, the year turned out to be
much more peaceful and stable than the previous one.5 Before the first
session of the 10th National Parliament, held on 29th January 2014, about
30 members of the outgoing government were dismissed for corruption
or poor performance, as a sign of the government’s intention to create a
new political climate.6
The large majority obtained by the Awami League provided Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with an unprecedented strength and allowed her and
her government to put forward several changes and reforms. However, the
first half of 2014 continued to be influenced by the old patterns of Bangladeshi politics: polarization between the government’s supporters, especially those belonging to the Shahbag movement, and the wide and wellorganized opposition, political tensions and open clashes. Residual street
protests and violence went on at the beginning of 2014, with a declining intensity throughout the first part of the year. In 2013, rallies and hartals (the
general strikes aiming at paralyzing the entire public life of the country)
nearly caused the country’s economic collapse. The increasing normalization of the political situation in 2014 had a positive impact on several sectors and the country’s general mood. The Dhaka Tribune newspaper carried
out two opinion polls respectively, in June and December 2014.7 While in
June, only 52% of the interviewees were unhappy with the BNP, in December, the discontent had increased to 62%. Even though the appreciation
of the Awami League government slightly decreased between the first and
second half of the year (from 75.3% to 72%), the overall evaluation was
definitely positive. According to the respondents, «education has been the
government’s biggest success», while the second was the investment in infrastructures. Concern has been expressed for the law and order situation,
which remains critical. In spite of these results, according to another Dhaka
Marzia Casolari, ‘Bangladesh in fiamme’
Ibid.
5 ‘Another beating’, The Economist, 11 January 2014.
6 ‘Bangladesh: Domestic Politics and External Actors’, IPCS Web Site, 17 February
2014.
7 ‘72% consider government successful’, Dhaka Tribune, 12 January 2015.
3 4 224
Bangladesh
Tribune poll carried out in the same period, if there was an election at the
time of the poll, 41% of the interviewees declared they would have voted for
the Awami League and 34% for the BNP.8
Nevertheless, 48% of youths between the ages of 18 and 24, expressed
their preference for the BNP and 34% for the Awami League. The more
radical character of the BNP, especially of its affiliates, might appeal more
to youths. Indeed, they seem to be increasingly attracted by international
Islamic fundamentalism.
In February 2014, the upazila (sub-district) elections took place. The
BNP, which boycotted the 2013 vote by abstaining from the general elections, obtained 123 posts out of 224 candidates, and the Awami League
obtained 117 out of 295. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) was one of BNP’s main
allies, even though it had been banned from any polls. The BNP’s results were interpreted as being due to the JI’s presence within the coalition. This result confirmed Jamaat’s increased popularity in 2014.9 Yet,
the BNP was facing a deep crisis. The results of the 2014 election, independent from the BNP boycott, the ban imposed on the Jamaat by the
government, and the low percentage of voters, may be interpreted as the
electorate’s choice of continuity, while the opposition did not represent an
alternative. Khaleda Zia was carrying out a party reform aimed at rejuvenating the party. This would imply an increasingly important role for her
son, Tarique Rahman, who is supposed to inject a spirit of youth into the
party. Unfortunately, Khaleda Zia’s son – who is so compromised with corruption cases to be forced to live abroad – is very unpopular, both within
and outside Bangladesh.10
Sheikh Hasina’s electoral success was questioned not only by the Bangladeshi opposition, but also by some foreign powers, the UK and the US
in particular. While the British criticism was milder,11 the US went to the
extent of asking «for a free and fair re-election in Bangladesh».12
Bangladesh’s politics were a matter of debate for the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on 11th February 2014.13 Additional criticism
came from Jean Lambert, leader of the EU team who visited Bangladesh in
the spring of 2014; the West remained unsatisfied with the poor progress
regarding safety measures in favour of the garment industry workers.14
‘Voters prefer Awami League over BNP’, ibid., 12 January 2015.
‘Islamic party defies Bangladesh ban’, Asia Times, 27 March 2014; ‘Jamaat-eIslami in Bangladesh: Where to From Here?’, IPCS Web Site, 22 April 2014.
10 ‘One and only one’, The Economist, 20 September 2014.
11 ‘Bangladesh has little to celebrate after the most violent election day in its history’, The Guardian, 15 January 2014.
12 ‘Bangladesh Post Elections 2014: India’s Challenges and Options’, IPCS Web
Site, 20 January 2014.
13 ‘Bangladesh: Domestic Politics’
14 ‘Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary in New Delhi: Why Now?’, ibid., 1 April 2014.
8 9 225
Marzia Casolari
As far as the internal situation is concerned, while the political clash
weakened in 2014, the opposition’s sharp criticism went on. The main
charges against the government were corruption and human rights
abuses.
3. Corruption and anti-corruption measures
Corruption has always been endemic in Bangladesh, which continues to be among the most corrupt countries in the world. Corruption
involves all fields of Bangladeshi political life. The judiciary is the most
affected. According to Doing Business 2014, the Global Competitiveness
Report 2013-2014 and The Transformation Index, Bangladesh’s courts, at
all levels, «are both inefficient and subject to political influence from
members of government, citizens and companies». The World Bank &
IFC and Doing Business 2014 reveal that subscribing to a commercial
contract in Bangladesh requires, on average, the fulfilment of 41 administrative procedures, taking about 1,442 days. According to the Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014, the police are not able to enforce
law and order. The police themselves are affected by political interference, and the punishment of officials and prominent persons is biased
by political factors. Appointments are determined by «bribes, nepotism
and party loyalties, rather than by professional qualifications». The
main reason for bribery within the police is officers’ low salaries. As far
as the public services are concerned, the Global Competitiveness Report
2013-2014 states that the bureaucracy is inefficient. According to the
Investment Climate Statement 2013, ministries often require «unnecessary
licenses and permits». Factory owners often offer bribes to speed up
procedures, bypass inspections or relax the rules. Just to give an idea of
the disastrous consequences of such a situation, cases of bribed inspectors were behind the Rana Plaza tragedy of 2013 and similar accidents
frequently occurring in Bangladesh’s garment factories. The National
Board of Revenue, the government authority for tax administration, is
one of the most corrupt agencies in the country. Tax laws are enforced in
a discriminatory way and tax evasion is extensive. One of the most corrupt sectors in the country is customs, where the problem extends from
petty corruption (bribes and kickbacks to customs officers) to unofficial
or irregular payments of import and export taxes. Officers exert their
power to change tariffs and to expedite or delay customs processing at
the frontiers or ports. These problems, and an overall lack of transparency in trade regulations and policies, represent the obstacles that make
trading with Bangladesh uncertain. Chittagong port, handling approximately 80% of the total of Bangladesh’s import-export, is considered
one of the most corrupt and inefficient ports in Asia. Political patronage
is enforced to award public contracts for infrastructures in construction,
226
Bangladesh
transportation, utilities, and supplies. In April 2014, it was discovered
that the public gas supplier, Titan Gas, provided illegal gas connections
to approximately 500 companies. Corrupt officials received bribes for
each connection. Illegal takeover of government land by politicians is
frequent. Bangladesh passed several laws against corruption, such as the
Prevention of Corruption Act 1947, and the Money Laundering Prevention Act of 2002, while the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Penal
Code contain specific reference to corruption crimes. The Money Laundering Law has been amended to include norms to prevent stock market
manipulation. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was established
in 2004, but in 2014 its power was significantly curtailed. Indeed, in
2013 the Anti-Corruption Commission Act was amended, passed by the
parliament and signed by the president. The amended Act established
that the ACC was obliged to obtain the government’s permission before
investigating state officials, including judges. The ACC itself is not corruption-free. Other bodies involved in anti-corruption initiatives are the
National Coordination Committee (NCC), the Office of the Ombudsman, the Auditor General and the Bangladesh Public Service Commission (BPSC). All these bodies lack independence and are occasionally
affected by inefficiency and bribery.15
This climate does not attract foreign investors. One of the main challenges the Prime Minister will have to face is enforcing an efficient anticorruption policy.
In April 2004, the Chittagong police intercepted a shipment of
arms and hand grenades worth $5 million. The arms, made in China,
were directed to insurgents in Assam, to trouble India. Pakistani spies
seemed to be involved in the case. For years the case was ignored and
Khaleda Zia, prime minister at that time, did not take any action. Her
son Tarique Rahman was involved. A number of other corruption cases
pile up against him in Bangladesh, while he lives in London. Since the
Awami League came into power in 2009, they have taken the corruption issue seriously. On 30thJanuary 2014, the court sentenced 14 men
to be hanged, most of them belonging or affiliated to opposition parties. The charges were smuggling related to the arms haul. Among the
sentenced was Jamaat-e-Islami’s chief, Motiur Rahman Nizami. Already
indicted for 1971 war crimes, he faces the risk of being sentenced to
death twice.16
15 ‘Business Corruption in Bangladesh’, Business Anti-Corruption Portal, June 2014
(http://www.business-anti-corruption.com/country-profiles/south-asia/bangladesh/
snapshot.aspx).
16 ‘Bang Bang club’, The Economist, 8 February 2014.
227
Marzia Casolari
4. The trial for the 1971 war crimes: a landmark in Bangladeshi history
The charges against the government of human rights abuses, especially concerned the death sentences and the executions of 2013, related
to the trials for the crimes of the 1971 civil war.
The opposition and those among the international observers who
criticize the trial, do not take into account that the truth about the events
of 1971 was strongly pursued by the people. The Shahbag movement, one
of the main supporters of the trial, has relatives of the 1971 war victims
among its members. The Shahbag activists, which have been described as
undemocratic, protest peacefully with non-violent methods. The movement is formed mainly by youths and demands the country’s democratization.17
The prosecution of war criminals had been one of the main elements
of political polarization and the clash between the government (and its
supporters) and the opposition.
The trial went on throughout 2014, although with much less vigour
than in 2013.
Undoubtedly, the trial, desired and instigated by Sheikh Hasina’s previous government in 2013, was partially exploited for electoral purposes.
After the January 2014 elections, the usefulness of the trial diminished
and it may have become politically counterproductive. The death of more
than 100 people in violence related to the trial in 2013 may have affected the image of the Prime Minister, who adopted a softer approach and
preferred «to advance her credentials as a wise, legitimate and moderate
leader by leaving a flawed tribunal to grind forward only very slowly».18
However, seeing the trial exclusively under this light would lead to
misunderstanding and underestimating the real impact of the events of
1971 and the deep scars they left on the Bangladeshi people. A meaningful and politically-conscious part of the population cannot bear the
injustice of seeing the perpetrators of unspeakable atrocities living undisturbed and acting politically, within the organizations of radical Islam.
Describing the trial simply as an electoral move would be like denying the
necessity of war crimes trials, from Nuremberg to Cambodia.
5. Debating on the 1971 civil war: does it make sense?
In 2003, the famous ‘Blood Telegram’ was declassified. It was the telegram sent on 6th April 1971 to the State Department. Signed by the consul
general, Archer Blood, and by the entire staff of the Consulate General of
the United States in Dhaka, the telegram deplored the US backing of the
West Pakistan Army in suppressing the uprisings following the non-rec17 18 Marzia Casolari, ‘Bangladesh in fiamme’.
‘Dialing down’, The Economist, 1 November 2014.
228
Bangladesh
ognition of the December 1970 election results. Ten years later, between
August and October 2013, a series of articles about the Blood Telegram
came into the international press, probably inspired by the ongoing trial.
Again in 2013, a book, The Blood Telegram, was published by Gary J. Bass,
a journalist and professor of international politics at Princeton and a 2014
Pulitzer Prize finalist.19 Based almost exclusively on primary sources, the
book is a remarkably accurate description of the events of 1971. It is built
up around the figure and the role of Archer Blood. The consul general and
the consulate staff were increasingly disgusted by the US government’s inaction, turning to overt support to Pakistan’s Army crushing Bengali dissent. Besides providing indisputable evidence of American political and
military support to Pakistan, the most important US ally in Asia, the book
reconstructs in detail the ‘forgotten’ genocide. It discloses the complexity
of the events, which involved more than just two enemies opposing each
other, but several interwoven rivalries: Muslims against Hindus; Bengalis
against Biharis; and the Pakistani Army against the Awami League and
the Mukti Bahini. Atrocities were committed by both sides, the army and
its collaborators, and the Mukti Bahini. Bass’ book does not enter into the
details of the responsibilities of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Razakar Bahini
and other radical Muslim organizations in the massacre, but it focuses on
the international intrigues behind the war: US-Pakistan relations; relations between Pakistan, China and India; and Pakistan’s role in facilitating
the China-US rapprochement, in view of the Sino-American negotiations
at the end of the Vietnam war. The main subject of the book is Kissinger
and Nixon’s staunch support to West Pakistan and to the Pakistani Army.
Strangely, the book did not have such remarkable resonance in Bangladesh as it had in the West, especially in Great Britain and in the United States,
where it was reviewed by several famous newspapers and magazines.20
In Bangladesh, the only noticeable article appeared in the Dhaka Tribune
on 14th August 2013: The Blood Telegram, Case for an American Apology. The
article does not mention Bass’ book, but it extensively discusses the subject
of the American President and Secretary of State’s active involvement in
the events of 1971. The article draws the conclusion that «the American
government does owe Bangladesh a long due apology», like Pervez Musharraf did during his presidency. As noted by the article, Musharraf was «the
only Pakistani head-of-state to personally apologise to Bangladesh for the
atrocities committed during the 1971 liberation war».
A more recent paper by an Italian scholar focuses on India’s response to
the 1971 crisis «as one of the first cases of humanitarian intervention in world
Gary J. Bass, The Blood Telegram. Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide, London: Hurst, 2014.
20 The Economist, 21 September 2013; The New York Times, 27 September 2013; The
Washington Post, 10 October 2013; The New Republic, 9 November 2013.
19 229
Marzia Casolari
history» and calls into question this interpretation.21 Even if the most recent
literature on the subject does not deal with the question behind the trial of
the JI’s war criminals, these scholarly and well-documented studies prove
that the 1971 war crimes do not represent a subject that can simply be dismissed as electoral propaganda. More light has to be shed on the topic from
a historical point of view and justice has to be done on behalf of the victims.
Stating this does not mean to defend the death penalty. However, justice has
to be done, and this brings about the need to impose appropriate penalties
on those guilty of war crimes. Hopefully, especially after its post-electoral stabilization, the Bangladeshi government, in judging and punishing war criminals, will adopt an attitude in line with its declared aspiration to democracy.
6. A 360-degree foreign policy
6.1. India first
Due to its sustained economic growth over the past few years, Bangladesh can no longer be considered an underdeveloped country, the ‘basket
case’ of the 1970s. Bangladesh indeed is becoming an increasingly important nation in the region, not only from the economic, but also from the
strategic point of view. It lies across South and Southeast Asia, right at the
centre of the highway under construction, which will connect these two important regions. Bangladesh is also facing the Bay of Bengal, which is attractive not only for its commercially interesting coastal area, but especially
for its largely unexplored oil reserves. Bangladesh is therefore becoming
the pole of multiple interests. India is the most directly and deeply involved
power within Bangladesh, especially for its position. Whilst China does not
border directly with Bangladesh, India shares a border with this country,
a huge and troublesome frontier. India has several strategic, political and
economic interests in Bangladesh. Firstly, Bangladesh has a key geographic
position to contain Chinese expansion in South Asia. Secondly, India has a
special link with Bangladesh, due to its involvement in the 1971 liberation
war, which turned into the third Indo-Pakistani war. On the other hand, the
new era of Bangladesh foreign policy, inaugurated by Sheikh Hasina’s second term of government, aims primarily at developing good relations with
India. The government of Delhi supported the Awami League’s re-election, encouraging a democratic transition in Bangladesh. For the world’s
largest democracy, promoting democracy elsewhere is a priority, in a region
where authoritarian governments are most common. A secular and democratic Bangladesh can also help to contain the expansion of radical Islam
in South Asia, and especially in India. Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh
(JMB), whose main objective is to establish an Islamic state in Bangladesh,
Sonia Cordera, ‘India’s response on the 1971 East Pakistan crisis: hidden and open
reasons for intervention’, Journal of Genocide Research, Vol. 17, No. 1, January 2015.
21 230
Bangladesh
and other groups such as Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) and the Jagrata
Muslim Janata, are spreading in the region. India is used by the JMB for
hideouts and for recruitment through the madrasas, the mosques and the
social networks. JMB is connected with radical Muslim groups in India, as
well as in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A recent JMB slogan is «Jihad from
Bangladesh to Baghdad». JMB is also active in Myanmar, where it relies
on the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO). Most of these groups act
against India through their connections within the country, in particular
among insurgents in border areas, especially in the Muslim-majority districts of Assam. India does not want to have another Pakistan on its eastern
border and it is interested in cooperating to fight the expansion of terrorism in the region. Bangladesh has a key position in India’s ‘Look East
Policy’. The main sector of Indian investment in South East Asia is infrastructure. In the region, India attempts the development of communications such as ports on the Bay of Bengal, trans-border railways connecting
India more directly with its remote north-east regions or the superhighway
connecting India with Southeast Asia.22 Regional connectivity is a key factor
to develop trade and investments. Last but not least, India, as well as the US
and China, have obvious interests in Bangladesh’s energy resources. Both
countries are interested in fostering bilateral ties.
The Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh, Shahidul Haque, visited India
from 19th to 21st March 2014, on invitation from his Indian counterpart,
Sujatha Singh. At the meetings, the Minister of External Affairs, the Indian National Security Adviser, and the secretaries of several ministries
took part. The visit had a rather formal character, considering the approaching end of Manmohan Singh’s mandate. No decision was taken
about sensitive issues such as the sharing of the Teesta waters that, in
absence of an agreement, gave rise to many years of disputes, or regarding the land and sea boundary controversies.23 The Teesta dispute ended
on 7th July 2014, when the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague
awarded Bangladesh 19,467 km2 of coast out of the 25,602 km2 in the Bay
of Bengal, leaving 6,135 km2 to India. It was a historic settlement, putting
an end to a 40-year controversy between Bangladesh and India.24
Before the 2014 Indian general elections, the favourite candidate,
right-wing leader Narendra Modi, was seen in Bangladesh as a controversial figure, particularly because of his pre-election statements against illegal
‘Bangladesh Post Elections 2014: India’s Challenges and Options’, IPCS Web
Site, 20 January 2014; ‘Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh: Designs and Network
in India’, ibid., 7 November 2014.
23 ‘Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary in New Delhi: Why Now’, ibid., 1 April 2014; ‘IndiaBangladesh Relations: Significance of the Teesta Water-Sharing Agreement’, ibid., 23
April 2014; ‘A Ray of Hope for India-Bangladesh Relations?’, ibid., 1 July 2014.
24 ‘India-Bangladesh: Can the Maritime Boundary Resolution Rebuilt Faith?’,
ibid., 24 July 2014.
22 231
Marzia Casolari
Bangladeshi immigration, which had raised much concern in the country.
After the elections, Modi’s proposed measures to combat illegal immigration from Bangladesh provoked an anti-Indian uproar in Dhaka. However,
those initial fears have, to a large extent, been dissipated by some positive
diplomatic developments. The visit of the Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary
to India was followed by a trip by the External Affairs Minister of the newly
elected Indian government, Sushma Swaraj, to Bangladesh from 25th to
27th June 2014.25 The Indian minister defined the visit as «extremely fruitful and satisfying» and once back to New Delhi, she claimed that her visit
had resulted in «an excellent beginning in addressing each others’ concerns and work together with the spirit of good neighbourliness».26 The
Indian Foreign Affairs Minister met several top-level Bangladeshi politicians: the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the President Abdul Hamid, the
Bangladeshi Minister of External Affairs A.H. Mahmud Ali, the leader of
the opposition, Raushan Ershad, and the former prime minister, Khaleda
Zia. The crucial moment of Sushma Swaraj’s visit was her speech to the
civil society, held at the Bangladesh Institute of Strategic Studies (BIISS).
The Indian Foreign Minister opened her talk «with a message of friendship
and goodwill from the newly elected Government in India» and went on
speaking about «comprehensive and equitable partnership» between the
two countries, and «mutual beneficial relations, youth development and
youth-led development». She mentioned the enormous human sacrifice
that united India and Bangladesh in the 1971 war and defined «Bangabandhu Mujibur Rahman as the architect of Bangladesh».27
The evidence that Sushma Swaraj’s visit was not just diplomatic smoke
but had some political substance was given by a few concrete steps taken
in the following weeks. Visa relaxation for children under 13 and citizens
above 65 was implemented. The Indian deputy Minister of External Affairs and the Minister of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER),
General V.K. Singh, visited Bangladesh on 23rd and 24th August 2014. The
trip was carefully prepared through a meeting with the Chief Ministers of
the Northeastern States, held in Guwahati, just before his visit to Dhaka.
Manik Sarkar, the Tripura’s Chief Minister, asked for transit facilities by
road, rail and sea through Bangladesh to the landlocked Northeast. Access to the waterways is a demand of the entire region since the partition.
Besides connectivity, trade and commerce have been the keywords of Gen.
Singh’s visit to Dhaka. He spoke about India’s intention to increase bilateral trade between Bangladesh and India.28
‘Dhaka as the Gateway to India’s Look East Policy’, ibid., 27 June 2014.
‘Sushma Swaraj leaves for home after Bangladesh visit’, The Economic Times, 27
June 2014.
27 ‘India-Bangladesh: After Sushma Swaraj’s Visit’, IPCS, 21 July 2014. Sheik
Mujibur Rahman was popularly referred with the honorary title of Bangabandhu,
namely ‘Friend of Bengal’.
28 ‘India and Bangladesh: The Northeast Thrust’, ibid., 27 August 2014.
25 26 232
Bangladesh
At the end of 2014, the 31-member Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs chaired by Shashi Tharoor recommended in
«overall national interest», to settle the India-Bangladesh boundary dispute through an exchange between Delhi and Dhaka of enclaves and territories in «adverse possession» of either country. If an agreement was be
finalized, India would receive 2,777 acres of land and Bangladesh 2,267.
The possible settlement has been defined as an example of good diplomacy and it would also set a precedent for the solution of the Sino-Indian
border dispute.29
6.2. A multilateral regional policy
Bangladesh’s foreign policy is facing a new era. It may be more appropriate to say that Bangladesh is developing its own foreign policy for
the first time. The country is no longer the passive target of other nations’
policies or a mere recipient of external aid, as it has been since its foundation. The incumbent Sheikh Hasina’s government has already started
to develop a regional multilateral policy, which received a much greater
impetus after the Awami League re-election in 2014. As one of the founding members of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Bangladesh has an increasingly prominent role within the organization. After including Nepal and
Bhutan in 2004, BIMSTEC has seven members. The founders are India,
Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand. It covers an area stretching from South to Southeast Asia, «with over 22% of the world population
and a collective GDP of nearly $2 trillion». The group has an impressive geopolitical and economic importance. The third BIMSTEC summit,
held in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital, from 3rd to 4th March 2014, was
the occasion for Sheikh Hasina to launch intensive diplomatic activity.
The Bangladeshi prime minister, who led a delegation of 54 members,
met with his counterparts in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar, and with Myanmar’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The
government of Bangladesh is particularly interested in improving trade
and cooperation with Myanmar. Both countries wish to be part of the road
connectivity project for the construction of the highway connecting India
to Thailand through Bangladesh and Myanmar. The two countries are
also planning to build seaports in Sittwe and Kyaukpyu to run a shipping
line. In 2011, it was decided to establish the permanent secretariat of
BIMSTEC in Dhaka, which started functioning in May 2014.30
Bangladesh is also a member of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar
(BCIM) forum for economic cooperation, which held its second meeting
‘India-Bangladesh LBA: Setting the Right Tone’, ibid., 9 December 2014.
‘East Meets West: Bangladesh and the BIMSTEC Summit’, IPCS Web Page, 17
March 2014.
29 30 233
Marzia Casolari
in Dhaka in June 2014. BCIM aims at establishing an economic corridor
along the old Southern Silk Road, connecting the Bay of Bengal, India’s
Northeastern Region, Bangladesh and Myanmar to Southwest China. One
of the BCIM objectives is to integrate the economies of India, China and the
ASEAN Free Trade Area (FTA), representing 7.3% of the global GDP. India
aims at reaching the Chinese market, as well as balancing China’s influence
in the region through a multilateral BCIM-FTA integration. A further convergence between BCIM and BIMSTEC is also possible in the future.31
Bangladesh is not only the ‘gateway’ of India’s ‘Look East Policy’, but
it has its own ‘Look East Policy’. Bangladesh has obviously much to gain
and nothing to lose, from an economic point of view, in pursuing a regional foreign policy. Southeast Asia indeed is not only one of the world’s
most hectic and attractive economic areas, but it is also the destination of
Bangladeshi labour, above all, Singapore and Malaysia.32
Regional connectivity includes energy cooperation. In early 2014,
Bangladesh agreed to provide India a power corridor passing through its
territory and allowing the transmission of 6,000 MW of hydroelectricity
from Arunachal Pradesh to Bihar. In exchange, Bangladesh will receive
500 MW. This was the third bilateral energy agreement. The previous two
were signed in 2013. The first was a power grid to allow the transmission
of 500 MW of energy from India to Bangladesh. The second was the establishment of a joint venture between India and Bangladesh to construct
a 1,320 MW coal-fired power plant at Rampat Upazila.33
6.3. Bangladesh, China and Japan
The new foreign policy of Bangladesh aims at extending much beyond the region and includes the other Asian giants, besides India. A
busy round of meetings took place from May to September 2014, between
Bangladesh, China and Japan. From 25th to 28th May, the Prime Minister,
Sheikh Hasina, was in Japan. A visit to China followed, in quick succession,
from 6th to 11th June 2014. Finally, the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo
Abe, was in Dhaka for less than 24 hours on 6th September 2014.34
The first remarkable result of the Bangladesh-China summit was four
military agreements signed on 12th May, in the presence of a Chinese delegation led by Chief Marshal of the People’s Army, Air Force General Xu
Qiliang. The treaty included Chinese free of charge training and logistic
‘BCIM and BIMSTEC: Two Competing Initiatives for Northeast India?’, ibid.,
20 May 2014.
32 ‘Dhaka as the Gateway’.
33 ‘India-Bangladesh: Enhancing Ties through a «Power Corridor»’, ibid., 21 April
2014.
34 ‘Japanese PM arrives September 6’, 13 August 2014 (http://bdnews24.com/
bangladesh/2014/08/13/japanese-pm-arrives-sept-6).
31 234
Bangladesh
support to the Bangladeshi army. Through the years, Bangladesh and
China signed several bilateral agreements regarding trade, military sales,
energy, transit and cultural exchanges. In March 2014, Bangladesh commissioned two navy frigates from China. In April, the two countries signed
an agreement on the sale of two submarines to Bangladesh, which included
the establishment at Kutubdia Island, in the Cox Bazar District, of a base
for 035G diesel-electric Ming submarines, to be completed by 2019. Between 2009 and 2013, China supplied 82% of Bangladesh’s arms imports,
including anti-ship missiles, tanks and fighter airplanes. Low costs and loan
facilities are the reasons for Bangladesh’s arms purchases from China, even
though the armed forces are not happy with the quality of Chinese military
goods. Chinese arms are the cheapest in the world.35 China’s financial support to Bangladesh has increased significantly in the last three years. The
largest-ever infrastructure project in Bangladesh, the Padma multipurpose
bridge, is to be built by China Major Bridge Engineering Company. China
is also engaged in constructing a rail bridge over the Jamuna River and a
high-speed railway between Dhaka and Comill.36
In 2014, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding for
the construction of a 1,320 MW power plant in Moheshkhali sub-district.
The launch of the first Bangladeshi satellite, Bangabandhu, was the outcome
of the technical and infrastructural cooperation with China. On the other
side, China is interested in entering the Bay of Bengal for its strategic importance and its energy resources. China is engaged in the modernization of
Chittagong port. This project meets Bangladesh’s need to develop its naval
infrastructure. China is competing with India and the US for access to the
strategically important Indian Ocean region. From this perspective, Bangladesh is becoming a strong player in regional balances. It is acquiring, for
instance, an increasing weight within the BCIM, as proved by the BCIM-EC
meeting held in Dhaka in June 2014.37 As a result of the May 2014 Sheikh
Hasina visit to China, an agreement was signed for Chinese assistance in
the construction of a power plant in Patuakhali and a multi-lane road tunnel under the river Karnaphuli. Chinese president Xi Jinping emphasized
Bangladesh’s role along the 21st century Maritime Silk Road.38
While Sheikh Hasina’s visit to China in May 2014 was part of a series
of meetings and exchanges which took place over the last few years, the
visit to Japan ushered a new phase in bilateral relations between the two
countries. Moreover, the visit of the Japanese premier to Dhaka in September 2014 was the first official trip to Bangladesh of a high member
of the Japanese government for 15 years. The respective prime minis‘Bangladesh: A New Thrust towards East Asia’, IPCS Web Site, 6 June 2014.
‘Bangladesh, China and Japan: Dhaka’s Delicate Balancing’, ibid., 17 September 2014.
37 ‘Bangladesh-China: Respective Objectives and Strategies’, IPCS Web Site, 30 May 2014.
38 ‘Bangladesh: A New Thrust’.
35 36 235
Marzia Casolari
ters signed a 21-point Comprehensive Partnership Agreement which engaged Japan to support Bangladesh’s development programmes. Since
2007, the number of Japanese companies operating in Bangladesh has
increased from 61 to 176, and aid from Japan amounted to $11 million in
2013. Japan is also engaged in large-scale investments in Bangladesh.
An agreement has been signed on infrastructure developmental
projects in Bangladesh: the construction of the Ganges barrage scheme;
a multimodal tunnel under the Jamuna River; a multimodal Dhaka
Eastern bypass; the Padma rail link connecting Dhaka-Jajira-BhangaNarail-Jessore; the construction of an inland depot at Dhirasram; and
the purification of four rivers around Dhaka. Japan offered its support
for capacity-building in nuclear security and safety. Japan’s engagement
in Bangladesh’s infrastructural development amounts to $6 billion over
the next five years for the implementation of the Bay of Bengal Industrial
Growth Belt (BIG-B), which includes the construction of a deep sea port
at Chittagong. The area is supposed to become a base for the supply of
energy and the construction of superhighways across the country. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed for the reservation of facilities for
Japanese investors in five Export Processing Zones in Bangladesh.
Japan has also promised a loan of $1.18 billion in the next fiscal year
for five energy and city developing projects in Bangladesh. Japan dictated
some conditions for its financial support, such as competitive incentives,
and improvement in infrastructure and in labour supply.
Like India and China, Japan also has its strategic interests in South
Asia, above all, connecting the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean regions, in order to provide a larger space for Japan’s economic goals. The
relations between Bangladesh, India, China and Japan are based on mutual interests. Sheikh Hasina aims at making Bangladesh a middle-income
country by 2021. This objective cannot be pursued without strong foreign
investment. Bangladesh must, therefore, maintain friendly relations with
all its powerful neighbours. Significantly, during Abe’s visit, Bangladesh
announced the withdrawal of its candidacy as a non-permanent member
of the United Nations Security Council from the Asia Pacific group in
2016–2017.39 Was it a courtesy gesture to leave the place to Japan, in order to ingratiate it and further improve and consolidate bilateral ties?
6.4. Bangladesh and Russia
Outside East and South Asia, Bangladesh’s main partner is Russia. Significantly, on 27th March 2014, Bangladesh, along with 57 other members,
abstained from voting at the UN General Assembly resolution for Russia’s
39 Ibid.; ‘Bangladesh, China and Japan’; ‘Abe’s Successful Visit to Dhaka: Two Political Challenges’, IPCS., 15 September 2014.
236
Bangladesh
annexation of the Crimea. Messages followed from the Russian Ambassador
to Dhaka, acknowledging Bangladesh’s stand. The most remarkable detail
in this story is Dhaka’s explanation of its abstention: Bangladesh does not
want to get involved «in the new cold war between Russian and the US»,
according to the principles of the Non-Aligned Movement. This statement
takes us back to the cold war times. It reveals that the cold war climate,
fuelled by the US, cannot go unnoticed. Thirdly, Bangladesh and other
countries continue to choose and propose a line of foreign policy based
on multi-polarism, although not necessarily non-alignment. Bangladesh’s
abstention has been sharply criticized and Dhaka was charged as having
turned its back on the Western countries and the US, which are very much
committed to Bangladesh’s development. Dhaka has cordial relations with
Russia since Sheikh Hasina’s taking office in 2009. She visited Moscow in
2013, signing the largest arms deal in Bangladesh’s history and obtaining a
loan for the construction of Bangladesh’s first nuclear power plant, for an
estimated cost of $2 billion.40 In November 2013, Bangladesh supported
Ekaterinburg instead of the United Arab Emirates as a candidate for World
Expo 2020. Russia (and India) supported Sheikh Hasina’s government
during its critical post-election days, in early 2014.41
6.5. Bangladesh within the UN
Bangladesh’s 360 degrees foreign policy is summarized by its participation in the 69th UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2014. It was also
the 40th anniversary of Bangladesh’s membership at the UN. Sheikh Hasina
led a 184-member delegation. For the first time, Bangladesh acquired a remarkable visibility at the UN. The UNGA was the occasion for a number of
meetings and for promoting Bangladesh’s economic interests. The most important meetings were those with the UN Secretary, General Ban Ki-moon,
the Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma, Indian Prime
Minister Narendra Modi, and US president Barack Obama. Sheikh Hasina also met the Norwegian, Nepalese and Belarusian prime ministers, the
Commonwealth heads of government, US businessmen and a delegation of
Bangladeshi expatriates. Even though these meetings may have had limited
practical results, they at least represented a chance to promote Bangladesh
and establish or strengthen ties for future developments. The Hasina-Modi
meeting was the most meaningful, for several reasons. Firstly, it was the first
ever meeting between the two prime ministers and, therefore, it was also
much awaited. Secondly, it was important for the two leaders to get to know
each other and continue to cultivate positive bilateral ties for the future. In
During Hasina’s first mandate, Bangladesh purchased from Russia 10 MiG-21s.
‘Is Bangladesh’s foreign policy becoming India and Russia-centric?’, ibid., 15
April 2014.
40 41 237
Marzia Casolari
spite of the change in the political leadership of India, the BJP government
seems to be willing to adopt the line of its predecessor and maintain cooperative relations with Dhaka. During India-Bangladesh talks, Mr Modi praised
Bangladesh and defined it as «a model for fighting terrorism».42
6.6. Bangladesh-US controversial relations
Last but not least, US-Bangladesh relations deserve specific attention.
The US expressed sharp criticism regarding the democratic correctness of
the 2014 election results, decrying as inappropriate the Awami League’s
decision to fight them in spite of the BNP’s abstention. The real reasons for the barely concealed US hostility towards Sheik Hasina’s government, however, seem to be different. The special ties between India and
Bangladesh have irritated Washington: India has been granted access to
Bangladeshi ports and road networks; Indian companies have obtained
exclusive rights on Bangladesh’s gas reserves; Bangladesh’s market has
been flooded with Indian goods; taxes have been increased on Japanese
imported cars, while being lowered on Indian cars; and the Indian telecommunication company, Bharti Airtel, has obtained tax advantages
over other foreign companies. This policy – largely the outcome of Sheik
Hasina’s decisions – is defined as «irrational» by the US and the media
which support the North American country. Also, India is charged with
interfering with Bangladesh’s internal affairs and exerting a hegemonic
role in South Asia.43 These factors interfere with American interests in the
region, where Bangladesh is seen as an increasingly important player.
Firstly, Bangladesh straddles the new land and sea Silk Road envisioned
by Washington, which should connect Central to Southeast Asia,
passing across Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar
and China. Secondly, Bangladesh, with its large and growing middle
class, is becoming a very attractive market. Finally, Bangladesh’s skilled
labour is a resource for industrial investments. The US is the largest
market for Bangladesh’s ready-made garments, the pivotal industrial
production of the country. All the above-mentioned are economic
advantages that the US could reap depending on Bangladesh’s (and
India’s) attitude. The US expects to corner a conspicuous share of
the huge economic gains to be made across South and Southeast Asia
‘Bangladesh: Diplomatic Manoeuvres at the UNGA’, ibid., 20 October 2014.
In 2011, Chuck Hagel – whom President Barack Obama was to nominate Secretary of Defence on 7 January 2013 – had declared that India made use of its
influence in Afghanistan against Pakistan, thus increasing instability in the region.
‘«India financed problems for Pakistan» from Afghanistan: Chuck Hagel’, The Express Tribune, 26 February 2013.
42 43 238
Bangladesh
and around the Bay of Bengal. However, the increasingly close DelhiDhaka connection obviously disturbs Washington.44
7. Economy and social issues
South Asia’s economic growth was 5.4% in September 2014 and 6.1%
is expected for 2015. The optimistic forecasts for 2015 stem from the
expected reforms of the Indian government to revive economic growth
and from Bangladesh’s and Nepal’s sustained expansion.45 Bangladesh’s
economic growth is supported by remittance inflows and by a strong internal demand.46
Bangladesh’s economy has grown rapidly since 2009 and it doubled
the results of Khaleda Zia’s government in 2006. This is considered one
of Sheikh Hasina’s main successes.47
Thanks to Sheikh Hasina’s intense diplomatic activity, bilateral trade
with Myanmar amounted to $100 million in 2014; it should reach $500
million after the construction of the Sittwe-Kyaukpyu shipping line and 1
billion by 2020.48
In spite of these encouraging results, in 2014 foreign investors adopted a cautious approach, fearing possible new political unrest due to the
still precarious political situation.49 Nevertheless, since the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (BIPPA) signed by India
and Bangladesh in 2009, the latter country became increasingly attractive
for Indian investors. The main sectors where Indian companies have invested are power transmission lines, telecommunications, textiles, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, glass, plastics and engineering. Indian investments in Bangladesh in 2012 amounted to $2.5 million and contributed
to creating 51,653 jobs.50 The South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) Working Group, held in Kathmandu in November 2014,
noted the progress of transport connectivity projects, but it recommended
the completion of the still missing links, in order to transform transport
corridors into economic corridors, and to promote multimodal transport
connectivity to increase trade and investment opportunity among existing
44 ‘India-US chasm opens over Bangladesh’, Asia Times, 21 January 2014; ‘Bangladesh-US: Long Term Agendas over Short Term Fall-Outs’, IPCS Web Site, 30 April
2014.
45 ‘Regional Cooperation Operations Business Plan South Asia 2015-2017’, Asian
Development Bank, December 2014.
46 ‘Growth Hesitates in Developing Asia’, Asia Development Outlook Supplement, December 2014.
47 ‘One and only one’.
48 ‘East Meets West’.
49 ‘Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary’.
50 ‘India and Bangladesh’.
239
Marzia Casolari
(and possibly future) corridors. Electricity transmission is the priority of
SASEC Energy Working Group, with India as the hub interconnecting the
projects of the SASEC countries. The use of regular ADB country-specific
funding for national projects with regional implications is expected.51
***
Per la prima volta nella storia del Bangladesh, un primo ministro uscente ha
vinto per la seconda volta consecutiva le elezioni. Questo è quanto è accaduto a
Sheikh Hasina e al partito da lei guidato, la Lega Awami, a seguito delle elezioni
del gennaio 2014. Sia l’opposizione, rappresentata soprattutto dal Bangladesh
National Party (BNP) e dalla Jamaat-e Islam (JI), sia una parte della comunità
internazionale hanno commentato negativamente tale risultato elettorale e il
modo stesso in cui è stato raggiunto. Si è rimproverato infatti a Sheikh Hasina
di avere voluto tenere le elezioni nonostante la decisione da parte del BNP e del
JI di non parteciparvi. Una critica, questa, che non tiene conto del fatto che il
mandato di Sheikh Hasina fosse giunto alla sua scadenza naturale e che sarebbe
stato pretestuoso e antidemocratico rimandare i tempi delle elezioni in seguito a
un’arbitraria imposizione da parte dei partiti d’opposizione. Sul fronte estero, le
principali critiche all’esito elettorale sono arrivate dalla Gran Bretagna e dagli
Stati Uniti. Quelle statunitensi sembrano essere state motivate non tanto dalle
asserite questioni formali, quanto dal fatto, ben più sostanziale, che durante il
governo di Sheikh Hasina il vigoroso rinserrarsi dei rapporti fra Bangladesh
e India potrebbe tradursi in una diminuzione dell’influenza di Washington su
Dacca.
Nel 2014 è poi proseguito il processo agli imputati per i crimini commessi
durante la guerra civile del 1971, anche se con minore durezza di quanto non
sia accaduto nel 2013, quando si era arrivati a due condanne a morte e a
un’esecuzione.
Il secondo governo di Sheikh Hasina ha proceduto in due direzioni: sul piano
interno, ha avviato un processo di democratizzazione e, sul piano internazionale,
ha inaugurato una nuova politica estera, centrata sui rapporti regionali e
volta a sfruttare al massimo la posizione strategica del Bangladesh per ottenere
investimenti e vantaggi dai partner economici. Il Bangladesh si affaccia sul
Golfo del Bengala, un’area doppiamente importante per i suoi giacimenti di gas
naturale e per i collegamenti marittimi est-ovest. Inoltre, il Bangladesh si trova
proprio al centro del crocevia tra Asia meridionale, Cina e Sud-est asiatico, lungo
la direttrice di una rete di connessioni stradali, ferroviarie e marittime che gli Stati
Uniti definiscono significativamente «Via della seta marittima del 21° secolo».
51 ‘Regional Cooperation Operations Business Plan’.
240
India 2014: the annihilation of the congress party and the
beginning of the Modi era1
Michelguglielmo Torri
University of Turin
[email protected]
e
Diego Maiorano
University of London
[email protected]
1. Introduction
In India, the dominant event in the year 2014 was the 16th general
election and its results, namely the resounding victory of the Narendra
Modi-led BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and the catastrophic defeat of the
Indian National Congress (hereafter, the Congress). The Congress, which
headed the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), in power during the previous two legislatures, crashed to the worst electoral defeat in its whole
history, tumbling from 206 seats to 44; on its part, the BJP was able to
conquer the absolute majority of the Lok Sabha seats. This happened
exactly 30 years since any Indian party had been able to do the same.
Although the BJP victory and the Congress defeat did not arrive unexpectedly, what was unforeseen and surprising was the magnitude of both
the BJP victory and the Congress defeat. The dominant party system –
which historians, political scientists, politicians and analysts had considered
gone for good – appeared to be back with a vengeance. Although Narendra
Modi put together a coalition government, the BJP, thanks to its absolute
majority in the Lok Sabha, was in a position of absolute strength vis-à-vis
both its allies and the parliamentary opposition. The latter appeared weak
1 The present chapter is the outcome of a joint research effort, any single part of
it has been jointly discussed by the two authors before being written, and revised
by both afterwards. However the final draft of parts 1, 2, 3 (with the exception
of parts 3.8, 3.8.1 and 3.8.2, but including part 3.9), 6 and 8 has been written by
Michelguglielmo Torri and the final draft of parts 3.8, 3.8.1, 3.8.2, 4, 5 and 7 by
Diego Maiorano.
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
and divided. In fact, the number of seats of the main opposition party, the
Congress, at 44, was so low as to prevent it from being acknowledged as
leader of the Opposition. Equally, or maybe more, remarkable was the loss
of power of the regional parties, which, since the mid 1990s, had wielded
increasing power at the all-India level by playing the role of indispensable
allies to whichever party was in power at the centre. Although maintaining
practically the same amount of popular vote and Lok Sabha seats as in the
previous general election, the local parties were consigned to a situation of
virtual irrelevance as the BJP, having conquered the absolute majority of
the Lok Sabha’s seats, was now in a position to dispense with their help.
This being the situation, the present article is mainly focussed on the
general election, the causes of its (largely unexpected) results and its consequences, namely the coming into power of the Narendra Modi-headed
new government and its policies. However, as a necessary preamble to
the treatment of the main theme, the short-lived government of the Aam
Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi will be examined. In fact, at the end of the
year preceding the 2014 general election, the AAP’s unexpected positive
result in the local Delhi elections, held in December 2013, and the successive formation of an AAP minority government (with the outside support of the Congress) had appeared to many as a potential turning point
in Indian politics. Indeed, the Delhi events seemed to have opened the
possibility that the AAP could become a key contestant in the approaching general election, turning it into a triangular contest between the BJP,
Congress and AAP, and, at the end of the day, being a potential danger
less for the Congress than for the BJP. 2
In fact, although the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP had been born from
the Hazare-led anti-corruption movement – namely a movement which
had mainly been aimed against the Congress – and although the AAP had
kept all the anti-Congress thrust of its parent movement, it is a fact that its
potential rise as a key contestant at the all-India level could attract those
numerous voters who, although disillusioned with the Congress, would
have some qualms in voting for a rightist and anti-secular party like the
BJP. This did not happen for several reasons; but possibly the most important among them was the AAP’s record when in government and, even
more, its abrupt decision to resign.
2. The short-lived Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi
At the end of 2013, the elections in the Delhi Union Territory had
seen unexpected good results for the recently launched Aam Aadmi Party
(AAP), which, pushing aside the Congress Party, came second, just behind
2 Michelguglielmo Torri, ‘L’India nell’anno della legge sulla sicurezza alimentare’,
Asia Maior 2013, pp. 133-38.
242
India
the BJP. In fact, in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha (Legislative Assembly) the BJP
had 32 seats; the AAP 28, and the Congress, formerly the party in power,
just eight.
These results determined a stalemate, as neither of the two major parties was in the position to form a government by itself. After much debate
within the Congress – whose eight seats could still play a strategic role in
the Delhi Assembly – and after considerable hesitation on the part of the
AAP, on 23 December 2013 the latter eventually accepted the Congress’
support in order to form a government. As a consequence, the AAP government – headed by Arvind Kejriwal, and with the outside support of
Congress – was sworn in on 28 December 2013.3
In accepting the government of Delhi, the AAP in general and their
leader in particular were consciously running a political risk which was at
the same time very high, but, in a way, unavoidable. Not accepting the
challenge to form the government in Delhi would indeed be tantamount to
admitting the AAP’s inability to translate its message of integrity, transparency and accountability into an effective policy aimed at solving those ills –
corruption and bad administration – which Kejriwal’s party had so successfully denounced. On the other hand, for the AAP the act of governing was
beset with difficulties; these were partly related to the AAP’s short history,
partly to the complex composition of its social following, and, partly, to the
fact that the Delhi government, being a Union Territory government, had
much less power and autonomy than a state government.
Having been launched as recently as 26 November 2012, the AAP had
not yet had the time to think out any comprehensive policy to tackle and
try to solve the many problems besetting the country in general and Delhi
in particular. The lack of a well-defined comprehensive policy, however, was
not only the result of the AAP’s recent creation, but also depended on the
inter-class and inter-caste nature of its social basis. In fact, an inter-class and
inter-caste alliance against the common enemy represented by the existent
corrupt political system was a feat comparatively easy to accomplish; on the
contrary, it was noticeably more difficult to mediate among different class
and caste interests, devising a set of effective policies which could satisfy either all or most of the social segments backing the AAP. Last but not least, as
noted above, the Delhi government, being a Union Territory government,
had less power than the state governments. By itself, in a situation in which
the Union government and the Delhi government were ruled by different
political combines, the Delhi government’s ability to act and implement its
policies had an effective limit in the Union government’s political will.
All these handicaps contribute to explain the dismal performance, the
short life (just 49 days) and final failure of a party not devoid of intellectual resources4 and a leader who, before entering grass-root politics, had
3 4 Ibid.
One of the AAP leaders was Yogendra Yadav, generally considered, before he en-
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Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
a solid educational background as an engineer and past experience as a
civil servant. In fact, the AAP government started to operate energetically,
and, during its first weeks in office, kept a part of its electoral promises
by slashing power and water prices. Moreover, the AAP encouraged the
residents of Delhi to use their mobile phones to record government workers demanding bribes, and report them through a hotline. This policy
resulted in hundreds of officials, who were suspected of corruption, being
moved out of key jobs, and – according to some reports – a conspicuous
decline of corrupt practices in Delhi.5
However, as soon as the party had to confront different and more
complex issues, difficulties started to arise. A detailed analysis of the AAP
government activities would be too long to perform here; it suffices to notice that some of the AAP government’s decisions did disappoint one or
another of the social sectors supporting the party, whereas other decisions
were plainly wrong, possibly the result of lack of experience.6 The situation was made more difficult by the fact that the Delhi government, being
a Union Territory government, did not have any control over the Delhi
police force, which was subject to the Union Home Ministry. The result
was that tensions soon developed between the chief minister and the head
of the Delhi police. As Kejriwal was to remember: «The first move I made
when I was Chief Minister was to summon the Police Commissioner and
told him firmly that I would hold the police accountable for incidents of
rape. When three such incidents took place, I went on a protest.»7
Of course, the spectacle of a chief minister demonstrating in the streets
was something unusual and shocking. Although some kind of modus vivendi between the chief minister and the Delhi police commissioner was
later found, to many, Arvind Kejriwal turned from being Delhi’s Chief
Minister to being Delhi’s Chief Protestor.8
These difficulties may explain Kejriwal’s decision to up the ante, by
pushing for the approval in the Delhi Assembly of two bills in line with the
AAP’s basic philosophy. These two laws were a Jan Lokpal Bill, namely an
anti-corruption law which was stricter than the one approved the previous
tered politics, as one of India’s most brilliant political scientists, well known at the
international level. Other remarkable AAP followers were former RBS India CEO
Meera Sanyal, former managing director of Idea Cellular Sanjeev Aga, the paediatrician and public health specialist Binayak Sen, noted environmental economist
Aseem Srivatava, and leading economist and analyst Laveesh Bhandari. See: ‘AAP
forms panel to finalise economic policy’, The Economic Times, 19 January 2014; ‘After stunning debut, AAP scrambles to dispel doubts’, Reuters, 31 January 2014.
5 ‘After stunning debut, AAP scrambles to dispel doubts’.
6 For some introductory remarks on these problems, see ‘AAP’s identity crisis’, The
Indian Express, 28 January 2014.
7 ‘Resigning as Delhi CM was a mistake, says Arvind Kejriwal’, Zeenews, 5 November 2014.
8 ‘Kejriwal resignation: Failure or strategy?’, The Diplomat, 19 February 2014.
244
India
December by the Union parliament, and a Swaraj Bill, which radically
decentralized the government of Delhi, by conferring wide powers on the
2,720 mohallas (regions) in which the Union Territory was organized.9
Both bills, however, were opposed not only by the BJP but also by the
Congress. The Swaraj Bill was criticized as too complex a piece of legislation, implying extensive changes in the existing laws, to be tabled in the
Vidhan Sabha without a previous in-depth examination by the different
parties. The Jan Lokpal bill, on the other hand, was opposed on technical
grounds: according to a 2002 Executive Order, any piece of legislation
implying financial expenditures had to be cleared in advance by the central government. Kejriwal, however, argued that the Executive Order was
unconstitutional and he pressed for the discussion of the Jan Lokpal bill
without any previous consent by the Union government. Moreover, on 9
February, Kejriwal made it clear in a NDTV television interview that, if the
two laws were not passed, his government would resign.10 As if that was
not enough, on 11 February, Kejriwal ordered the Delhi anti-corruption
bureau to start an investigation against Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industry Ltd and generally considered the richest businessman in
India. Ambani was accused of having conspired with the incumbent Union oil and gas minister, M. Veerappa Moily, and former minister, Murli
Deora, both eminent Congress politicians, to push up the price of the
Reliance extracted Krishna-Godavari basin gas, by creating an artificial
shortage.11
All this caused the complete breakdown of the already difficult cooperation between the AAP and the Congress. The result was that, on 14
February, while the Vidhan Sabha «descended into uproar», the motion
to introduce a vote on the Jan Lokpal bill was roundly defeated.12 True
to his word, Kejriwal immediately resigned, putting an end to the AAP
government in Delhi.
According to many commentators, the AAP government’s resignation
had been a goal consciously pursued by Kejriwal. Unable to tackle Delhi’s
The Mohalla Sabhas would be in charge of such disparate tasks as cleaning the
streets, carrying out public vaccination and inoculation, issuing solvency certificates, preserving the local heritage, and promoting compassion towards animals.
See ‘AAP draft arms mohalla sabhas with sweeping powers’, The Indian Express, 5
February 2014; ‘AAP plans Swaraj ahead of Jan Lokpal, Cong says no way’, The
Indian Express, 11 February 2014; ‘Swaraj Bill unlikely to be tabled this Assembly
session’, The Indian Express, 13 February 2014.
10 ‘Kejriwal’s threat creates Congress quandary’, The Wall Street Journal: India Real
Time, 10 February 2014.
11 ‘Arvind Kejriwal targets RIL’s Mukesh Ambani, orders FIR on gas pricing’,
Livemint, 11 February 2014; ‘Arvind Kejriwal rakes up K G Basin gas pricing, orders
FIRs against Moily, Deora, Mukesh Ambani’, The Indian Express, 11 February 2014.
12 ‘Chief Minister of Delhi resigns after 49 days, citing resistance to Antigraft Bill’,
The New York Times, 14 February 2014.
9 245
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
manifold problems and carry out effective policies to address them, he had
preferred to go down fighting in favour of the anti-corruption bill. In doing this, Kejriwal’s actual goal was to assume the high moral ground, presenting himself as a «martyr», the victim of an unholy and unprecedented
Congress–BJP alliance, come together to defend Mukesh Ambani.13
In resigning, Kejriwal asked the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi for immediate new elections, which, no doubt, he expected to be held at the
same time as the imminent general elections and which he was confident
to win by gaining at least 50 of the 70 Delhi Vidhan Sabha seats. However,
that did not happen, and, although the Vidhan Sabha was dissolved, the
Delhi territory came under presidential rule, namely under the direct
control of the Union government; unexpectedly for the AAP leadership,
this was a situation bound to last up to the end of the year under review,
and beyond. Meanwhile, many political initiatives taken by the AAP government were left unaccomplished, while others were overturned. At the
end of the day, Kejriwal’s decision backfired, discrediting the AAP.
As noted above, at the end of 2013, Kejriwal’s party appeared positioned to play a key role in the coming general election, competing with
the two all-India parties (the Congress and the BJP) and ready to play the
spoiler particularly vis-à-vis the BJP. After the AAP resignation, that possibility rapidly waned. It is true that, according to some opinion polls, those
hopes were already overblown at the end of January,14 mainly because of
the AAP’s lack of financial and organizational resources. However, while
the AAP was in government and Kejriwal appeared active in the attempt
to solve the Capital Territory’s manifold problems, the possibility for the
AAP to repeat the Delhi miracle of December 2013 at least in some of the
main Indian cities was not to be discarded. But any hope of that came to
an abrupt end with Kejriwal’s resignation. Months later, AAP party leaders and Kejriwal himself conceded on several occasions that the AAP resignation had been a major political blunder.15
3. The general election
The period up to mid May of 2014 was dominated first by the electoral campaign and then by the voting. As has become customary, the voting itself was articulated in several phases in the different parts of India:
the first was held on 7 April; the ninth and final one was held on 12 May;
finally, the results were declared on 16 May.
This was claimed by Kejriwal himself in his resignation speech. See ‘Full text:
Kejriwal resignation speech to supporters’, The Political Indian, 15 February 2014.
14 ‘After stunning debut, AAP scrambles to dispel doubts’.
15 ‘We made mistakes, admits a shocked AAP’, The Hindu, 17 May 2014; ‘I won’t
resign again: Arvind Kejriwal’, The Times of India, 24 August 2014; ‘Resigning as
Delhi CM was a mistake’.
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India
As usual, the Indian general election established a set of new records:
the largest electorate ever in the history of the world (814.5 million people); the maximum number of voters who actually voted (540.7 million
people); the highest percentage of voters who actually voted in the history of India (66.38%), the longest period of time during which the votes
were cast (36 days); the maximum number of parties (484), the maximum
number of candidates (8,251).
The electoral struggle saw the participation of two major political alliances and a number of other parties, among which the AAP, which went to
the polls alone or, like the Communist parties, were part of a political alliance, the Left Front. The two major alliances were gathered around the only
two parties which could be considered all-India parties, namely the centreof-left Congress and the rightist BJP. The Congress headed the UPA (United
Progressive Alliance), which had been in power during the two previous legislatures, and had as its campaign leader Rahul Gandhi. The BJP headed
the NDA (National Democratic Alliance), and was led by Narendra Modi.
Finally there were the parties which did not join any alliance; among those,
on the eve of the elections, particularly strong looked the SP (Samajwadi
Party), the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) – both rooted in the northern giant
state of Uttar Pradesh –, the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) of Tamil
Nadu, and the CPI-M (Communist Party of India – Marxist), the strongest of
the Left Front parties, rooted in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.
Already during the electoral campaign and increasingly during the
voting it had become clear that the BJP would emerge as the victor. However nobody was prepared for the dimension of the BJP’s victory; significantly, still at the closing of the voting marathon and immediately before
the results were made public, most polls indicated that the Narendra
Modi-headed alliance would fall short of winning 272 of the 543 seats
in the Lok Sabha.16 On the contrary, the BJP alone conquered 282 Lok
Sabha seats, namely the absolute majority, whereas the whole NDA had
332 seats. On the other hand the Congress and its allies went down in a
much more devastating defeat than anticipated: the Congress itself, suffering the worst defeat in its whole history – worse still than the historical
debacle of 1977, at the end of the Emergency period – gained only 44
seats and its allies only 15 more, for a total of 59 seats.17
Details of the results are given in Tables 1 to 3. However, some of them
must be stressed here. The BJP shot up from 116 seats to 282 and from
18.8% of the popular vote to 31%; on the other hand, the Congress crashed
down from 208 seats to 44, and from 28.55% of the popular vote to 19.31%.
This means that the distorting effect of the first-past-the-post electoral system, which is always strong in a plural and heterogeneous society like India,
‘India sets new record for voter turnout at over 66%’, NTDV, 12 May 2014.
All data referring to the 2014 general election are based on those given in the
web site of the Election Commission of India: http://eci.nic.in/eci/eci.html.
16 17 247
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
greatly favoured the BJP which, with 31% of the popular vote got a 51.93%
share of the Lok Sabha elected seats,18 and as greatly hindered the Congress,
which, with 19.31% of the popular vote obtained 8.10% of the share of the
Lok Sabha elected seats. In fact, the Congress’ share in the Lok Sabha seats
was so limited that the «Grand Old Party» of India emerged from the 2014
general election without the constitutional requisites to be officially acknowledged as leader of the Opposition. Once this is said, the fact remains that
the BJP’s victory was as clear-cut and convincing as the Congress’ defeat.
Table 1. Nationwide 2014 electoral results: NDA parties
Plus/minus
Number
Popular
Parties
compared
of seats
vote
with 2009
Plus/minus
compared with
2009
BJP (Bharatiya Janata
Party)
282
+166
31%
+12.20%
Shiv Sena
[Maharashtra]
18
+7
1.85%
+0.30
TSP (Telugu Desam
Party) [Andhra
Pradesh & Telangana]
16
+10
2.55%
+0.04
Lok Janshakti Party
[Bihar]
6
+6
0.41%
-0.04
Rashtriya Lok Samata
Party [Bihar]
3
not present
in 2009
0.19%
not present in
2009
Apna Dal [Uttar
Pradeh]
2
+2
0.15%
+0.03
PMK (Pattali Makkal
Katchi) [Tamil Nadu]
1
+1
0.33%
-0.14
Swabhimani Paksha
[Maharashtra]
1
0
0.20%
+0.08
Naga People’s Front
[Nagaland]
1
0
0.18%
-0.02
National People’s Party
[Meghalaya]
1
not present
in 2009
0.10%
not present in
2009
All India N.R.
Congress [Puducherry]
1
not present
in 2009
0.05%
not present in
2009
Other NDA parties (5)
0
Total
332
0.89%
Source: Election Commission of India (http://eci.nic.in/eci/eci.html)
In addition to the 543 elected members, the President of India has the constitutional power to nominate up to two members of the Anglo-Indian community if
he thinks that that community is not adequately represented.
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Table 2. Nationwide 2014 electoral results: UPA parties
Number
of seats
Plus/minus
compared
with 2009
Popular
vote
Plus/minus
compared with
2009
44
-162
19.31%
-9.24
6
-3
1.56%
-0.58
Rashtriya Janata Dal [Bihar]
4
0
1.34%
+0.74
Jharkhand Mukti Morcha
2
0
0.30%
-0.10
Indian Union Muslim League
[Kerala]
2
0
0.20%
-0.01
Kerala Congress
1
0
0.08%
-0.02
Other UPA parties (4)
0
0,32%
59
23.83%
Parties
Congress (Indian National
Congress)
Nationalist Congress Party
[Maharashtra]
Total
Source: Election Commission of India (http://eci.nic.in/eci/eci.html)
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Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
Table 3. Nationwide 2014 electoral results: non-NDA/non-UPA parties which
gained at least one seat
Plus/minus
Plus/minus
Number of
Popular
Parties
compared
compared with
seats
vote
with 2009
2009
AIADMK (All India
Munnetra Kazhagam)
[Tamil Nadu]
37
+28
3.27%
+1.60
Trinamool Congress [West
Bengal]
34
+15
3.84%
+0.34
Biju Janata Dal [Odisha]
20
+6
1.7%
+0.12
CPI-M (Communist Party
of India – Marxist)
YSR Congress Party
(Yuvajana, Shramika,
Rythu Congress Party)
[Andhra Pradesh and
Telangana]
9
+-7
3.25%
-2.08
9
not present
in 2009
2.5%
not present in
2009
Samajwadi Party [Uttar
Pradesh]
5
-18
3,37%
-0.05
AAP (Aam Aadmi Party)
[Punjab]
4
not present
in 2009
2.05%
not present in
2009
IUDF (All India United
Democratic Front) [Assam]
3
+2
0.42%
-0.10
J&KPDP (Jammu
and Kashmir People’s
Democratic Party)
3
0
0,13%
+0.01
JD(U) (Janata Dal –
United) [Bihar]
2
-18
1.1%
-0.44
JD(S) (Janata Dal –
Secular) [Karnataka and
Kerala]
2
-1
0.67%
-0.15
Source: Election Commission of India (http://eci.nic.in/eci/eci.html)
Another aspect worthy of highlight is the drastic decline in the political strength of the regional parties, namely those parties which are
politically significant in only one of the Indian states.19 These parties became increasingly influential in the 1990s and 2000s, as the two all-India
parties – the Congress and the BJP – could cobble together a majority
at the centre only thanks to the support of a more or less wide number
of regional parties. In 2014, in spite of the debacle of some of the major
regional parties of the North – the SP and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh and
Both the CPI (Communist Party of India) and the CPI-M, can be considered part of
this group although the former is politically significant in two of the Indian states (West
Bengal and Kerala) and the latter in three (West Bengal, Kerala, and Tripura).
19 250
India
the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar – the regional parties obtained the same
number of seats (212) and practically the same share of the popular vote
(46.7% in 2009 and 46.6% in 2014) as in 2009.20 However, the fact that
the BJP succeeded in conquering the absolute majority of the Lok Sabha
seats completely changed the terms of the political equation. Quite simply, the regional parties went from indispensable to superfluous in the
survival of the Union government.
Finally, the results of the AAP must be taken into account. Kejriwal’s
party won only four seats, all of them in the Punjab, and a paltry 2.05%
of the popular vote. At least for the time being, these results transformed
the AAP into a (second-rate) regional party. It was a very disappointing
outcome, particularly when compared with the rosy expectations of its
leaders and many political analysts21 only a few months before.
3.1. The electoral battle
After the AAP government’s resignation in Delhi, which suddenly deflated the hopes of Kejriwal’s party and its supporters of playing a major
role at the all-India level, the 2014 general election can be seen, although
in a very simplified way, as a kind of duel to the finish, less between the
NDA and the UPA than between the BJP and the Congress. As already
noticed, it was a duel which ended up in a total victory of the former
over the latter. However, an additional element must be stressed: the BJP
won even in those states where it confronted other, and apparently quite
strong, political adversaries, as was the case in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and
Bihar; on the other hand, the Congress lost resoundingly even where it
was not confronted by the BJP, as was the case, most notably, in Andhra
Pradesh. Accordingly, the all-India BJP–Congress battle will be examined
first, to be followed by the examination of the battles which were fought in
UP and Bihar, where the BJP vanquished some of the strongest regional
parties, and in Andhra Pradesh, where, although not confronted by the
BJP, nevertheless the «Grand Old Party» bit the dust.
3.2. The political battlefield
In order to understand how the battle royal between the BJP and the
Congress was fought and before describing the battle itself, three background elements must be examined: the first is how the political battlefield was delimited; the second is the nature of the opposing armies; the
third is the strengths and weaknesses of the two opposing leaders.
‘Everything you need to know about Lok Sabha Verdict 2014 explained in 40
charts’, Scroll.in, 6 June 2014: ‘The strength of regional parties’.
21 Among whom, alas!, the author of these lines.
20 251
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
The political battlefield can be seen as potentially delimited by the
results, in the 2004-14 legislatures, of the UPA governments led by the
Congress, and the results of the Modi-led BJP governments in Gujarat
in 2001-14. Here, the term «potentially» is not employed by chance: during the electoral campaign, whereas the results of the Modi governments
in Gujarat became a kind of reference paradigm, any discussion on the
UPA governments’ results was limited to the admittedly gross scandals
which had become of public domain in the second half of the second UPA
government and to the slowing down of the rate of growth and the persistence of a high price inflation, particularly of food prices, during the
same period. In other words, the Congress party was unable to lay claim
to the UPA governments’ achievements since 2004, which were far from
being insignificant, both at the economic level and from the standpoint
of social justice.
In ten years of power, the UPA governments had pushed a policy of
neoliberal reforms, counterbalanced by social policies aimed at protecting the weaker social strata and enlarging the space of democracy. The
neoliberal reforms had translated into the steady growth of the GNP, even
if, during the last two years that growth had slowed down.22 On the other
hand, the UPA governments had implemented laws such as the 2005 National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (giving the right to 100 days of
work to any rural family); the 2005 Right to Information Act (opening the
work of the government to the scrutiny of both individual citizens and
grass root organizations); the 2006 Forest Rights Acts, granting land and
forest rights to India’s adivasis (tribals); the 2013 Food Security Act, granting a certain quantity of food on a monthly basis at very reduced prices to
some 80% of the population; and the 2013 Land Acquisition Act (which
provides a fair compensation to those whose land is expropriated in order
to favour economic development).
These policies – both the prosecution of the liberal reforms and the
launching of a set of anti-poverty and/or anti-discrimination laws – could
and have been roundly criticized both because they were not rightist
enough or, vice versa, because they were not leftist enough. This is a fact
that, by itself, could be taken as an indication that such policies did represent a balanced approach to the problems that they were supposed to
solve. This was exactly what was claimed by Jairam Ramesh, one of the
The GDP rate of growth was +8.5% in 2003-04 (the year before the UPA victory); +7.5% in 2004-05; +9.5% in 2005-06; +9.7% in 2006-07; +9% in 200708; +6.7% in 2008-09; +8.6% in 2009-10; +9.3% in 2010-11; +6.2% in 2011-12;
+5% in 2012-13; +5% in 2013-14. See Government of India, Economic Survey, for
the relevant years (http://indiabudget.nic.in/survey.asp). According to some economists, the downturn visible since 2011-12 was the direct consequence of the decision taken in March 2010 by the RBI (the Indian central bank) to raise policy rates
to fight inflation.
22 252
India
Congress leaders, after the defeat. «There are some people who would say
we were not Left enough – said Ramesh –; some would say we were not
Right enough. These are simplistic binary options which I reject. Let us
say we were on the right track. We were stressing growth with empowerment. Without growth, empowerment is hollow; without empowerment,
growth is meaningless.»23 However, it is a fact that, during the electoral
campaign, the Congress appeared unable to highlight the economic and
the social achievements of the UPA governments. Indeed, the Congress
campaign was a «listless and confused campaign»,24 which was ultimately
fought on the battleground chosen by Narendra Modi.
On his part, Modi was able to project the Gujarat economic record
during his tenures as chief minister as the model of economic development, a model supposedly invented and implemented by Modi and
ready to be applied to the whole of India. In doing so, Modi was able
to push to the background a set of potentially embarrassing elements:
that the Gujarat development was not unique; that other Indian states
had been growing faster than Gujarat; that the Gujarat model was far
from being inclusive; that, historically, Gujarat had always been one of
the wealthiest areas of India; that, in fact, the beginning of the Gujarati
economic boom predated Modi’s arrival as chief minister. 3.3. The two
opposing armies
The political army deployed behind Narendra Modi was made up by
the BJP, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, namely an extremely
powerful and well organized non-parliamentary organization), and the
parties allied with the BJP, gathered in the NDA (National Democratic
Alliance). Moreover, among Modi’s supporters there were two powerful
social groups: one was what the Indian press likes to call India Inc., and
the other the Indian middle class.
The BJP, like the other Indian parties, is far from being a democratic
organization. However, even because, after 2004, the central leadership
had been weak, a number of influential leaders had conquered a position
of eminence and a solid following in their respective states. Narendra
Modi was one among these influential state leaders; but Vasundhara Raje
in Rajasthan, Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, and Raman
Singh in Chhattisgarh were hardly less successful, powerful and popular
in their own states. This means that the BJP had in-depth political roots
in a number of important states.
‘«Out-funded and out-communicated». Interview with Senior Congress leader
Jairam Ramesh’, Frontline, 13 June 2014.
24 ‘Cong may defend Gandhi scion from any blame, but this is why Rahul is responsible for party’s debacle’, Dailybhaskar.com, 16 May 2014 (http://daily.bhaskar.
com/news/NAT-TOP-how-congress-facing-its-worst-time-under-rahul-gandhi4615700-NOR.html); ‘There is a long list of Congress leaders behind Narendra
Modi’s success’, IBN Live, 16 May 2014.
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Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
Beside the party, there was the RSS, historically the most important
non-parliamentary Hindu organization. The RSS is a secretive, extremely
well-knit, semi-military body, which controls, more or less closely, or at
least influences most other political or social Hindu organizations, including the BJP. In an electoral battle, its strength rests on its well-organized
and numerous body of volunteers. The allied parties were much less influential and well organized than either the BJP or the RSS. But, at least the
Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the TDP (Telugu Desam Party) in Andhra
Pradesh were political forces to be reckoned with.
Much more important support was given to Narendra Modi’s camp by the
two powerful social groups named above: India Inc. and the middle class.
The first social group was made up by that limited number of extremely wealthy families which dominate the private economy in India.
Historically, the political strategy of its members has been that of hedging their bets by supporting all the main parties in the political battlefield, even if not necessarily with the same amount of financial resources.
But already before the 2009 general election some key members of this
group started to abandon their traditional position of equidistance.25 The
Ambanis and the Birlas in particular came out with open support not so
much for the BJP as for Narendra Modi. This happened at a time when
the BJP’s official candidate for the prime ministership was not Modi, but
Lal K. Advani.26 After the BJP’s defeat in the 2009 elections, big business support for Modi consolidated. Significantly, the CEO confidence
survey, carried out by the Economic Times in January 2013, revealed that
74 of the 100 top businesspeople polled preferred Narendra Modi as the
prime ministerial candidate, whereas only seven chose Rahul Gandhi.27
This pro-Modi preference eventually resulted in the strategic choice by
most of the top Indian corporations to massively bankroll the BJP and
the BJP alone (with very few exceptions, particularly the Tatas, who kept
the traditional policy of funding the two main parties on a more or less
equal footing).28 Quite important also was the support given to Modi by
India Inc. through its control of the massive majority of the press and the
totality of private television networks. Press and television on one side
projected Modi as a dynamic, strong-willed, intelligent leader, a kind of
knight sans peur et sans reproche (fearless and blemishless), while, at the
‘Anil Ambani, Sunil Mittal endorse Modi as PM’, The Indian Express, 14 January
2009.
26 ‘BK Birla joins «Modi for PM» chorus’, DNA, 23 October 2009.
27 ‘CEO confidence survey: Almost three fourths back Narendra Modi; less than
10% want Rahul Gandhi as PM’, The Economic Times, 6 September 2013. At the
time Rahul Gandhi had not yet been chosen as the Congress official candidate, but
everybody was convinced that he would be.
28 ‘Narendra Modi rode wave of money to Indian victory’, Financial Times, 19 May
2014; ‘Birla group largest donor to BJP’s poll fund’, The Times of India, 26 June 2014.
25 254
India
same time, highlighting and magnifying out of proportion Rahul Gandhi’s weaknesses and gaffes.
The support of the middle class – a minority, but an influential one –
was hardly less decisive. Some of its members, grouped in the «Citizens
for Accountable Governance» – mostly young professionals and corporate
executives who worked on a voluntary or semi-voluntary basis – played
a key role as an extremely effective consulting and campaign solutions
team.29 Other members of the middle class either ran a widespread social
media campaign in support of Modi or offered their technical know-how
to realize startlingly innovative electoral methods. Among these methods,
there was the utilization of holograms representing Modi and carrying
out his message in those corners, particularly in rural India, where Modi
could not be present in person.30
The situation of the opposing army was starkly different. The Congress appeared to be at the fag end of a long-term organizational decline.
It was a decline that Rahul Gandhi had time and again declared he had
decided to reverse. However, nothing concrete had ever been done. In
fact the Congress on the eve of the 2014 elections was characterized by an
all powerful central leadership presiding over a party organization which,
in most Indian states, appeared to be in shambles. This all powerful central leadership had consciously precluded the emergence of any strong
and popular party leader at the state level.
In this situation of weakness, the Congress could not hope for any decisive help coming from its allied parties, which, by and large, were lightweights. The only relatively strong allies, the Nationalist Congress Party in
Maharashtra and the DMK in Tamil Nadu, had been badly tainted by the
scandals emerged in the second half of the 2009–14 legislature.
What appeared really striking, however, was the social isolation of the
Congress. Of course, the middle class had never supported the «Grand
Old Party»; but the new positioning of India Inc. squarely behind Modi
was a new and much unwelcome development. Moreover, even the connections with social groups which, traditionally, in most of India, had been
on the Congress side – such as the dalits, the tribals, and the Muslims –
appeared weak and in a state of flux.
Finally there was the problem of the younger and especially first-time
voters. This was a statistical class which was bound to be highly significant in the 2014 general elections, when the number of first-time electors
would equal some 120.53 million people out of an electorate of about
29 On this group more later. A detailed analysis of its social composition and modus
operandi is given by K.K. Sruthijith, ‘This powerhouse nonprofit just changed campaigning in India forever’, Quartz, 16 June 2014.
30 ‘The hand behind Modi’s magic’, The Hindu, 27 April 2014; ‘Team Modi sets
new benchmarks for online campaign’, The Hindu, 18 May 2014; ‘Lessons from
Narendra Modi’s media campaign’, India Real Time, 11 June 2014.
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Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
833.06 million, namely 14.47% of the total electorate. 31 This means
that on average, in each constituency, first time voters would be around
43,000. This was a highly relevant proportion, because well above what
had been the winning margin in 226 of the 553 constituencies in the 2009
general election. 32 Differently put, first-time voters could swing the result
of the vote in 41% of the electoral constituencies. Although at least some
Congress leaders appeared to be aware of the relevance of this group,33
the party seemed totally unable to connect with it and no specific strategy aimed at mobilizing it behind the party had been either devised or
implemented.
3.4. The leaders of the two opposing armies
No doubt a main element in explaining the 2014 general election was
the massive diversity in ability between the leaders of the two opposing
armies: Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.
A brief analysis of the two leaders is in order here. Rahul Gandhi is
the heir to a political dynasty which has ruled India for most of its history
as an independent nation. He has been pushed into the political arena by
his mother, Sonia, who, since the late 1990s, has been the leader of the
Congress party and the real power behind the throne in the UPA governments. The problem is that Rahul has always appeared to be both an
extremely reluctant political player, and a person devoid of any political
skills and personal charisma.
On the eve of the 2014 elections, the selection of a new Congress
campaign leader and a new candidate for the position of prime minister
had been made necessary by Manmohan Singh’s declining prestige and
Sonia Gandhi’s health problems. Particularly important appears to have
been the latter’s inability to lead the Congress electoral campaign, due
to her lack of physical strength. Sonia Gandhi had been an impressive
campaigner in the 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009 elections; in particular
in the 1998 campaign, although unable to lead the Congress to victory,
Sonia Gandhi had kept together a party that seemed headed for disintegration, whereas, in the 2004 campaign, she almost single-handedly
led the party to an unexpected and resounding victory. However, all
that changed in the summer of 2011, when she underwent a mysterious
31 Deepankar Basu and Kartik Misra, BJP’s Demographic Dividend in the 2014 General Elections: An Empirical Analysis, Working Paper 2014-06, Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (http://www.umass.edu/economics/
publications/2014-06.pdf), p. 11.
32 ‘90,000 per seat: Young India could swing Elections 2014’, The Financial Express,
26 February 2014.
33 E.g. Shashi Tharoor. See ‘150 mn first-time voters would determine outcome of
polls: Tharoor’, Business Standard, 22 April 2014.
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India
surgical intervention in the USA, possibly cancer-related, which left her
with much less physical energy than before.34
In the Congress there were still some politicians who could have faced
the challenge mounted by Modi on a level approaching parity; but the
problem was that, had one of these leaders been chosen and emerged
victorious, the Nehru-Gandhi family’s grip on the party would have been
broken. Sonia Gandhi’s control of the party was based on her ability to
deploy a conspicuous electoral following; that ability gone, the sceptre
would pass to the victorious leader at the polls. Therefore, for Sonia Gandhi, the only way to keep control over the party was to choose as leader of
the electoral campaign – and as candidate to the prime ministership – a
member of her family.
The choice of Rahul was made by Sonia without arousing any opposition inside the party. In fact, many in the party had been clamouring for
Rahul Gandhi’s appointment as the new leader, and none had openly
been opposing it. Paradoxically, all the difficulties came from Rahul himself, who appeared as reluctant as ever at the prospect of actively and seriously playing the role of leader. At the time of his choice as Congress Vice
President and de facto party campaign leader (19 January 2013), Rahul
Gandhi had already been in politics for some ten years, although fitfully.
In fact, during the 2009 general elections, the Gandhi scion had played
a very active role and led the party to a good positioning in the crucial
state of UP. But that effort had been a flash in the pan: no sustained and
continuous work to reorganize the party had followed it.
Equally important and as negative was Rahul Gandhi’s difficulty in
connecting with Indian youth. Although a very young politician by Indian
standards (in 2014 Rahul Gandhi was 43 years of age, while Narendra
Modi was 62), and although he had spent an important part of his political career as leader of the Youth Congress and its student wing, young
Gandhi had been unable «to throw up a big idea that would make him
particularly attractive to teenage India».35 In a way more significant was
the fact that he had been virtually absent in two causes that had been
particularly important for young Indians: the Anna Hazare-led agitation
against corruption, which had been the dominant political development
in 2011, and the mass protest demonstrations which had shaken Delhi
following the horrific Nirbhaya case of gang rape in on 26 December
2012.36 All this was compounded by Rahul Gandhi’s inability «to reach
‘Sonia Gandhi puts son Rahul in charge as she flies abroad for surgery’, The
Guardian, 4 August 2011; ‘The omertà on Sonia Gandhi’s illness’, The Hindu, 22
September 2011. According to an interview given to the author of these lines under
condition of confidentiality, it seems that, after her operation, Sonia Gandhi had
difficulty in coping with more than a very few people at the same time.
35 ‘Connecting with youth: Modi has edge over Rahul’, Hindustan Times, 22 August 2013.
36 Ibid.; ‘Universities a battleground for capturing youth vote’, University World
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Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
out to a highly interactive generation which thrives on constant communication», an inability which was epitomised by his reluctance to address
press conferences, to participate in high-profile college fests, and, last but
certainly not least, by the fact that he was not present in the social media
space, not even having a Twitter or a Facebook account.37
To anybody but the Congress rank and file – and, maybe even in his
own eyes, judging from some of his own declarations – young Rahul Gandhi appeared as a person without qualities, who had been projected to his
position as Congress leader only because he was the son, grandson and
the great-grandson of three former prime ministers.
On his part, Narendra Modi appeared as Rahul Gandhi’s exact opposite, being a self-made man and a social media skilled user. We shall
dwell on the latter point in the next section. Here the former point will
be tackled.
Modi is a man of humble origins, hailing from «a caste of lowly oilpressers» and the «third of six children of a poor tea-seller at Vadnagar
Railway Station, in Gujarat»,38 who rose through the RSS and BJP rank
and file. Inducted into the BJP national executive in 1991, Modi became
chief minister of Gujarat in 2001, and remained in power winning a total
of three consecutive state elections.
Far from having an easy path to being chosen as the leader of the BJP
electoral campaign and its prime minister designate, Modi had to fight
all along the way and overcome considerable hurdles. He had been confronted both by the opposition of a strong group of BJP leaders, among
whom the most powerful one was his former mentor, Lal K. Advani, and
by the open hostility of Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar and the
leader of the Janata Dal (United), namely one of the key components of
the NDA. On the top of all that, for quite some time the RSS leadership
had appeared far from enthusiastic at the idea of having Modi as the
BJP’s prime minister designate.39
In a long struggle, which began in 2012, Modi gradually pushed aside
the internal opposition, and compacted the party behind himself. While
the struggle was still on, at the beginning of 2013, the RSS leadership
changed their attitude vis-à-vis Modi, and started to actively support him.
From then on Modi’s march became unstoppable: on June 2013 he was
officially put in charge of the electoral campaign, and on 13 September
News, 4 April 2014.
37 ‘Connecting with youth’.
38 ‘Narendra Modi: From humble tea boy to India’s Prime Minister-elect’, The
Straits Times, 17 May 2014.
39 ‘Why RSS is against Narendra Modi as NDA’s PM candidate?’, One India News,
23 October 2012; ‘Divisive Modi is still a thorn for the BJP’, The Free Press Journal,
7 December 2012; ‘RSS not ready for PM Modi’, The Sunday Guardian, 2 February
2013.
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India
he was designated as the party candidate to the prime ministership. All
this happened in spite of the opposition from Advani and others, thanks
to the open support of the RSS leadership, and at the cost of an open
break with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U).40
3.5. Narendra Modi’s electoral campaign
The electoral campaign was started by Narendra Modi in September
2013, well in advance of the Congress campaign. From the beginning,
Modi presented himself as the politician responsible for the extremely
successful «Gujarat model» of development, which, if elected to the prime
ministership, he would replicate at the all-India level. This dominant
leitmotif was supplemented by other, maybe less insisted upon, themes,
but hardly less important in conquering crucial swathes of the electorate. One was the fact that – different from what had been the rule in the
BJP leadership (and in the leadership of most Indian parties, barring
the caste-based ones) – Modi himself belonged to a low caste. This was
complemented by the attention that Modi gave to the dalits, exemplified
by his remark on 3 March 2014, at a rally in Muzaffarpur (Bihar), that
«The next decade will belong to the dalits and the backwards».41 This was
a trump card particularly in states such as UP and Bihar, where the low
castes (or so-called Other Backward Classes) and the dalits are numerous
and politically powerful.
Another theme, utilized with devastating results, was the contrast with
Rahul Gandhi. Modi continuously highlighted the fact that, whereas he
was a self-made man who, starting from the lowest rungs of the social ladder, had climbed to the top on the strength of his willpower and abilities,
his adversary was the pampered scion of an illustrious family, without any
particular personal merit, whom Modi derisively dismissed as the Shahzada, the «princeling». On the same wave length was the chai wallah (tea
vendor) affair: a mocking remark by the well-known congressman and
former minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, hinting at Modi’s past as a boy serving tea in his father’s outfit, was readily capitalized on in order to claim
that those who thrived on dynasty politics could not accept being challenged by somebody «whose mother used to wash dishes».42 Moreover,
the adroit handling of the affair by the Citizens for Accountable Government (on which more later), made of the ubiquitous chai wallahs of India
as many pro-Modi activists.
40 In fact, in June 2013, the JD(U), which had opposed Modi’s ascent to leadership all along, left the NDA and broke its alliance with the BJP in Bihar. See, e.g.,
‘Nitish Kumar pulls the plug on NDA’, The Statesman Weekly, 22 June 2013.
41 ‘In 2014, Hindutva versus caste’, The Hindu, 26 March 2014.
42 ‘How Modi used Aiyar’s «tea seller» barb to attack Congress’, Hindustan Times,
19 January 2014.
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Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
Finally, Modi was well aware of the importance of targeting the young
and the relevance to that end of the new forms of communication, from
mobile phones and text messages to the massive use of the social media, including Twitter and Facebook. Already during the summer of 2013,
namely before the official launch of his electoral campaign, Modi had
taken a position on the rising cost of education at various institutions
(something that Rahul Gandhi never did) and, in August, in a meeting
of the BJP central leadership in New Delhi, had asked his party’s state
units to focus their attention on young and first-time voters.43 One can
surmise that, in doing so, Modi was spurred by several considerations.
The first was that, for an age group whose components were around six to
ten years old in 2002, the months-long anti-Muslim pogroms which had
convulsed Gujarat in that year – and which remained the most conspicuous blot in Narendra Modi’s political career – were bound to be unimportant.44 Another consideration behind Modi’s attention to Indian youth
must have been his conviction that, by projecting his developmental ideology through the new media – which supplied most young people with
information and moulded their Weltanschauung – he could fully mobilize
a population category, which, historically, had had a low level of participation in the electoral process.45
There is no doubt that, from the beginning of the BJP electoral campaign, a great deal of attention was given to young and first-time voters,
including those in the rural areas. Modi personally reached out to young
voters through social media like Google Hangout and Twitter while, at
the same time, putting in charge of the campaign to mobilize the same
group not only the Yuva Morcha (the BJP youth wing), headed by Anurag Thakur, but a newly created special committee. This committee was
headed by the «relatively youthful» BJP general secretary, Muralidhar
Rao (sometimes spelled Murlidhar Rao), who had emerged through the
BJP rank and file among other reasons because of his remarkable skills as
a student organizer.46
‘Narendra Modi wants BJP to focus on first-time voters’, Live Mint, 18 August
2013; ‘Team Modi sets its sights on India’s young and restless voters’, First Post, 15
July 2013.
44 ‘Team Modi sets its sights on India’s young and restless voters’.
45 According to the national elections studies conducted by the New Delhi Centre
for the Study of Developing Societies, the turnout among young voters had historically been 5 to 6% points lower than the average turnout. See ‘Universities a battleground for capturing youth vote’.
46 Sanjay Singh, ‘Team Modi sets its sights on India’s young and restless voters’;
Muralidhar Rao’s exact age seems to be a well guarded secret. However, it seems
that he got an MA from Osmania University in 1985. On the attention given by
Modi and the BJP to young and first time electors see also: ‘Narendra Modi wants
BJP to focus on first-time voters’, Live Mint, 18 August 2013; Rajdeep Sardesai,
‘Connecting with youth: Modi has edge over Rahul’, Hindustan Times, 22 August
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India
In carrying out his multi-pronged attack, Modi, as a rule, dwelled
on divisive religious/communal themes only exceptionally, and mainly
in the last legs of his long-drawn-out campaign. But, in a way, the religious subtext to his developmental and meritocratic rhetoric was made
clear not only by Modi’s stray remarks on the matter, but by those of
other leaders of the Hindu Right and his own closer help, Amit Shah.
Apart from that, there is no doubt that the massive campaign led on
the ground by the RSS volunteers fleshed out Modi’s technocratic and
meritocratic rhetoric with the assertion and reiteration of the traditional
religious/communal tenets proper of the Hindu Right in general and
the RSS in particular.
While on the campaign trail, Narendra Modi showed himself to be an
extremely active campaigner, an extraordinarily effective speaker and a
master of the minutiae of the single constituencies where he campaigned.
47
Both the overreaching developmental ideology propounded by Modi
and the command of the minutiae in any given constituency were the
result of previous work by Modi and his helpers.
What made the developmental ideology compelling, particularly for the
middle class, was not only – and, maybe, not so much – Modi’s economic
record, but the capability that he had shown in opposing, and expelling from
Gujarat, those organizations of the Hindu Right which, still in the time of
Vajpayee’s governments (1998-2004), had fiercely opposed the neoliberal
economic agenda, harking back to swadeshi, namely the autarchic economic
policy of nationalist lore.48 On the other hand, Modi’s mastery of the minutiae of the different constituencies was the by-product of the in-depth research
work carried out by the Citizens for Accountable Governance.
In fact, the Citizens for Accountable Governance played a crucial role
in organizing the whole campaign, in producing talking points for Modi
and in putting together and distributing Moditva, a book collecting Modi’s
speeches. As noted above, it was again this group which translated Mani
Shankar Aiyar’s chai wallah remark into a propaganda weapon.49 The group
was headed by Prashant Kishor, namely a political operative very close to
Modi. However, as already recalled, the group was chiefly made up of nonpoliticians, mainly young middle class professionals and corporation executives. Rather unexpectedly, the group showed an uncanny ability at working
harmoniously with both the BJP and RSS personnel. This became visible
and brought huge electoral rewards particularly in UP.50
2013; Ravish Tiwari, ‘90,000 per seat: Young India could swing Elections 2014’,
The Financial Express, 26 February 2014.
47 ‘Narendra Modi: From humble tea boy to India’s Prime Minister-elect’.
48 ‘A Hindutva variant of neo-liberalism’, The Hindu, 4 April 2014.
49 ‘Modi’s landslide. This powerhouse nonprofit just changed campaigning in India forever’, Quartz, 16 June 2014.
50 Ibid. (Emphasis added.)
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Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
Last but not least, thanks to the decisive role played by his alter ego,
Amit Shah, Modi was able to develop a very effective relationship with the
RSS volunteers, deploying them as an extremely efficient ground army.51
3.6. Rahul Gandhi’s electoral campaign
On the eve of the campaign, Sonia Gandhi set up a committee under her chairmanship, including most of the party’s senior leaders, which
should have directed the ensuing electoral battle. However, after meeting
only once, the campaign committee de facto stopped functioning, Sonia Gandhi became inactive, and the proposals made at the committee’s
initial meeting were forgotten. The organization of the campaign then
passed into the hands of Rahul Gandhi, his sister Priyanka and a group of
non-political, mostly foreign-educated advisers.52
Superficially, «Team Rahul» looked much like the pro-Modi Citizens for
Accountable Governance. But there were two key differences: Team Rahul
was less efficient, and its members were «people with no electoral experience [...] no stature, standing, respect and credibility in the party».53 Perhaps
more important, Team Rahul’s coming to the foreground as the electoral
campaign organizer brought about a situation in which Rahul and his team
«did not listen» either to the party cadres or to the Congress legislators and
senior leaders and did not communicate with them. The consequence «was
a rift between grassroots workers and party leaders» and the fact that the
party became «unresponsive» to the directives from the top.54
In this situation of isolation, Rahul and his team fell back on an electoral
strategy that was not proactive but reactive; reactive, that is, to the storm of
accusations which had scourged the party in the second half of the 2009–14
legislature. They were of three different kinds: the first was that the Congress
was a party beset with corruption; the second was that the prime minister,
Manmohan Singh, during the second UPA legislature had become apathetic
and a silent accomplice to the widespread corruption in his own government; the third was that the social content laws enacted by the party had
been a waste of public money and a source of corruption (or, as Modi liked
to claim, the UPA economic policies were not development policies, but dole
policies). In an astonishing – and astonishingly inept – surrender to these accusations, the party apex put on the back burner attempts to lay claim to the
‘Judgement Day feast for the Shah of Shahs’, Outlook, 26 May 2014.
‘5 reasons for the Congress’s defeat’, Rediff, 16 May 2014; ‘Rumblings of dissent
against Rahul Gandhi after election drubbing’, Reuters, 23 May 2014.
53 ‘Milind Deora first to speak out: Rahul Gandhi advisers wrong, so were people
they advised’, The Indian Express, 22 May 2014 (emphasis added).
54 ‘Milind Deora first to speak out’; ‘Rumblings of dissent against Rahul Gandhi after election drubbing’; ‘6 reasons why Congressmen think they lost the Lok
Sabha elections’, DNA, 22 May 2014.
51 52 262
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UPA’s political and economic achievements. Rather, it was decided to project
Rahul Gandhi as a «new man», a kind of Indian Heracles who would clean
those stables of Augeas which had become the Congress. Hence Rahul Gandhi had to be separated from the old Congress ruling class and constructed
as the demiurge who would mould a new kind of party – younger, cleaner,
more democratic and more efficient. The result of this choice was the decision to project Rahul Gandhi as the sole face of the Congress during the
electoral campaign; significantly, both Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh
did not feature on the most recurring election posters, «leaving Mr. Gandhi’s
youthful features, often trendily unshaven, beaming alone».55 This could not
but be a self-defeating choice, as Rahul Gandhi was not credible as the external saviour: after all, he had been in and out of politics for ten years, always
very near to the Congress real centre of power, namely his own mother.56
On top of it all, the Congress strategists appeared unable to decide
how Rahul Gandhi should counter Modi’s onslaught. In fact, they vacillated between two lines: the first highlighting Modi’s communal past and
warning the electorate of the dangers of the communal agenda which was
possibly hidden behind his developmental rhetoric; the second attacking
the developmental rhetoric itself, showing the social shortcomings and
economic limitations of the «Gujarat model».
As they had done more than once when confronting Modi on his home
turf (namely in the Gujarat state elections), and with similar disappointing results, the Congress strategists decided that raking-up memories of
the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat «would prove counter-productive, resulting in a Hindu consolidation».57 However, the Congress’ attempts «to
punch holes in Modi’s claims on [the] development front found few takers
particularly since the Congress party’s own credibility had hit an all-time
low».58 Eventually, as the campaign progressed, the Congress «changed
tack and started attacking Modi for his divisive agenda and communal
leanings». At that point, however, Modi had already succeeded in projecting himself «as a strong and decisive leader», the only one with the ability
to take charge of India’s many problems and put them right. 59
Apart from the confused and vacillating strategies implemented by the
Congress, what made its whole campaign ineffective was Rahul Gandhi
himself. A handsome, photogenic and likeable person, Rahul did show an
‘On the campaign with Rahul Gandhi’, BBC News India, 31 March 2014.
‘India Elections 2014: The grim unravelling of Rahul Gandhi’, International
Business Times, 16 May 2014.
57 ‘5 reasons for the Congress’s defeat’. Of course, part of the problem was the fact
that ‘raking-up’ the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat would invite a rebuttal by
the BJP highlighting the dismal role of the Congress in the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom
in northern India.
58 Ibid.
59 Ibid.
55 56 263
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
energy, when on the campaign trail, which has been unfairly appraised by
the Indian media.60 But the fact remains that, if Modi, although «a master
in exaggeration», was a great communicator; Rahul Gandhi, on his part,
was a very poor communicator, and «a master of misplaced metaphors».61
Rahul’s speeches came through as rich in generic (and hardly questionable) promises of reform of both his party and the social and political system, but totally devoid of any concrete plans to implement such promises.
Possibly the lowest point in Rahul Gandhi’s whole campaign – and the
undeniable demonstration of his lack of communication skills – was the
television interview with Time Now editor in chief Arnab Goswami, on 27
January 2014. In it, young Gandhi came through as an immature leader,
prone to give «clownish non-answers».62
3.7. The BJP’s breakthrough in the Hindi heartland
So far the 2014 electoral battle has been described as mainly a direct contest between the BJP and the Congress. However, the BJP victory would not have been so massive, had the party not conquered the
two key northern states of UP and Bihar, namely the core of the Hindi
belt. Between them, UP and Bihar send 120 members to the Lok Sabha
(80 the former, 40 the latter), namely 22% of the elected members. If,
in 2014, in those two states the BJP had conquered the same amount
of seats as in 2009, its overall majority would have been equal to 211,
instead of 282.63 In other words, the BJP would still have a majority,
but much less than the absolute majority, which would have considerably limited its political options and power. Significantly, most of the
pre-election analyses set the margin of the BJP victory around 200–210
seats, which possibly means that Modi’s party was not expected to win so
massively in UP and Bihar.
What makes these two states such interesting case studies is that the Congress was a minor player in both, as the political landscape was dominated
by a number of powerful regional parties: the Samajwadi Party and the BaOn this, non Indian media were more honest. See, for example, ‘On the campaign with Rahul Gandhi’, and ‘India Elections 2014: The grim unravelling of
Rahul Gandhi’.
61 ‘Mystery solved: 5 things we now know about Rahul Gandhi’, First Post, 24 May
2014.
62 For the expression ‘clownish non-answers’ I am indebted to Subhash Agrawal
of ‘India Focus’. The Rahul Gandhi interview went «viral» on the internet, where
it can be easily found. For a full transcript, see ‘Rahul Gandhi’s first interview: Full
text’, The Times of India, 27 January 2014 (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/
Rahul-Gandhis-first-interview-Full-text/articleshow/29455665.cms).
63 In 2009 the BJP had conquered 10 seats in UP and 12 in Bihar; in 2014 those
numbers went up to 71 and 22 respectively, with an increment totalling 71 seats.
60 264
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hujan Samaj Party in UP; the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar. Accordingly the
BJP won – and won massively – by defeating the local regional parties.
3.7.1. The BJP’s breakthrough in UP
The political situation in UP in the previous decade was characterized
by the fact that the BSP and the Samajwadi Party appeared to have successfully marginalized the two all-India parties: the Congress and the BJP.
In turn, this had left the political arena free for a long-drawn-out duel
between the two regional parties. The Samajwadi Party’s main constituency was made up by the alliance between the Yadavs, namely the most
powerful of the OBCs (Other Backward Classes), and the Muslims. On
the other hand, the BSP’s core constituency was made up by the dalits.
The two parties had been able to gain the absolute majority of the UP Assembly seats – the BSP in 2007, the SP in 2012 – by extending their social
basis to include all the OBCs, in the case of the Samajwadi Party, or the
bulk of the upper castes in the case of the BSP.64
On the eve of the 2014 election campaign, the public mood in UP appeared characterized by a general disillusionment with both the BSP and
the Samajwadi Party. In fact, their abysmal record when in power had led
to a «deep sense of alienation», particularly among the non-Yadav OBC
supporters of the Samajwadi Party and the non Chamar/Jatav Dalit65 followers of the BSP. 66
Against this background, communal tension, which after 1992–93 had
been on the wane, resurfaced in August–September 2013, when, in the
northern UP district of Muzaffarnagar, a violent confrontation pitted the
Jats (the locally dominant Hindu caste) against the Muslims. This resulted
in the murder several scores of persons, the bulk of whom were Muslims,
and the displacement of the whole local Muslim community.67 The reaAccording to A.K. Verma, in UP the Other Backward Classes amounted to
41.5% of the population, the Dalits 21%, the Muslims 18.5% and the Upper Castes
19%. See A.K. Verma, ‘Uttar Pradesh – communal polarisation vs caste calculus’,
Economic and Political Weekly, 3 May 2014.
65 The Chamar/Jatav is the politically most powerful of the 66 sub castes in which
the UP Dalit are divided.
66 ‘Modi wave in Uttar Pradesh was powered by religious polarisation, appeals to
caste’, Scroll.in, 20 May 2014.
67 According to the UP government, 46 Muslims and 16 Hindus had been killed;
according to the central government, the numbers were 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus. See ‘107 killed in riots this year; 66 Muslims, 41 Hindus’, Hindustan Times, 24
September 2014, and ‘SP government reveals 46 Muslims and 16 Hindus killed in
Muzaffarnagar riots’, The Daily Mail, 18 October 2013. On the situation of the Muzaffarnagar Muslims after the riots, see, e.g., ‘Fear stalks displaced Muslims after
Muzaffarnagar riots’, Reuters, 19 September 2013.
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sons and the unfolding of the riots need not to detain us here; what is
important is an examination of its political consequences. The Muslims
felt betrayed by the SP government, which had failed to protect them and
had been laggard in succouring them. On the other hand, the BJP, which,
led by Amit Shah, had been reorganizing itself in UP already for many
months, was in the position to make capital of the riot. It projected the
Jat–Muslim clash as «a broader battle between Hindus and Muslims», persuading «the Jats, as also other non-Muslim social groups, that they had
been discriminated against not because they were Jats, but because they
were Hindus».68 At that point, a video was posted online showing what was
alleged to be the brutal beating by a Muslim mob of two persons, supposedly two Hindus. The video – which had been filmed in Pakistan, and had
no connection with the Muzaffarnagar clash – played a role in making
the situation even tenser. At that point, the BJP, in the successful effort
to portray itself as the only party willing to fight the pretended injustices
suffered by the Hindus, organized a ceremony in Agra to felicitate the Jats
who had been implicated in the riots.69
In UP as in the remainder of India, the BJP’s electoral campaign
worked like a Swiss timepiece, making use of both the most advanced IT
techniques and the time-tested and capillary ground propaganda carried
out by the RSS. During the campaign, the developmental theme came to
be integrated with two others: the first was Narendra Modi’s low caste origin, aimed at seducing the OBCs; the second, which became prominent
particularly in the closing days of the electoral campaign, was the raking
up of some of the traditional topics of the Hindu Right: the ban on beef
exports and the building of the Ram temple on the site of the Babri Masjid, the mosque razed to the ground by Hindu activists in 1992. Thanks
to the situation of communal tension caused by the Muzaffarnagar riots
and their inept handling by the UP government, the strategy paid handsomely. As pithily summed up by Ajaz Ashraf of Scroll.in: «It wouldn’t be
wrong to say that the politics of religion and caste comprised the cake,
while development was the cherry on top.»70
3.7.2. The BJP’s breakthrough in Bihar
In a way, the case of Bihar is more difficult to explain than that of UP.
For quite a long time, Bihar had been considered, and rightly so, one of
the most backward states in India, marked by the spread of crime and
corruption. Then, following the 2005 state elections, a new government,
based on the alliance between the BJP and the Janata Dal (United), a lo68 69 70 ‘Modi wave in Uttar Pradesh was powered by religious polarisation’.
Ibid.
Ibid.
266
India
cal regional party, took power. The new government, led by Nitish Kumar,
the JD(U) leader, started to turn things around spectacularly: the rampant criminality and widespread corruption which had beset the state was
effectively rolled back, and, even as a consequence of the new and more
favourable law and order situation, the economy started to grow rapidly.
In the 2010 state elections, the BJP-JD(U) combine was returned to power, even if the relative position of strength between the two parties was
reversed in favour of the JD(U). By that year, Bihar had already become
the second fastest growing state in India, averaging an annual growth rate
of 11% in the five years from 2004/05 to 2008/09 (which put Bihar «just a
shade behind Gujarat’s well-publicized growth of 11.05%»)71. During the
second BJP-JD(U) government, Bihar’s growth rate further and conspicuously accelerated, making of it the fastest growing state in India. In 2012–
13, Bihar’s rate of growth reached the stellar 15.05%, which put it well
ahead of Gujarat (which, with a 7.96% rate of growth, was only sixth).72
Differently from what was the case in Gujarat, Nitish Kumar, while actively
promoting an economic growth which was spearheaded by infrastructure
building and the rapid increase of the tertiary sector, advocated «caution
on land acquisition for urbanization or industrialization and would not
have the state intervene on behalf of big money».73 Again differently from
what was the case in Gujarat, Nitish Kumar, particularly since 2009, put
a great deal of effort into promoting a socially inclusive growth, by empowering the weakest sections of society, particularly the EBCs (Extremely
Backward Classes), the Mahadalit (namely the most backward among the
scheduled castes), and women.
For some eight years, beginning in 2005, Kumar ran one of the most
«trouble free» coalition governments in India,74 having a good working
relation with the local BJP. However, already during the 2009 general
election and the 2010 Bihar state election, it became clear that Nitish Kumar’s relationship with the BJP rising star at the national level, Narendra
Modi, was bad, as shown by the fact that Kumar prevented Modi from
campaigning in Bihar.75 In June 2012, Nitish Kumar made it clear that
he would not accept the Gujarat chief minister as the NDA leader. When,
‘Bihar grew by 11.03%, next only to Gujarat’, The Times of India, 3 January
2010.
72 ‘Bihar’s growth rate boosts Nitish’s claim to top job’, The Hindu, 8 March 2014.
According to the Central Statistical Office data, quoted by The Hindu, Madhya
Pradesh (9.89%) was second, Goa (8.47%) third, Kerala (8.24%) fourth, and Odisha
(8.09%) fifth.
73 ‘Nitish Kumar: Bihar’s renaissance man’, in Mint, 15 February 2014.
74 ‘Why Nitish Kumar, Bihar’s development hero, is a lonely man today’, First Post,
16 March 2014.
75 ‘JD(U) says no to Modi, Varun campaigning’, The Hindu, 9 August 2010; ‘JD-U
rules out Modi campaigning in Bihar’, The Tribune, 15 September 2010; ‘Marriage
of convenience: a history of BJP, JD(U) alliance’, Hindustan Times, 11 June 2013.
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Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
in spite of his warnings, Modi was chosen by his party as the campaign
leader, on 16 June 2013 Nitish Kumar left the NDA and broke his alliance
with the BJP in Bihar (where he was able to remain in power thanks to the
support of some independent Members of the Legislative Assembly).
The break had not arrived unexpected, and the BJP was ready for it.
In the following propaganda battle, the BJP claimed that credit for Bihar’s phenomenal growth went less to Nitish Kumar than to both the BJP
state ministers and the economic support from the central government.
But the BJP’s real trump card was another, namely that Modi belonged
to an «extremely backward caste». The BJP strategists anticipated that, by
itself, this was bound to attract at least a part of those EBCs which had
hitherto made up one of the key social blocks supporting Nitish Kumar.
Consequently, BJP strategists actively began to build an electoral front
which, beside the high castes, traditionally represented by the BJP, included both EBCs and dalits.76
The ensuing electoral campaign rapidly demonstrated two things: the
first was that, at least in Bihar, eight years of unprecedented and uninterrupted economic growth coupled with social peace and a constant effort
at making growth as inclusive as possible hardly had any impact at the
electoral level; the second was that, at least in Bihar, what really counted
was caste arithmetic. In turn, caste arithmetic implied the distribution of
(promised) rewards to the several castes, but, firstly and most importantly,
to their leaders. It was through the promise of rewards to such caste leaders that social support was consolidated behind the BJP and party alliances were put in place.
Two things made the BJP promises alluring: the first was that, at the
all-India level, the BJP was clearly on the roll, while the Congress was as
clearly in a state of difficulty. The second was, as rightly guessed by the
BJP state strategists, Modi’s caste origin, plus his newly found attention
for dalits. Joining Modi meant to jump on the bandwagon of the very
probable victor at the all-India level; staying with Nitish Kumar meant to
join a leader who, even if victorious at the state level, could hardly hope
to have any decisive political leverage at the national level and, consequently, could not offer the same rewards as Modi. Not surprisingly, the
Bihar BJP soon proved itself to have an almost irresistible gravitational
force: some politicians who had hitherto belonged to the JD(U) now entered the BJP or formed their own party in order to arrive at an alliance
with it; others, who, the situation having been different, could have allied
with the JD(U), now sought an alliance with the BJP. An example of the
former case is that of Upendra Kushwaha, a low caste leader, who, after
leaving the JD(U) to create his own party, the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party,
eventually joined hands with the BJP (February 2014); exemplary of the
E.g. ‘Narendra Modi as a «backward leader», Nitish Kumar as an upper caste
«hero»’, The Indian Express, 15 April 2013.
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India
latter case was the alliance with the BJP of Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, representing the Bihari dalits.77
In a situation in which caste arithmetic was crucial and party alliances indispensable, Nitish Kumar showed himself incapable of building a
strong anti-BJP party coalition. He had to face the competition of that
same old enemy he had ousted from power in 2005: the Rashtriya Janata
Dal (RJD). Led by Laloo Prasad Yadav, the RJD had as its potential electoral base the Yadavs, namely the most numerous and powerful among
the Bihari OBCs, and the Muslims. In the period leading up to the general election, Nitish Kumar worked towards reaching an alliance with the
Congress, but eventually failed; likewise he failed in the attempt to gain
the support of the majority of the Muslim community. The latter decided
that Laloo Prasad’s RJD remained a more effective weapon against Modi,
possibly because Laloo Prasad was eventually able to stitch an alliance
with both the Congress and the Indian Nationalist Congress (a member
of the UPA).
Already some weeks before the elections, it became clear that, in most
of Bihar, the real struggle was between the BJP-led alliance and the RJDled alliance, whereas the JD(U) was isolated and, in the intentions of vote,
well behind either combine.78 In fact, at the polls the BJP gained the
absolute majority (22 seats out of 40), while its two allies, the LJP and the
RLSP, won respectively six and three seats. On its part, the JD(U) crashed
down from 20 to two seats, ending behind the RJD (which gained four
seats, while its allies, the Congress and the NCP won two and one seats
respectively).
3.8. The Congress debacle in Andhra Pradesh
The general election was held in Andhra Pradesh concurrently with
the state election, which was the last one in the undivided state. In fact, on
2 June 2014, Andhra Pradesh was officially divided into Andhra Pradesh
proper and Telangana, bringing the number of the Indian states from 28
to 29. When the elections were held, the state was still formally united, but
its impending division was the dominant factor in the political landscape
and, as explained below, was crucial in determining the results both for
the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha (which, soon after the elections, was
divided in the Andhra Pradesh Vidhan Sabha and the Telangana Vidhan
Sabha).
After the general election, both Kushwaha and Paswan became members of the
Modi government.
78 For example ‘Is Nitish Kumar’s arrogance finishing him?’, Rediff.com, 7 April
2014; ‘Why Modi waves lift Lalu’s boat, but leaves Bihar’s Muslims at sea’, Scroll.in,
11 April 2014; ‘Stakes are high for Nitish’, Millennium Post, 14 April 2014.
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Whereas, in 2009, the Congress party had secured 38.95% of the votes
in the state and had conquered 33 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats (which made
AP the single largest contributor to the Congress’ victory), in 2014 – after
the bifurcation of the state – the party won two Lok Sabha seats (both in
Telangana) and just 11.5% of the votes. Moreover, the performance of the
Congress at the elections for the states’ legislative assemblies was equally
(if not more) disastrous: the party failed to conquer a single seat in AP
proper (often called Seemandhra) and won just 21 (out of 119) seats in
Telangana. Overall, the party lost as many as 135 assembly seats.79 Victory was shared between the Chandrababu Naidu-led TDP (Telugu Desam Party), an ally of the BJP, which triumphed in the electoral districts
bound to remain in Andhra Pradesh, and the K. Chandrasekhar Rao-led
Telangana Rashtra Samithi, which won in the districts bound to become
the new state of Telangana.
These results are mainly explained by the way in which, during the
previous years, the UPA government at the centre, but most particularly
the Congress, had managed the process of bifurcation.
3.8.1. How the demand for the creation of Telangana was finally granted
The demand for a separate Telangana state preceded the formation
of the state of Andhra in 1953.80 In fact, the State Reorganization Commission established by the Indian government in December 1953 had
advised against the immediate merger of Telangana and Andhra into a
unified state.81 However, the government decided otherwise. Then Prime
Minister Jawaharlal Nehru brokered a «gentlemen’s agreement» between
political leaders from the two regions that should have ensured political
and economic safeguards for Telangana.
However, as noted by a government-appointed commission in 2010,
most of the terms of the deal were not respected in the subsequent decades82. In the late 1960s, major protests erupted in Telangana. Then
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi managed to reach an agreement with the
local political leaders that resulted in the 32nd Amendment of the Constitution. However, protests did not stop and erupted once again in the mid
1980s and then again in the mid 2000s.
There are several reasons why the supporters of the Telangana state
advocated the bifurcation of the state. Most of these reasons ultimately
All data are taken from the website of the Election Commission of India: eci.
nic.in
80 Rama Sundari Mantena, ‘The Andhra Movement, Hyderabad State, and the
historical origins of the Telangana demand: Public life and political aspirations in
India, 1900-56’, India Review, 13, 4, 2014, pp. 337-357.
81 State Reorganization Commission Report, 1955.
82 Srikrishna Committee Report, 2010.
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India
stem from the backwardness of the region. The 2009 Backward Region
Grant Fund identified 13 of the districts in AP as particularly backward;
nine of them were in Telangana (i.e. all the Telangana districts except
Hyderabad).83 Telangana supporters have argued ever since that the
backwardness of the region was mainly due to an unfavourable share of
the waters of the Krishna and Godavari rivers, to under-spending in education, and to the under representation of Telangana within the state’s
civil service. The Srikrishna Committee (appointed in 2010) found that
most of these claims were fairly substantiated, although it also noted
that Rayalaseema, namely one of the two sub-regions of Seemandhra
(or Andhra Pradesh proper), was at least as backward as Telangana, if
not more so.84
Telangana supporters attributed this lack of attention to their region’s
needs to the fact that the politics of AP had been dominated by politicians from Seemandhra. The Srikrishna Committee found this claim to
be substantiated too. In just 10.6 years of the 54 years between 1956 and
2010, for example, was the chief minister of the state from Telangana.85
Similarly, the crucial finance ministry was allocated to politicians from
Telangana for just 9.5 years.86 Since 1983, the chief minister came from
Telangana only once (Dr Marri Channa Reddy, between December 1989
and December 1990).
In 2001, a significant development brought the bifurcation issue to
the forefront of national politics. A member of the TDP, Kalvakuntla
Chandrashekar Rao (popularly known as KCR) formed a new political
party, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). The party had a single-point
agenda: the formation of a separate Telangana state.
Despite the fact that both the BJP, then ruling at the centre, and the
Congress had declared on several occasions that, in principle, they did
not oppose to the creation of the new state, nothing concrete happened
during the NDA governments (1998-2004). This was mainly due to the
opposition of the TDP (which was part of the NDA)87 and of the great
majority of AP’s political class. At the centre an additional element in
preventing the creation of Telangana might have been fears that accommodating the demand for Telangana would spark off similar requests in
other parts of the country, particularly in West Bengal and Maharashtra.
It is however a fact that the NDA government adopted a very different
policy with regard to other comparable situations; so much so that, in
83 Ministry of Panchayati Raj, A note on the backward regions grant fund programme,
New Delhi, 2009, p. 13.
84 Srikrishna Committee Report, 2010.
85 Ibid., table 7.4.
86 Ibid. table 7.5.
87 ‘Telangana would have been reality had TDP cooperated: LK Advani’, DNA, 30
October 2012.
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Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
2000, it created three new states: Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal.88
Obviously resentful at the BJP’s attitude, the TRS then decided to
make an alliance with the Congress in view of the 2004 general elections.
As a result, after the elections, the newly formed UPA government committed itself to «consider the demand for the formation of a Telangana
state»89 in the Common Minimum Programme, which fixed the political
agenda of both the UPA and the Left Front (which granted external support to the first UPA government).
By the end of the 2004-2009 legislature, however, nothing concrete had
come out of the promised «consideration» of the Telangana demand. In fact,
just before the 2009 general election the Congress-led AP government,90
the Congress party at the national level and the BJP91 all declared to be in
favour of the formation of Telangana. Not surprisingly, after the elections,
and soon after the convincing victory of the Congress at its allies, KCR
decided to force the hand of the new UPA government. On 29 November
2009, the TRS leader went on an indefinite fast. The law and order situation in Hyderabad (and KCR’s physical condition) degenerated rapidly. On
9 December 2009 – Sonia Gandhi’s birthday – the government capitulated.
Home Affairs Minister P. Chidambaram announced that the government
had decided to proceed with the creation of the new state.92
3.8.2. Endgame in Andhra Pradesh/Telangana ... and the end of Congress
The announcement was obviously celebrated in Telangana.
However, it also led to massive protests by Seemandhra’s legislators
belonging to all parties, many of whom resigned en masse.93
There were three main reasons why the prospect of bifurcating AP
worried legislators from Seemandhra. First, since Hyderabad is in Telangana, Seemandhra politicians were concerned for the financial situation of the residual state. The city, a high-tech and pharmaceutical hub,
generates a large share of the state’s revenue. There has been a great deal
of confusion regarding how big this share actually is. Seemandhra’s politiA crucial difference with the Telangana situation was that a broad consensus
on the creation of the new states existed in the parent states (in Madhya Pradesh,
Uttar Pradesh, and, to a lesser extent, in Bihar). See Louise Tillin, Remapping India
– New States and Their Political Origins, London: Hurst&Co., 2013.
89 Common Minimum Programme, May 2004.
90 ‘Oppn slams move to form Telangana panel’, Indian Express, 14 February
2009.
91 ‘Why it is Telangana that holds the key’, The Hindu, 7 April 2009.
92 ‘Centre concedes demand for Telangana state’, The Hindu, 10 December 2009.
93 ‘100 MLAs from Andhra, Rayalaseema regions quit’, The Hindu, 11 December
2009.
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India
cians, in particular, were keen to demonstrate that, without Hyderabad,
the residual state was condemned to bankruptcy. The figures that they
provided ranged from nearly half to as much as three-quarters of the
state’s total revenues. However, the actual figure is around 17%.94
The second reason concerned the economic interests that businessmen
from Seemandhra have in Hyderabad and Telangana. This is a particularly sensitive issue, as a very large proportion of Andhra Pradesh’s political
class has important economic interests in Telangana.95 Officially, businesspeople-cum-politicians feared that the new Telangana government would
seize their properties. This was based on rather shaky grounds, as every
Indian citizen can legitimately have business interests and properties anywhere in the country. However, and this was probably their real concern,
the virtual totality of their business activity depended upon the owners’
influence over the state government. This influence would obviously be
lost in the new state with unpredictable consequences for pending contracts, land allocation, and future contracts (often stipulated under very
dubious circumstances).Finally, Seemandhra politicians feared that their
influence over national politics would be severely reduced.96
This being the situation, on 23 December 2009, just two weeks after
the announcement of the process of bifurcation of the state, the Congressled central government backed off. The Ministry of Home Affairs declared
that no step would be taken until a broad consensus was reached.97 The
announcement provoked a strong reaction by Telangana’s legislators and
ministers (both at the state and at the national levels), who presented their
resignations en masse;98 at the same time, Seemandhra MLAs (Members
of the Legislative Assembly) decided to withdraw theirs.99 At this point the
Congress party had succeeded in the rather difficult endeavour of representing in Seemandhra the party that wanted to create Telangana, and in
Telangana the party that did not want to bifurcate the state.
In February 2010, the central government decided to buy some time
through the appointment of the above-quoted Srikrishna Committee.
The committee found the reasons behind the demand for a separate
Gautam Pingle, ‘Hyderabad’s revenues’, Economic and Political Weekly, 30 November 2013, pp. 10-12.
95 ‘Super-rich Andhra MPs biggest barrier to Telangana formation’, DNA, 15
February 2014; ‘Telangana statehood: What Andhra Pradesh minus Hyderabad
means’, Indian Express, 31 July 2013.
96 Michelguglielmo Torri, ‘L’India nell’anno del trionfo del Congresso’, Asia Maior
2009, p. 111.
97 ‘Wide-ranging consultations needed on Telangana: Centre’, The Hindu, 23 December 2009.
98 ‘Telangana: 11 Congress MPs decide to quit’, The Hindu, 24 December 2009;
‘Telangana MLAs submit resignation to Speaker’, The Hindu, 25 December 2009.
99 ‘Coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema MLAs withdraw resignation’, The Hindu, 24 December 2009.
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Telangana «not entirely unjustified».100 However, it recommended keeping the state united, provided that some constitutional safeguards for
Telangana were introduced. In other words, the committee suggested
replicating the model that had failed in the decades before. The committee, however, recommended also, as the «second best option»,101 creating Telangana with Hyderabad as its capital. Of course, the report disappointed everyone, and left the hot potato in the hands of the central
government.
To add confusion to an increasingly confusing situation, the Union
government decided not to publish the eighth chapter of the Srikrishna
Report, dealing with the consequences of the creation of the state in terms
of law and order. The AP High Court, however, ordered the government
to make the entire report public. The court, moreover, claimed that the
information included in the secret chapter demonstrated that the committee was «against the creation of Telangana».102
The central government, however, filed an appeal in the AP High
Court, against the ruling, claiming that disclosing the report would endanger the integrity of the country.103 This argument was accepted by
the court, and the secret chapter remained secret.104 However, the «secret
chapter saga» certainly did not contribute to bring the Telangana and the
Seemandhra partisans nearer, which was what the government claimed to
be pursuing. In 2011 and 2012, a regular pattern emerged. The Union
government would make a statement, that led to protests and to resignations, that in turn led to a counter-statement by the Union government,
that led to counter-protests and to counter-resignations and so on.
This situation ended up in the virtual paralysis of the administrative
activity in Andhra Pradesh. The state bureaucracy split in two parts, along
regional lines, each refusing to cooperate with the other.105 In October
2013 a strike of the power sector employees in Seemandhra led to severe
shortages of power, petrol and water, which in turn led to difficulties in
withdrawing cash from ATM machines, made inoperative intensive care
units, and brought about the virtual paralysis of the public and private
transportation systems.106
Srikrishna Committee Report, 2010, p. iii.
Ibid., p. 453.
102 ‘Srikrishna panel was anti-Telangana: HC judge’, Times of India, 24 March
2011.
103 ‘Chapter 8 of Srikrishna committee report a secret document: Centre’, The
Hindu, 26 February 2013.
104 Some newspaper reports included some excerpts of the chapter that were supposedly leaked. See, for example, ‘Telangana formation: Srikrishna report had
warned Centre of a storm in the T cup’, DNA, 2 November 2013.
105 ‘Tension among employees in Hyderabad government offices’, Business Standard, 6 August 2013.
106 ‘Misery piles up as blackout continues’, The Hindu, 8 October 2013.
100 101 274
India
In the meanwhile the political situation became more and more confusing. Since 2012 it had become clear that the electoral prospects of the
Congress, particularly in Seemandhra, were bleak. The Congress lost a
high number of seats in the by-poll elections in both regions.107 The AP
Congress party started to fall apart, as an increasing number of legislators
defected to other parties.108
In July 2013 the Congress party had come to the conclusion that the
decision on Telangana could not be deferred further. Two political considerations convinced the party’s high command. First, with the national
elections looming, the party did not want to concede an easy electoral
issue to the BJP, which had repeatedly proclaimed itself to be in favour
of the creation of Telangana. Second, the party had reached the conclusion that, irrespective of the final decision on Telangana, the electoral
prospects in Seemandhra were disastrous.109 Hence, the only thing the
Congress could do was to concede statehood to Telangana, hoping to
reap the political benefits. The latter consideration was based on the assumption that the TRS would merge or at least make an alliance with the
Congress, as KCR had stated on several occasions.110 However, on the eve
of the elections, KCR realized that his party was stronger than expected
and decided – wisely – to contest the elections on his own.111 This was a
fatal blow for the Telangana Congress party.
In July 2013, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) issued a resolution endorsing the bifurcation of the state and suggesting that Hyderabad
would be the common capital for ten years before becoming the exclusive
capital of new state.112 The cabinet cleared the Telangana bill on the lines
of the CWC resolution in October 2013.
In the following months Seemandhra legislators (both at the state and
national levels) reached a new low in terms of disrespect for parliamentary
procedures. The AP Legislative Assembly (where MLAs from Seemandhra
were in a majority) rejected the Telangana bill (which constitutional provisions required to be submitted to the assembly for consideration) among
major disruption. The «vote» on the bill lasted less than 30 seconds.113 In
the Lok Sabha, a Seemandhra MP even resorted to pepper spray against
his colleagues in an attempt to stop the discussion of the bill.114 The Lok
107 ‘The numbers game in Andhra Pradesh’, The Hindu, 16 June 2012; ‘TRS captures four seats’, The Hindu, 22 March 2012.
108 ‘Kiran begins fire-fighting to retain MLAs’, The Hindu, 22 November 2012.
109 ‘Telangana looks certain’, The Hindu, 19 July 2013.
110 ‘Take party, give me state: KCR to Congress’, Times of India, 26 December
2010.
111 ‘TRS rules out alliance with Congress in AP’, The Hindu, 17 March 2014.
112 ‘Telangana will be India’s 29th State’, The Hindu, 31 July 2013.
113 ‘AP Assembly rejects Telangana Bill, final say with Parliament’, Indian Express,
31 January 2014.
114 ‘MPs make it a day of shame for Parliament’, The Hindu, 14 February 2014.
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Sabha eventually approved the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act on 18
February 2014. However, Indian citizens could not see the approval of the
bill on television: all nine television cameras inside the Lok Sabha chamber «mysteriously» stopped working minutes before the vote.115
Summing up, the astonishingly inept tackling of the whole Telangana
issue by the Congress destroyed the party in the whole of the undivided
Andhra Pradesh. The haemorrhage of party members, which, as noted
above, had started in 2012, continued (and intensified) up to the 2014
elections.116 By then, the party existed more in name than in deed, especially in Seemandhra.117 The result was the virtual destruction of the Congress state party, which crashed down from 33 to two Lok Sabha seats.
3.9. What triggered the «Modi wave»?
Once all the above has been said on the 2014 electoral battle, and
even at the risk of somewhat oversimplifying a very complex issue, it is
perhaps necessary to try to sort out what factors, among the many singled
out above, played the key role in Narendra Modi’s smashing victory.
The real mainspring of Modi’s victory – the triggering element in
determining the «Modi wave» – seems to have been the ability to build
what one can term the «Modi legend». It has been noted that, during
the electoral campaign and before, Modi was projected as a dynamic,
strong-willed, intelligent leader, a kind of fearless and blemishless knight,
a statesman of superior abilities, responsible for making Gujarat bloom,
who would do the same for the whole of India. This is largely a legend, in
the true meaning the word: although based on some elements of reality,
it is a tale of fantasy. Once this is said, it is a fact that Modi’s legend has
been accepted as reality by the majority of Indians, quite independently
of their class, caste, and even regional belonging.
How was this legend crafted and, more importantly, how it was accepted? Certainly, to think that it was born spontaneously would be dangerously
naive. In fact, Modi’s legend started to be built before the 2009 elections,
when, as noted above, some key members of India Inc. decided to support
the choice of the then Gujarat chief minister as the new BJP candidate to
the national prime ministership. From that time onward, considerable economic and intellectual resources were employed in exalting Modi’s supposedly exceptional qualities,118 and in concealing his many blemishes. In this
‘Mysterious Lok Sabha TV blackout during passage of Telangana Bill’, Times of
India, 22 February 2014. This was probably a way to discourage MPs from adopting
unduly behaviour (which made little sense if nobody could see it).
116 ‘Party-hopping on a divided terrain’, The Hindu, 16 March 2014; ‘JC Diwakar
Reddy, son join TDP’, The Hindu, 24 March 2014.
117 ‘Is the Congress finished in Andhra Pradesh?’, Firstpost, 14 January 2014.
118 At the beginning of 2013, Anil Ambani went so far as to compare Narendra
115 276
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the traditional media – private television stations and major newspapers
and magazines owned by India Inc. – played a crucial role.
This strategy had an increasing impact on the political vision of the
Indian middle class, which, in turn, spread it far and wide by making use of
the non-traditional media and, during the electoral campaign, supplied its
own energies and skills in supporting Modi. Finally, Modi and his number
two, Amit Shah, showed the ability to build a working political alliance between the middle class activists and the traditional grass root organizations
of political Hinduism. In turn, middle class activists and the traditional
Hindu grass root organizations were able to spread Modi’s legend among
the masses. Crucial in making possible the success of their efforts was the
adroit and massive use of new and not so new technologies: holograms and
mobile phones – the latter utilized for both text messages and direct calls
– spread Modi’s message well beyond the middle class and urban India to
even the most backward social strata in the most inaccessible corners of the
country. As noted above, holograms were made use of particularly in the far
away rural areas, which Modi could not reach in person; on the other hand,
the penetration of television and mobile phones allowed the BJP campaign
to reach around 74% of the population.119
At the end of the day, all this was made possible by India Inc.’s initial strategic decision to support Modi. Accordingly, it was India Inc. that
played the decisive role in Modi’s victory. However, Modi’s victory was so
complete as to give him all the strength that he needed to be – if he so
desired – his own man.
4. Narendra Modi’s government
On 26 May 2014 Modi’s government was sworn in. Consistent with
Modi’s promise to ensure «minimum government, maximum governance»,
the cabinet was one of the smallest in recent times: 23 cabinet ministers and
22 ministers of state. However, political compulsions led Modi to expand
the Council of Ministers in November, when the size of the cabinet reached
65 members (Manmohan Singh’s included 77 members).
The composition of the cabinet reflected the magnitude of the BJP’s
victory: out of 23 cabinet ministers sworn in May, as many as 19 belonged
to the BJP, leaving little space for other members of the NDA, who had
to content themselves with less important positions. The most important
posts went to senior BJP leaders like Arun Jaitley (Finance and Defence),120
Rajnath Singh (Home) and Sushma Swaraj (External Affairs).
Modi to Mahatma Gandhi. ‘Vibrant Gujarat Summit 2013: Anil Ambani compares
Narendra Modi to Gandhi, Sardar Patel’, Times of India, 11 January 2013.
119 Basu and Misra, BJP’s Demographic Dividend in the 2014 General Elections, p. 18.
120 Defence was allocated to BJP’s Manohar Parrikar in November.
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The composition of the cabinet also reflected the usual attempt to give
representation to most communities and regions. However, there was a clear
effort to reward the castes and regions that had contributed the most to
Modi’s victory. Out of 45 cabinet members, over 20 were from the RSS’s
Brahmin–Vyshya–Rajput core constituency. Only three Dalits found a place
in the Cabinet along with a single Muslim (Dr Najma Akbarali Heptulla, a
former Congressman).121 The states of UP, Bihar and Maharashtra (which
gave a decisive contribution in terms of number of MPs) got the highest
number of Cabinet members. Strangely, Rajasthan (where the BJP won all
25 seats) was not represented.122 The expansion in November did not significantly change the social and political composition of the cabinet. Among
the 21 new faces, only one did not belong to the BJP (Y.S. Chowdary, TDP).
It appears that two main political considerations drove the Cabinet
expansion. First, a few MPs who had recently joined the BJP after defecting from other parties had to be rewarded. Especially important were the
defections of Birender Singh (a prominent Jat leader from Haryana, who
had been a member of the Congress party for 42 years), and of Suresh
Prabhu (a Maharashtra MP formerly with the Shiv Sena). The former
became Minister for Rural Development (a rather important job for a
politician belonging to a farming caste), while the latter was appointed
as Railways Minister (another very important ministry that controls huge
budgetary allocations). Second, the acquisition of prominent leaders from
the opposition parties and their induction into the government was also a
way to strengthen the party’s prospects for a series of state elections that
were due shortly after the cabinet expansion (in particular in Haryana
and Maharashtra).
5. The politics of Modi’s government
The first six months of Narendra Modi’s government have been characterized by two interconnected political processes. First, there has been
a marked concentration of powers in the prime minister’s hands. Second, there has been a similarly marked attempt to implement a cultural
agenda tailored on the RSS view of the world.
The two processes are intertwined. First, Modi has been operating at
various levels to centralize political power in his own hands. However, this
centralization process – part of which has been the tightening of Modi’s
control on the BJP – has left out the RSS, which, in the period under
review, remains the strongest alternative power centre to the one represented by the prime minister. In fact, during the first six months of Modi’s
Rajesh Ramachandran, ‘From dominant social groups to backward classes find
representation in Narendra Modi-led government’, Economic Times, 27 May 2014.
122 One Rajasthan MP was inducted in the Cabinet in November though.
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India
government a tacit understanding between the two power centres seems
to have been put in place: the prime minister is leaving a free hand to the
RSS in the cultural sphere, as long as the RSS does not interfere too much
with government affairs.
The concentration of powers in Modi’s hands has been particularly
evident in two spheres. First, the prime minister has been able to sideline
internal enemies within the BJP and to take full control of the party. Second, as a direct consequence of the absolute majority enjoyed by the BJP
in the Lok Sabha and the control that Modi exercises on his party, power
has been concentrated in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Both aspects
make Modi’s government remarkably different from the coalition governments that have ruled India since 1989, and much more similar to those
headed by Indira Gandhi in the 1970s and 1980s.123 Another similarity is
with the Modi government in Gujarat (2001-2014), where he was able to
effectively crush alternative sources of power – including the RSS and the
BJP – and establish a somewhat authoritarian one-man rule.124
Modi’s conquest of the BJP started before the general elections, when
he was able to make the party appoint him as the prime ministerial candidate, despite the resistance of the «old guard» (especially some influential politicians like Lal Kishan Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushma
Swaraj)125, the scant enthusiasm of the RSS,126 and the open opposition of
an important political ally, Nitish Kumar (chief minister of Bihar).127
Modi was thus able to fill the list of BJP candidates with a number
of «Hindu incendiaries, tweedy ex-civil servants, sundry swamis, and so
on [that] share[d] one common characteristic: staunch devotion to the
leader.»128 He was then able (9 July 2014) to install Amit Shah (a highly
This parallel has been suggested by a number of analysts, including James
Manor, ‘Modi and India’ (http://www.governanceanddevelopment.com/2014/05/
modi-and-india-other-elephant-in-room.html); Christophe Jaffrelot in Vij, ‘Modi’s
Plan A will be economy. If that does not work, Hindutva’, Scroll.in 15 May 2014;
and Ashutosh Varshney, ‘Modi’s institutional designs’, Indian Express, 28 July 2014.
A key difference from Mrs Gandhi is that Modi does not seem to have the intention
of tightening the centre’s control on the states. On the concentration of power during Mrs Gandhi’s final term in office, see Diego Maiorano, Autumn of the Matriarch
– Indira Gandhi’s Final Term in Office, London and New York: Hurst&Co./Oxford
University Press, 2015.
124 ‘The man who would rule India’, The Hindu, 8 February 2013.
125 ‘Adavni revolts’, The Hindu, 11 June 2013; ‘A tale of two BJPs’, Indian Express,
25 June 2013.
126 ‘Narendra Modi: India’s saviour or its worst nightmare?’, The Guardian, 6
March 2014.
127 ‘A sacrifice the BJP cannot afford’, The Hindu, 18 April 2013. For a detailed
analysis of Modi’s rise as undisputed leader of both the BJP and NDA see Torri,
‘L’India nell’anno della legge sulla sicurezza alimentare’, pp. 121-27.
128 Manor, ‘Modi and India: the other elephant in the room’, IDS Governance
123 279
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controversial figure, facing prosecution for murder) as party president.129
The extraordinary electoral result of the BJP obviously reinforced
Modi’s position within the party. In fact, both the media and the party
attributed the results to Modi’s leadership and popularity (an argument
that was partially confirmed by post-poll surveys).130
As a consequence, Modi was able to sideline internal enemies relatively
easily. Vajpayee (whose health had precluded him from political activity for
about a decade), Advani and Joshi have all been kept out of the two highest
decision-making bodies of the party, the Parliamentary Board and the Central Election Committee.131 The only two representatives of the old structure of power who managed to keep a (formally) important position were
Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj. The former, despite past acrimony,
played a key role in the nomination of Modi as prime ministerial candidate
and was thus rewarded with the Home Ministry.132 Sushma Swaraj was given
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, their power was more cosmetic
than substantial. Singh’s position has been compromised by some leakages
(originating from the PMO) concerning his son Pankaj allegedly accepting
bribes for fixing a bureaucratic post.133 Furthermore, the actual limitation
of Rajnath Singh’s real power became evident when he was substantially
excluded from the selection of candidates both for the Lok Sabha elections
and the subsequent round of by-polls in his home state (UP). Swaraj, on the
other hand, has been systematically excluded from all important foreign
policy decisions, as these are handled directly by Modi.134 Summing up,
the fact that the names of elected members of the BJP have been either
chosen or approved by Modi and his most trusted lieutenant, Amit Shah,
and the fact that Amit Shah was handpicked by Modi as the new president
of the BJP are proof of the supremacy of the prime minister over the party.
Although a few BJP leaders have expressed their unhappiness at this situation, 135 there are few doubts that, in the period under review, Modi’s grip
over the party has become virtually unshakable.
and Development, http://www.governanceanddevelopment.com/2014/05/modi-andindia-other-elephant-in-room.html.
129 ‘«Murder Accused» Amit Shah appointed BJP President’, Outlook, 9 July 2014;
‘BJP strategist & Narendra Modi’s confidant Amit Shah appointed party president’, The Economic Times, 9 July 2014.
130 Sandeep Shastri and Reetika Syal, ‘Leadership in context’, Economic and Political Weekly, 27 September 2014, pp. 77-81.
131 ‘Amit Shah shunts Advani out’, Firstpost, 27 August 2014.
132 Torri, ‘L’India nell’anno della legge sulla sicurezza alimentare’, pp. 124-25.
133 ‘Who pushed Rajnath to the wall?’, Tehelka, 20 September 2014.
134 ‘Early days’, The Economist, 23 August 2014; ‘Wait for it: the list of Sangh leaders spewing hatred is about to get much longer’, Scroll.in, 12 December 2014.
135 A few BJP leaders have already expressed their discontent with the supremacy
of one leader over the entire party. ‘So who’s inside the sancta sanctorum?’, Outlook,
1 September 2014.
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India
The control of the party was important for Modi as a defence against
any threat to his leadership coming from his own political camp. However, as it became clear during the first months of his government, the
real centre of power was not the party but the government or, rather, a
government which was immediately brought under the iron control of
the prime minister and his PMO. In fact, just a few days after taking office, Modi scrapped the Groups of Ministers (GOM and eGOM) that had
functioned as a collective (although rather inefficient) decision-making
mechanism within the cabinet during the UPA governments.136 He, then,
summoned all chief secretaries – not a single minister was present at the
meeting – and told them that they could approach him directly, without
keeping their ministers in the loop.137 Ministers were also denied the right
to choose their own top bureaucrats and even personal secretaries, as all
bureaucratic appointments came to be decided by the PMO.138 Ministers
were even told not to talk with the media,139 with the exception of Finance
and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, one of Modi’s most trusted allies, and
arguably the only minister who retained some clout over governmental
affairs.140
Decision-making was thus completely centralized within the PMO,
which not only was put in charge of what Modi considers his policy priorities – foreign relations, national security, infrastructure projects, etc. – but
even routine matters like the composition of the Indian delegation for the
Asian Games.141 This, paradoxically, could not but cause delays in policymaking, which is the opposite of what, in Modi’s professed intentions, the
centrality of the PMO in decision-making should achieve.142
There are some indications that the concentration of powers in Modi’s
hands goes beyond the institutional field. The press reported rumours
that a few ministers were being kept under surveillance. For example,
Nitin Gadkari, a former BJP president and incumbent Minister of Transport, has allegedly complained to the RSS chief that his residence (along
with that of other BJP leaders) had been bugged.143 According to an article that appeared in Outlook (1st September 2014), Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Prakash Javadekar, was on his way to Delhi airport
to attend a conference in Kenya when he received a call from the PMO
‘Modi scraps GoMs, EGoMs’, The Hindu, 31 May 2014.
‘Approach me directly, PM tells Secretaries’, The Hindu, 4 June 2014.
138 ‘So who’s inside the sancta sanctorum?’; ‘Modi’s PMO overloaded as ministries
go slow on decisions’, Business Standard, 10 September 2014.
139 ‘Early days’.
140 ‘The Enablers’, The Economist, 25 October 2014.
141 ‘Six months of Modi government: Weaknesses’, Business Standard, 24 November 2014.
142 ‘Modi’s PMO overloaded as ministries go slow on decisions’.
143 ‘So who’s inside the sancta sanctorum?’
136 137 281
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
requesting him to dress appropriately. «What bothered Javadekar was the
thought that somebody was keeping a tab on his movements and giving
minute-by-minute information to the PMO.»144 These rumours tend to be
more credible since similar allegations regularly emerged when Modi was
chief minister of Gujarat.145
The concentration of power in Modi’s hands, however, might have
some political advantages for the BJP. Liberal opinion-makers and the urban middle classes were extremely annoyed by the two power centres (Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh) that characterized the UPA’s regime,
146
which, according to them, caused a virtual policy paralysis.147
The second process that marked the first six months of Narendra Modi’s government was the implementation of a cultural agenda dictated by
the RSS, with the adoption of the Hindutva148 ideology as its guiding star.
It should be noted, however, that Modi, at least for the time being,
has not undertaken what we could call «the high road» to Hindutva. This
would entail action in three core areas, which are prominent in the RSS
agenda: the implementation of a uniform civil code; the revocation of
Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status; and the construction
of a temple on the ruins of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
Dealing with any of these issues would have major domestic and international consequences; in particular the implementation of the above
mentioned three key Hindutva goals would badly shake the social contract
that binds the 150 million-strong Muslim community to the Indian state. It
is very unlikely that Modi – who has always appeared to be less a Hindu extremist than an extremely pragmatic politician149 – will want to pursue the
high road to Hindutva, at least as long as his popularity remains high.
Nevertheless, once all the above has been said, there is no doubt that,
in the period under review, the BJP was undertaking the «low road» to
Hindutva. This replicated Modi’s strategy during the electoral campaign,
during which – as noted above – he presented himself as the «development man» and left the dirty job of polarizing the electorate to others, in
particular Amit Shah, especially in sensitive regions like UP. To put it in
Ibid.
‘The ace in Modi’s pack’, Tehelka, 19 April 2014; ‘Early days’, The Economist,
23 August 2014; ‘Narendra Modi aide Amit Shah used police to spy on woman at
«saheb’s» behest, accuse Cobrapost, Gulail’, Financial Express, 29 November 2013;
‘The war within’, The Caravan, 1 September 2012.
146 Zoya Hasan, Congress after Indira – Policy, Power, Political Change (1984–2009),
New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012, ch. 4.
147 ‘Sonia Gandhi can break UPA out of its paralysis only by ending the dual power
structure’, Economic Times, 24 August 2012.
148 I.e. the ideology of the RSS aimed at making India a Hindu country.
149 For years the anecdote has made the rounds, according to which Atal Vajpayee,
then prime minister, had claimed that had Modi detected any political advantage
in doing so, he would have prayed three times a day in a mosque.
144 145 282
India
slightly different terms, Modi promotes two parallel discourses: development at the national level, and Hindutva at the local level.
It seems that Modi is either unable or, more probably, unwilling to
control what the BJP and the RSS do at the local level and to draw a clear
line about what the BJP/RSS members can or cannot say or do.150 Perhaps
the most extreme example of Modi’s inability/unwillingness to control
the Hindutva extremists is the appointment of a five-time MP from Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath, as the lead campaigner for the round of by-poll
elections held in September 2014. Adityanath has a long history as a troublemaker.151 He is also one of the main proponents of the «Love Jihad»
conspiracy theory, according to which there is a secret plan, elaborated by
the Muslim community, aimed at seducing and marrying Hindu women,
in order to alter the demographic equilibrium between the two religious
communities. Adityanath has a more «colourful» definition of «Love Jihad» that is worth reproducing in its entirety: it is «a system where a girl
surrounded with fragrance is enticed into a stinking world; where the girl
leaves her civilised parents for parents who might have been siblings in
the past; where purity is replaced with ugliness; where relationships have
no meaning; where a woman is supposed to give birth every nine months;
where the girl is not free to practise her religion; and if the girl realises
her mistakes and wants to be freed, she is sold off».152
The «Love Jihad» theme dominated the campaign for the by-poll
elections in UP and in other states. Adityanath even urged Hindus to
marry 100 Muslim women for every Hindu woman who had married a
Muslim man.153 All this happened without Modi and the BJP leadership
taking any action against Adityanath, not even openly distancing themselves from Adityanath’s open effort at disseminating hatred between the
different religious communities.
Several other BJP politicians were rewarded for similarly promoting
hatred between communities. Giriraj Singh, for example, raised a storm
when, during the general election campaign, he suggested that opponents of Modi should migrate to Pakistan.154 This has not prevented him
from becoming Union Minister of State for Micro, Small and Medium
Enterprises. Likewise, Sanjeev Baliyan, who has been accused of having
fomented the riots in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, has been chosen as Minister
of State for Agriculture and Food Processing.155 Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti,
‘Achhe din, like old times’, Indian Express, 29 July 2014.
‘The yogi and his tricks’, Tehelka, 27 September 2014.
152 Ibid.
153 The video (in Hindi) can be found here: http://www.firstpost.com/india/watchbjps-yogi-adityanath-tells-hindus-to-marry-a-100-muslim-women-1684103.html.
154 ‘Those opposed to Narendra Modi should go to Pakistan, BJP leader Giriraj
Singh says’, Times of India, 20 April 2014.
155 ‘PM’s choice shocks riot-hit town’, Telegraph India, 27 May 2014.
150 151 283
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
Minister of State for Food Processing Industries, when opening the election campaign for Delhi on 2 December 2014, asked voters at an election
rally in Delhi to «chose between ‘Ramzadon’ (those born of Ram) and
‘haramzadon’ (illegitimately born)», 156 highlighting through this vivid
phrase that only the Hindus («those born of Ram») are legitimate Indians, whereas all others are illegitimate. These are far from being isolated
examples.157
The behaviour of BJP ministers and MPs has had two consequences.
First, opposition parties are finding an unexpected common platform
against the communalization of the political discourse. The winter session of the parliament has been disrupted several times because of the
protests of the opposition, thus impeding the government to move bills
into parliament.158
The second, and more worrisome, consequence is that Hindu extremists across the country are increasingly feeling free to target minorities and
to undertake provocative initiatives, as they know that they will not face
any serious repercussions. There are many examples of provocative initiatives taken by RSS-affiliated organizations. In October 2014, communal
violence broke out in East Delhi as a result of the months-long marches
and demonstrations organized by the Hindu Jagran Manch in front of the
local mosque.159 In July, some MPs belonging to the Shiv Sena (the Maharashtrian Hindu right-wing party which, at the time was an ally of the
BJP) tried to force-feed a fasting Muslim.160 In December, a church was
burned down in Delhi «not by accident», according to local residents.161 A
week after that, the RSS organized a mass-conversion ceremony in Agra
(200 Muslim families were offered money to «go back» to Hinduism), and
announced that 5,000 more families would be converted on Christmas
day in Aligarh.162
To be fair, these episodes are hardly a novelty. However, what is unprecedented is, on the one hand, the scale of the initiatives and, on the
other hand, the location of the conversion ceremonies in cities histori‘Ramzada vs haramzada: Outrage over Union Minister Sadhvi’s remark’, Indian Express, 2 December 2014.
157 ‘Wait for it: the list of Sangh leaders spewing hatred is about to get much
longer’.
158 ‘BJP leaders’ polarising statements undermine party’s ability to move key bills
in Parliament’, Scroll.in, 17 December 2014.
159 ‘Trilokpuri riots may be an attempt to polarise Dalits as Delhi polls seem likely’, Scroll.in, 28 October 2014.
160 ‘Rise of the fringes: Narendra Modi government faces acid test’, The Economic
Times, 27 July 2014.
161 ‘Dilshad Garden church set on fire, Christian community says not an accident’,
Indian Express, 1 December 2014.
162 ‘RSS «re-converts» 200 Agra Muslims, says more in line’, Times of India, 9 December 2014.
156 284
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cally associated with Muslim culture. This is probably a sign that Hindu
extremists are becoming increasingly confident, as they feel that the state
is behind them. It is significant that Modi has remained silent on all communal controversies and has not taken any action against those who explicitly played the communal card for political purposes.163
Overall, all this is resulting in increasing levels of communal violence,
especially on the eve of elections. In UP alone, in the ten weeks that followed Modi’s appointment (i.e. in the period up to the by-polls), 605
communal incidents took place,164 a number that is almost equal to the
total number of communal riots which occurred in the entire country during
the whole of 2012 (668). The situation is becoming so worrisome that even
Tavleen Singh – a well known journalist and one of Modi’s staunchest
supporters – wondered: «Why is the Prime Minister allowing the RSS to
steal his mandate?».165
There is a second area in which the promotion of Hindutva has been
particularly apparent. This is the «saffronization» of the state’s institutions, particularly educational institutions. Controlling educational institutions has always been a priority for the Sangh Parivar, namely the galaxy
of Hindu organizations headed by the RSS. The RSS has always been
keen on reducing the influence of Marxist (and supposedly pro-Congress)
historians on the formulation of educational curricula. This had been attempted by Morarji Desai in the late 1970s166 and, more recently, by the
Vajpayee’s governments (1998-2004).167
Modi is following in the footsteps of Desai and Vajpayee. The Minister for Human Resource Development (which handles education policy),
Smriti Irani, in spite of her Parsi-sounding (acquired) family name, is a
long-time RSS worker coming from a family of long-time RSS workers. It
is now a rather well established fact that she meets the RSS leadership on
a regular basis to discuss educational policy.168
Irani also appointed numerous RSS-friendly persons to important
educational institutions. In July 2014, she appointed an unknown historian, Yellapragada Sudharshan Rao, as the chairperson of the Indian
Council for Historical Research.169 In fact, Professor Rao’s articles, mainly
163 ‘Will Narendra Modi speak out?’, Economic and Political Weekly, 13 December
2014.
164 ‘Be warned, BJP-RSS combine’s agenda is to divide and rule’, Hindustan Times,
11 August 2014.
165 ‘Fifth column: Stop Hindutva now’, Indian Express, 13 December 2014.
166 L.I. Rudolph and S.H. Rudolph, ‘Rethinking secularism: Genesis and implications of the textbook controversy’, Pacific Affairs, 56, 1, 1983, pp. 15-37.
167 Nandini Sundar, ‘Teaching to hate: RSS’ pedagogical programme’, Economic
and Political Weekly, 31 December 2004, pp. 1605-12.
168 ‘Sangham: How the RSS is charting out changes in education’, Indian Express,
23 November, 2014.
169 According to a sympathetic article in ‘The Hindu’, Yellapragada Sudharshan
285
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on the historicity of Indian epics, have never been published in any peerreviewed journal.170 He has also vowed to prove the authenticity of the
Mahabharata and of the Ramayana during his term.171 In November Mrs
Irani appointed Vishram Jamdar – a self-professed «RSS man»172 – as the
chairman of the Nagpur Institute of Technology. During the Cabinet expansion in November, Ram Shankar Katheria (a former RSS pracharak)
joined Mrs Irani’s Ministry.
The long-term harmful influence of the RSS on the government’s cultural agenda is also evident from the work of the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), a Delhi-based think tank that was set up by the
Vivekananda Kendra, one of the RSS affiliated organizations, and very
close to Narendra Modi. The VIF has been preparing an 11-volume history of India.173 According to a fellow of the VIF, the objective of this multi-volume work is to present «the correct cultural, traditional and spiritual
aspects of India» and to challenge the dominant view of India’s history,
whose supposed objective is to «make us feel inferior and destroy our
fundamental Indian values».174 It remains to be seen how influential the
VIF’s version of the history of India will be. However, there are reasons to
believe that it will be important, at least as a propaganda instrument.
The VIF has provided a good number of senior officials to Narendra
Modi’s government. For instance, Ajit Doval, founding director of the
VIF, was chosen as National Security Advisor; Nripendra Misra, a member of the VIF’s executive council, became Modi’s principal secretary; P.K.
Misra, former senior fellow of the VIF and Modi’s principal secretary at
the time of the Gujarat riots in 2002, has been appointed additional principal secretary to the prime minister.175 This obviously does not mean that
all VIF affiliates are Hindu extremists – far from it – but it is certainly true
that the Foundation has a clear ideological orientation that is not very
dissimilar from the RSS.
Other state institutions were equally involved in the promotion of an
RSS-inspired cultural agenda. Doordarshan Television is apparently subRao, a retired professor of the Department of History, Kakatiya University (not by
any stretch of imagination among the most well-known Indian universities), has
over 40 research papers to his credit, published in various national and international journals (see ‘He aims to present history in a new perspective’, The Hindu, 26
June 2014). However, not only the authors of this chapter have never come across
any of his papers, but, significantly, Sudharshan Rao’s name is not included in the
databases of such well-known academic search engines as JSTOR and MUSE.
170 ‘History repeats itself ’, India Today, 21 July 2014.
171 ‘In the name of History’, Tehelka, 9 August 2014.
172 ‘Calling himself «RSS person» applicant praises Irani, weeks later is made chief
of Nagpur NIT’, Indian Express, 7 November 2014.
173 ‘The brains behind Modi sarkar’, Tehelka, 2 August 2014.
174 Ibid.
175 Ibid.
286
India
ject to significant pressures from the government. In October 2014, the
station broadcast the entire speech of the RSS sarsanghchalak (supreme
leader), Mohan Bhagwat. This was a sign, according to senior officials,
of the growing influence of the RSS on state-owned television. Another
official claimed that the Information and Broadcasting Minister, a former
member of the RSS student wing, meets the station’s Director General
every morning. The official stated that he had not seen such an attempt to
control Doordarshan since the times of the authoritarian Indira Gandhiimposed emergency regime (1975-77).176
6. The economy
6.1. The situation in the first five months of the year
After two difficult years, at the beginning of the period under review,
the Indian economy started to turn around. At the beginning of February 2014, both the National Council of Allied Research (NCAER), India’s
oldest and largest independent think tank, and, one month later, India
Ratings & Research, a credit rating and research agency belonging to the
Fitch Group, estimated India’s economic growth in 2014-15 as likely to
grow from less than 5% in the preceding year to 5.6%.177
On the same positive note was the assessment made on 17 February 2014 by the UPA Union Minister of Finance, P. Chidambaram, in
his presentation speech of the Interim Budget 2014-15.178 According to
Chidambaram, the slowdown of the Indian economy, which had begun
in 2011-12, had started to reverse in the second quarter (Q2) of 201314. According to Chidambaram: «In nine quarters, the GDP [Gross Domestic Product] growth rate declined from 7.5 percent in Q1 (the first
quarter) of 2011-12 to 4.4% in Q1 of 2013-14».179 Then, thanks to the
measures taken by the UPA government and the RBI (Reserve Bank
of India),180 growth in Q2 of 2013-14 was «placed at 4.8 percent» and
growth for the whole year was estimated at 4.9%, which, according to the
‘RSS broadcast is only one indication of rising control over Doordarshan, insiders complain’, Scroll.in, 3 October 2014.
177 ‘India’s GDP to grow at 5.6 percent in 2014-15’, The Hindu, 6 February 2014;
‘Indian economy to grow at 5.6% in 2014-15: India Ratings’, Business Today, 6
March 2014.
178 As a rule, the Union budget is tabled in the parliament the last day of February.
However, when a general election is held, an interim budget is tabled some time
before the election and the regular budget soon after it.
179 Interim Budget 2014-2015. Speech of P. Chidambaram, Minister of Finance, 17 February 2014, § 14.
180 For an analysis of these measures see Torri, ‘L’India nell’anno della legge sulla
sicurezza alimentare’, pp. 149-155.
176 287
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
Minister of Finance, meant that: «growth in Q3 and Q4 of 2013-14 will
be at least 5.2 percent».181
Still according to Chidambaram, by the end of the fiscal year 2013-14,
the deficit would be contained at 4.6%, «well below the red line» drawn
in the previous budget (4.8%), while the Current Account Deficit (CAD),
which «threatened to exceed» USD 88 billion, would be brought down
to 45 billion. The foreign currency reserves – which in the previous two
years had become dangerously thin – would be up to USD 15 billion. The
Wholesale Price Index (WPI), which at the time of the presentation of the
previous budget stood at 7.3%, at the end of January 2014 was down at
5.05%. Food inflation – namely the main component in pushing up the
WPI – although «still a main worry», had «declined sharply from a high of
13.6 percent to 6.2 percent».182 Moreover, the rate of growth of agriculture
was spectacularly on the rise,183 whereas saving rates and investments had
declined, but only marginally. The steps taken by the Union government
to speed up the implementation of projects already approved through the
creation at the end of 2013 of a Cabinet Committee on Investment and
a Project Monitoring Group had been effective. In the Minister’s words,
«by the end of January, 2014, the way [has been] cleared for completing
296 projects with an estimated project cost of Rs. 660,000 crore [6600
billion].»184 The rate of exchange of the rupee, heavily under pressure
during the previous financial year, had been stabilized.185 Exports had
«recovered sharply», in spite of the fact that the growth of global trade
had declined from 6.1% in 2011 to 2.7% in 2013. Infrastructures had
received «a big push»; so much so that: «In the 2012-13 and in the nine
months of the current financial year [2013-14]», India had added «29,350
megawatts of power capacity, 3,928 kilometres of national highways,
39,144 kilometres of rural roads under PMGSY,186 3,343 kilometres of
new railway track, and 217.5 million tonnes of capacity per annum in our
ports.» Besides, according to Chidambaram, «19 oil and gas blocks were
given out for exploration and 7 new airports are under construction.»187
At the end of the day, the only really negative note, «the Achilles’ heel
of the Indian economy» in Chidambaram’s words, remained manufacturing.188 In spite of this, the Minister of Finance could «confidently assert»
Speech of P. Chidambaram, Minister of Finance, § 14.
Ibid., §§ 6-7.
183 Chidambaram commended the ‘spectacular performance’ of the agricultural
sector. Ibid. § 8.
184 Ibid., § 9.
185 Ibid., § 15
186 The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana is a centrally sponsored scheme introduced in 2000 by the Vajpayee government to provide connectivity to unconnected
habitations as part of a poverty reduction strategy.
187 Ibid., §§ 10, 12.
188 Ibid., § 11.
181 182 288
India
that the economy was «more stable today than what it was two years ago».
This was happening because: «The fiscal deficit is declining, the current
account deficit has been contained, inflation has moderated, the quarterly growth rate is on the rise, the exchange rate is stable, exports have
increased, and hundreds of projects have been unblocked.»189
Much of what was claimed by Chidambaram in his 17 February speech
was substantiated, soon after the elections, by the 2014 Economic Survey
[ES], tabled in parliament by the new NDA Minister of Finance, Arun
Jaitley, on 9 July 2014. The ES, although stressing that the inflation was
«still above comfort levels», confirmed the decline of the WPI inflation
(to 6% in 2013-14, compared with 8.9% in 2011-12 and 7.4% in 201213); it pointed out that, at the financial year end, the CAD was down
to 1.7% of the GDP as against 4.7% in 2012-13. On its part, the rupee,
«after plummeting to Rs. 68.36 to a US dollar on 28 August 2013» had
«gradually strengthened» reaching in March 2014 an exchange rate of
Rs. 61 per US dollar. Moreover, foreign exchange reserves had increased
in a substantial way, although less than projected by Chidambaram in
his 17 February speech. In fact, they had gone up by nearly USD 40 billion, climbing up from USD 275 billion in early September 2013 to USD
314.9 billion on 20 June 2014. Finally, the fiscal deficit had declined
even more markedly than projected by Chidambaram, «from 5.7 per
cent of GDP in 2011-12 to 4.9 per cent in 2012-13 and 4.5 per cent in
2013-14» (against the 4.6% estimated by the UPA Minister of Finance).
As pointed out by the ES, this result had been achieved «by reduction in
expenditure rather than from increased revenue».190
Only concerning the GDP growth rate were the ES data somewhat
less favourable than what had been estimated by Chidambaram. «After
reaching a low of 4.4 per cent during the last two quarters (Q3 and Q4) of
2012-13 growth inched up to 4.7 per cent in Q1 of 2013-14 and further to
5.2 per cent in Q2 of 2013-14, only to decline to 4.6 per cent in the next
two quarters» 191 [namely the period September 2013 to February 2014],
against the 5.2% estimated by Chidambaram. However, the ES, taking
into consideration the improvement of both the CAD deficit and the fiscal deficit, was optimistic that, «no doubt [they would] feed into a higher
growth in 2014-15».192
Summing up, the economic legacy left by the UPA to the NDA was far
from being catastrophic, as shown by the fact that the previous six quarters
had seen a marked improvement on several fronts, amounting to an upturn of the general economic trend. Most of this improvement was the end
product of the economic policies implemented by the UPA government.
189 190 191 192 Ibid., 15.
Economic Survey 2013-14 (http://indiabudget.nic.in/), §§ 1.3, 1.4.
Ibid., § 1.5.
Ibid.
289
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
6.2. Waiting for Modinomics
After Modi’s victorious election campaign, with such a heavy emphasis
on a renaissance of the Indian economy thanks to the implementation
at the all-India level of the famed «Gujarat model» or what the Indian
and international media were starting to dub «Modinomics», expectations
and fears – depending upon one’s political perspective – for the Modi
government’s first budget were high indeed. On the right, there were
expectations of reforms aimed at dismantling India’s labour laws; privatizing public enterprises, including the profit-making ones; reforming
higher education by ending the government’s «bureaucratic stranglehold
on the university system», namely privatizing it; replacing or outright dismantling such allegedly wasteful and corrupt social programmes as the
National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Food Security Act,
namely the most progressive laws implemented by the UPA governments;
introducing the Thatcher-inspired voucher system to siphon off public
money in favour of private schooling and health care.193 Of course, what
were the expectations of the right were the fears of the left, according to
which the Modi government intended: «to gut any and all labor, environmental and social legislation that impedes corporate profit making,
while lavishing subsides, tax cuts and other largess on big business».194
Some of Modi’s and Arun Jaitley’s first public utterances after the formation of the new government,195 the hike in rail fares on 20 June196 and
the decision of the BJP-led Rajasthan government to emend three labour
laws in order to favour the corporate sector197 were all seen as pointers to
the Modi government’s will to implement a new, pro-business economic
policy. However, the real litmus test of the Modi government’s intentions
could not but be the presentation of its first budget.
A good summing up of the expectations of the Right is given by the economist
Arvind Panagariya, in an article published in Foreign Affairs. See ‘The promise of
Modinomics’, Foreign Affairs, 10 June 2014. In it Panagariya puts forth the theses
which he had elaborated together with Jagdish Bhagwati in Why Growth Matters,
Philadelphia: Perseus Books Group, 2013.
194 Kranti Kumara, ‘India’s new government moves to implement big business
agenda’, World Socialist Web Site, 8 July 2014, § 2.
195 ‘Narendra Modi ready to take unpopular steps to bolster finances’, Live Mint,
16 June 2014; ‘Arun Jaitley says «mindless populism» needs to be checked’, Reuters,
1 July 2014.
196 ‘Govt hikes railway fares by 14.2 pc, freight charges increased by 6.5 pc’, The
Indian Express, 20 June 2014.
197 ‘Rajasthan shows way in labour reforms’, The Indian Express, 8 June 2014. The
Rajasthan amendments to centrally approved laws needed the approval of the
President of the Union (namely of the central government) in order to become
effective. Presidential approval was given on 9 November 2014.
193 290
India
6.3. The first Modinomics budget
The presentation of the first budget of the Modi era was made by
the Minister of Finance, Arun Jaitley, on 10 July 2014. The budget itself appeared to be structurally of the same kind as most budgets since
the beginning of the neoliberal reforms. In other words, its aim was
to push down both the deficit and taxation, by falling back on nontax revenues and cuts in social spending. In pursuing this policy, the
new budget showed a strong continuity with the latest UPA budgets,
particularly with the interim budget. This continuity was admitted and
justified by Jaitley himself in his speech of presentation of the budget,
by saying that the steps announced in it were «only the beginning of
a journey towards sustained growth» and that «it would not be wise
to expect everything that can be done or must be done to be in the
first Budget presented within forty five days of the formation of this
Government».198
The most immediately visible element of continuity with the interim budget was the acceptance, on the part of the new NDA Minister
of Finance, of the «very difficult task» set up by his predecessor «of
reducing [the] fiscal deficit to 4.1 per cent of the GDP in the current
year».199
The same continuity was perceptible on the side of taxation. Its structure, as in the previous UPA budgets, was characterized by low imposition
on corporate profits and personal income, coupled by heavy indirect taxation. In fact, in Jaitley’s budget, the amount of taxation on both corporate
profits and personal income did not significantly differ from the interim
budget, even if the Jaitley budget introduced some new tax concessions
for big business and minor cuts in income tax (paid by the more affluent
part of the population). On the other hand, the budget, although raising
indirect taxation, from which most tax revenues originated, increased it
only marginally.200
Of course, static tax revenues made it necessary to find non-tax resources in order to bring down the fiscal deficit to 4.1%. These nontax resources were to be found through the implementation of a two
pronged policy of disinvestment and reduction in real terms of social
expenditures. Capital receipts other than borrowing, namely, by and
large, revenues accruing from disinvestment, were estimated in the order of Rs. 739.52 billion. A key element in this policy was the rise of
198 Ministry of Finance, Budget 2014-15. Speech of Arun Jaitley, Minister of Finance,
10 July 2014 (http://indiabudget.nic.in/budget2014-2015/bspeecha.asp) [hereafter
Budget Speech], § 4.
199 Budget Speech, § 7.
200 The additional revenue from indirect taxation was estimated to amount to Rs.
7.525 billion. Not a dramatically significant figure, when compared with a total
estimate of expenditure nearing Rs. 180,000 billion.
291
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
foreign participation in the defence and insurance sectors. In both sectors, the composite cap of foreign exchange was raised to 49% from the
pre-existing level of 26%.201 On the other hand, expenditures related to
social programmes – such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee
Act – were decreased in real terms. However, the avowed policy of containing expenditures had at least a conspicuous exception. As pointed
out by Arun Jaitley in his speech: «There can be no compromise with
the defence of our country. I therefore propose to allocate an amount
of Rs. 2,29,000 crore [2,290 billion] for the current financial year for
Defence.»202 In other words, the allocation for defence was being raised
12% compared with the previous financial year (in the interim budget
the rise had been of 10%).203
In his speech, the Minister of Finance complemented the concrete
decisions taken in the budget and aimed to reducing «wasteful expenditure» with a number of promises pointing the way towards the path leading to «a sustained growth of 7-8 per cent or above within the next 3-4
years along with macro-economic stabilization».204 The most significant
of these promises were the creation of an Expenditure Management
Commission, «to review the allocative and operational efficiencies of
Government expenditure» and the engagement «to overhaul the subsidy regime, including food and petroleum subsidies, and make it more
targeted».205 Again, on the side of promises there was that – already
made time and again by both the NDA and UPA governments – of introducing a Goods and Services Tax (GST). 206 The GST would take away
the taxation jurisdiction from the states, putting it in the hands of the
central government, rationalizing the taxation system.
Maybe the most positive aspect of the budget – which, however, was
once again in line with the interim budget provisos – was the high allocation for infrastructure. This was raised by Rs. 1000 billion over the actual
2013-14 expenditure.
At the end of the day, the main problem with the budget was the fact
that it did not provide any significant stimulus to aggregate demand. In
Budget Speech, §§ 17, 18.
Budget Speech, § 139.
203 ‘(India’s) Military Budget’, Globalsecurity.org, 27 October 2014 (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/india/budget.htm).
204 Budget Speech, § 4.
205 Budget Speech, § 8. The latter promise came with the caveat that the targeting
of the subsidy regime would be coupled with the provision of ‘full protection to
the marginalized, poor and SC/STs’. However, all past experiences pointed to the
fact that any ‘targeting’ of the subsidies and help aimed at the poorest part of the
population, namely the imposition of bureaucratic restrictions on those entitled to
them, as a rule resulted in the exclusion of a sizeable part of those who should be
entitled and an increase in corruption.
206 Budget Speech, § 9.
201 202 292
India
fact, the total proposed expenditure was only nominally higher than in
the previous fiscal year, namely, taking inflation into account, de facto a
decrease in real terms.
6.4. Modinomics at work
Because of the substantial continuity with the previous budget and
because such continuity was expected, the reception of both India Inc.
and the international capital to the 2014-15 budget, although somewhat
lukewarm, was not negative.207 The other side of the coin was that both
India Inc. and the international capital expected the Modi government
to move quickly to implement pro-growth and pro-big business policies.
This and the many electoral promises made by Modi put his government
in a position to do exactly that or, at least, to appear to do that. For the
remainder of the year the government economic policies were characterized by a set of high profile announcements, some concrete decisions,
and promises or news that the government was at work in preparing new
reforms. What was indeed done did not amount to much and boiled down
to two policies: the first was the progressive dismantling or cutting down
to size of those protections enjoyed by labour in the formal sector of the
economy; the second was putting equity in Public Sector Undertakings
(PSUs) on the market.
As far as the former policy is concerned, it can be noticed that it aimed
at enlarging the informal sector – namely that sector of the Indian economy with no protection for labour, which on the eve of Modi’s electoral
triumph included above 70% of the work force.208 Here the main decision
was taken at the end of July, when the cabinet cleared 51 amendments to
the Factories Act, 1948, the Apprenticeship Act, 1961, and the Labour
Laws Act, 1988. These amendments resulted in making women eligible
for night-shift work, increasing the ceiling for overtime hours from 50
hours per quarter to 100, and repealing the liability to imprisonment for
those who violated the Apprenticeship Act.209
As far as state disinvestment in the PSUs is concerned, on 6 August
2014, the cabinet formally approved what had already been promised
by Arun Jaitley when presenting the budget. In other words the cabinet
However, the attitude of international capital was markedly less friendly than
that of domestic capital. See ‘Modi feels heat from credit agencies, markets on
budget’, Reuters, 11 July 2014; and ‘Modi misses the mark. India’s new government
lacks economic vision’, Foreign Affairs, 8 September 2014.
208 On India’s informal economy see Elisabetta Basile, Capitalist Development in
India’s Informal Economy, London and New York, 2013. See the tables at pp. 59-65
for the statistical data on informality.
209 Wasantha Rupasinghe, ‘Modi promotes India as world’s sweatshop’, World Socialist Web Site, 1 October 2014.
207 293
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
officially raised the maximum amount of foreign ownership allowed in
military-equipment making firms from 26% to 49% and allowed up
to 100% non-Indian ownership in railway construction companies.210
On 10 September 2014, furthermore, Modi’s government decided to
bring down its stake in three PSUs: Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Coal India Ltd (CIL) and National Hydroelectric Power
Corporation (NHPC). The government planned to sell 10% of CIL (of
which it owned 89.65%), 5% of ONGC (of which it owned 68.94%) and
13.3% of NHPC (of which it owned 85.96%), realizing a total exceeding Rs. 450 billion.211
The above listed pro-business policies were supplemented by some
further decisions heading in the same direction. On 2 July 2014, the Indian government decided to extend the period of validity of industrial licences from two to three years, extensible by a further two years.212 On 20
October 2014, the Modi government took another major economic decision, namely the introduction, through an ordinance, of a new electronic
bidding system for coal mining. India is rich in coal deposits – and short
in energy – but exploitation of the domestic coal resources has historically
been so defective as to force India to import much of the coal needed to
produce energy.213 On top of that, the way in which coal blocks meant for
exploitation had been allocated by the UPA governments, mainly to private companies, without auction, had been denounced by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in August 2012, causing a major
scandal. According to the CAG, the arbitrary allocation system employed
by the Government of India had caused a Rs 1860 billion loss to the exchequer. This had brought about the involvement of the CIB (Central
Bureau of Investigation) and the courts. Finally, on 24 September 2014,
the Supreme Court, which had previously declared illegal the allocations
made between 1993 and 2010, cancelled 214 block allocations, directing
CIL to take them over.
To remedy the adverse effect on domestic and, even more, international capital,214 caused by the Supreme Court’s decision, the Modi gov‘India approves more foreign investment in defense and railways’, The Wall
Street Journal, 6 August 2014; ‘Indian cabinet approves foreign investment hike in
defense, railways’, Reuters, 6 August 2014.
211 ‘Many dimensions to stake sale in PSUs’, The Hindu, 21 September 2014.
212 ‘Govt extends validity period of industrial licence to 3 years’, The Times of India,
2 July 2014; Government of India, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Department
of Industrial Policy & Promotion, Press Note No. 5 (2014 series). Streamlining the Procedure for Grant of Industrial Licenses, 2 July 2014.
213 According to the Minister of Finance, the coal import bill in 2013 had touched
US$ 20 billion. ‘Govt ordinance to open up coal sector to private miners, enable
e-auctions’, Business Standard, 21 October 2014.
214 The Modi government was afraid that the Supreme Court’s decision could
discourage foreign capital from investing in India. During his official visit to the
210 294
India
ernment, while announcing that a thorough reform law on commercial
mining was planned, introduced an ordinance putting up for e-auction 42
mines de-allocated by the Supreme Court, plus another 32 mines in different stages of production. As made public by the Minister of Finance, the
proceeds of these auctions were to go to the governments of the states in
which the mines were located. Accordingly, the major beneficiaries of the
e-auctions were going to be the mineral-rich states of Jharkhand, Odisha,
West Bengal and Chhattisgarh.215 The e-commerce ordinance, introduced
by the Modi government on the 20 October, was signed by the President
of India the following day, thus becoming operative.216 The ordinance,
apart from breaking the logjam created by the Supreme Court’s decision,
had the additional advantage (from the viewpoint of the major Indian
corporations) of putting in the game once again those firms which had
been unduly favoured by the UPA governments. In fact, the ordinance excluded from the auction only those firms whose representatives had been
convicted of an offence relating to coal block allocation and sentenced to
imprisonment for more than three years.217
On 30 October 2014, the Finance Ministry ordered a mandatory 10%
cut in the centre’s non-plan expenditure for 2014-15.
From the cut were exempted interest payment, repayment of debt,
defence capital, salaries, pensions and Finance Commission grants to
states. The cuts implied some measures which were not particularly
significant from an economic standpoint, such as the prohibition of
state officers from travelling first class and making use of five-star hotels for official meetings (apart from those with top foreign officials),
plus a freeze on new appointments in the bureaucracy. However, the
bulk of the cuts was to take the form of reduction of state subsidies
on food, fertilisers and petroleum. These measures were «virtually the
same» as the initiatives taken yearly by the UPA governments since
2004 and «even copied the wording of earlier directives».218 Excluding
from its purview interest payment, repayment of debt, defence capital,
salaries, pensions and Finance Commission grants to states, exactly
as had happened with the analogous measures taken by the UPA govUS in September (on which more below), Modi went at great length to convince
(it seems successfully) a group of 11 top American CEOs that he would convert the
Supreme Court judgment on coal blocks into an «opportunity to move forward and
clean up the past». See ‘Modi to America Inc: Will use SC coal order to clean up,
look ahead’, The Indian Express, 30 September 2014.
215 ‘Govt ordinance to open up coal sector’.
216 ‘President promulgates Ordinance to allow e-auction of coal blocks’, The Hindu,
21 October 2014.
217 Ibid. The ordinance stipulated that all firms which had their coal blocks cancelled by the Supreme Court, barring those convicted of offences related to allotment of mines, could bid in the e-auction after paying an additional levy.
218 ‘Jaitley follows UPA austerity ritual’, The Telegraph, 31 October 2014.
295
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
ernments, could not but have a limited effect. Indeed, according to
Nomura Securities, the well-known Japanese brokerage firm, the NDA
mandatory cut brought about savings amounting to roughly 0.3% of
the GDP.219
Apart from the above listed decisions, the Modi government, but
most particularly the prime minister, were careful in conveying an impression of dynamism though the continuous announcements of future
reforms. Although these announcements did not translate into any concrete policy – at least in the year under review – some of them must be
reported.
In July, the government started to discuss the possibility of radically
emending the 2013 Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in
Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (a name which,
in daily use, is usually shortened to «Land Acquisition Act»). Indeed the
Land Acquisition bill had met «with incessant criticism from industrial
circles»220 since it had been introduced to the Lok Sabha. So much so
that, according to a well-known pro-Congress intellectual, it was that particular act which had been a main reason behind India Inc.’s decision
to take sides against the Congress party.221 The act, which had become
operative at the beginning of 2014, had been the UPA government’s answer to the active popular discontent against land grabbing by Indian
and international corporations. Accordingly, the act stipulated substantial
compensations for both landowners and landless farmers and introduced
a mandatory consent clause demanding approval from 70-80% of affected
residents for land acquisition.222 Before the enactment of the law, local
governments could transform agricultural land into industrial land, forcing owners to sell it for a pittance and expelling landless labour from it;
after the enactment, all this had become impossible, pushing up the cost
of buying land by two to four times. This had made it difficult to develop
industrial parks, which explains the hostility towards the act of both the
private corporations and many state governments. However, although the
reform of the Land Acquisition Act remained in the headlines during the
second half of the year, at the end of the period under review, no final
decision had yet been arrived on it.
Another neoliberal reform under consideration but far from being
enacted at the end of the period under review was the Factories (Amendment) bill. The bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 7 August 2014,
Ibid.
‘India’s Modinomics picks up speed on a bumpy road’, Nikkei Asian Review, 30
October 2014.
221 Aditya Mukherjee, ‘Clear out the Congress Cabal’, India Today, 2 June 2014.
222 ‘The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, dated 26 September 2013’, Gazette of India,
No. 30 of 2013 (http://indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/302013.pdf).
219 220 296
India
with the aim to remove smaller companies from the purview of various
labour laws, such as the Industrial Disputes Act, the Factories Act, the
Employee State Insurance Act and the Maternity Benefits Act.
On 10 September 2014, two members of the government, Commerce
and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Commerce Secretary
Rajeev Kher, signalled the government’s intention to reverse the taxation policy on special economic zones (SEZs) introduced by the second
UPA government in 2011, by reintroducing a series of conspicuous tax
breaks.223 However, at the end of the year under review, no decision had
been taken.
Finally, the prime minister, during his public speech on Independence Day (15 August), personally made two high profile promises. The
first was the vow «to strengthen manufacturing sector» by asking «all the
people world over, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, «Come, make in India», «Come, manufacture in India». «Sell in any country of the world but
manufacture here». The second was the promise to «replace the planning
commission with a new institution having a new design and structure, a
new body, a new soul, a new thinking, a new direction, a new faith towards
forging a new direction to lead the country».224
The first promise was followed by the official launch, on 25 September
2014, of a «Make in India» campaign, aimed at simplifying or eliminating those bureaucratic barriers and labour and environmental regulations
which made of India one of the most difficult locations in the world to
start a business venture.225 The campaign aimed at involving 25 economic
sectors and the ministries presiding over them in a «holistic integration
of perspective on manufacturing».226 Putting it in simpler words, Modi’s
aim was an overhaul of state regulations and labour laws in such a way as
to lure foreign entrepreneurs and companies to increase radically their
investments in a country which had hitherto been considered one of the
least «business friendly» in the world.227 In doing this, Modi was trying to
‘Government considering steps to revive Special Economic Zones: Commerce
Minister’, NDTV, 10 September 2014. In 2011, the government had imposed
18.5% MAT (minimum alternate tax) on the book profits of special economic zone
developers and units.
224 Both quotations are from ‘Full Text: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech
on 68th Independence Day’, The Indian Express, 15 August 2014 (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/full-text-prime-minister-narendra-modisspeech-on-68th-independence-day/).
225 ‘«Make in India» pitch from Sept. 25’, The Hindu, 21 September 2014; ‘PM
Modi’s «Make in India» campaign launch to harness efforts of 25 government departments’, The Economic Times, 24 September 2014.
226 ‘PM Modi’s «Make in India» campaign launch’.
227 According to the World Bank’s ‘Ease of doing business index’, in 2014 India
ranked 142nd among the 189 countries included in the list. China was 90th and
Pakistan 128th. See http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IC.BUS.EASE.XQ
223 297
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
exploit the potential advantage for India because local wages had become
«significantly lower than in China, where – in response to growing worker
militancy, including a wave of strikes – companies [...] had to grant modest, but significant wage increases».228 In spite of the emphasis given to
the «Make in India» campaign, at the end of the year under review little
of substantial had been accomplished.
Likewise, at the end of the period under review, the promise to disband
the Planning Commission and to substitute it with a different organ, more
responsible to the wishes of the states, had not been fulfilled. While giving
rise to an intense debate in the national media on the past record of the
Planning Commission and, even more, on what should substitute it, still at
the end of 2014 Modi’s decision had not translated even into a clear-cut
hypothesis on the structure and aims of the new organism was supposed to
have. In fact, not even a new name for it had been indicated.229
6.5. Results of Modinomics
At the end of August 2014, official government estimates related to
the three months ending in June indicated that the Indian economy had
grown 5.7% from the same period in the previous year.230 Although the
Minister of Finance, Arun Jaitley, claimed that this was the result of the
first 100 days of the Modi government231 – a claim promptly accepted by
an Indian press which continued to be massively pro-Modi232 – it is really
difficult to attribute this result to Modinomics. After all, the Modi government had been sworn in on 26 May 2014 and its first significant economic
decisions had been taken in the budget presented on 10 July 2014.
The official results for the following quarter (Q2 2014-15: July–August–September), released at the end of November, although an improvement when compared with the same quarter in the previous fiscal year,
registered a decline when compared with the previous quarter, the GDP
228 Wasantha Rupasinghe, ‘Modi promotes India as world’s sweatshop’, World Socialist Web Site, 1 October 2014.
229 E.g.: ‘Planning Commission: From glorious days to an untimely end’, Rediff, 19
August 2014; ‘End of Planning Commission’, Live Mint, 12 September 2014; ‘New
body replacing Planning Commission likely by January-end; Congress opposing
move’, The Economic Times, 8 December 2014; ‘Planning Commission is dead, long
live the new Plan!’, The Economic Times, 17 December 2014.
230 ‘Indian economy grows 5.7%, its fastest pace in more than 2 years’, The New
York Times, 29 August 2014.
231 When in Tokyo. ‘Q1 GDP growth at 5.7% versus 4.6% QoQ; hits 2.5-year high’,
The Economic Times, 29 August 2014.
232 According to The Economic Times, the Indian economy had been ‘revitalised by a
decisive political mandate for the Narendra Modi-led BJP and subsequent actions
by his government’. Ibid.
298
India
rate of growth going down from 5.7% to 5.3%. This decline was to be put
down to the slow growth of the manufacturing sector (only 0.1%, compared with 3.5%) and the difficulties for the agricultural sector, brought
about by a bad monsoon.233 However, although the GDP growth in the
second quarter was lower than in the first, it nevertheless was higher than
expected by most economists.234 Anyway, the rate of growth during the
first two quarters of 2014-15 represented a conspicuous improvement
when compared with the first two quarters of 2013-14.
During the second half of 2014, the positive news on the GDP growth
front was complemented by even more positive news on inflation. The
inflation rate based upon the consumer price index (CPI) declined from
an average of 11.5% in the first ten months of 2013 to 6.65% in the first
ten months of 2014. Moreover, the general trend in the first ten months
of 2014 was downward, going from 7.24% in January to 5.5% in October.
235
Particularly relevant and particularly positive was the decline of food
price inflation, which in the previous years had been the main inflationary
trigger: in October it was 5.6%, only marginally higher than the general
CPI inflation.236 This result was all the more remarkable as it came in a
year that, in spite of the positive upturn in its concluding months, on
average had been characterized by an adverse monsoon season. Here, the
merit for this positive development went to the Modi government, for its
«deft food management», which «included open market sale of wheat and
rice from its buffer stock» and «putting a lid on procurement prices».237
Not surprisingly, at the close of the year under review: «Almost all
forecasters, including the Reserve Bank of India, expected GDP growth
during this year [2014-15] to be at least 5.5 per cent in a range between
5 and 6 per cent».238 On its part, the think tank FocusEconomics expected the Indian GDP to grow 5.3% in the fiscal year 2014-15 and 6.1% in
the year 2015-16.239 Citigroup expected India’s GDP rate of growth to
be around 5.6% in 2014-15 and around 6.5% in 2015-16, claiming at
the same time that India had «really surprised» in 2014 and might do
233 ‘At 5.3%, GDP growth beats estimates’, Business Standard, 29 November 2014;
‘India-GDP. Economy slows’, Focus Economics, 28 November 2014.
234 ‘At 5.3%, GDP growth beats estimates’; ‘Growth prospects brighten’, The Hindu,
7 December 2014.
235 ‘Inflation India 2013’, Inflation.eu, (http://www.inflation.eu/inflation-rates/india/historic-inflation/cpi-inflation-india-2013.aspx); ‘Inflation India 2014’, ibid.
(http://www.inflation.eu/inflation-rates/india/historic-inflation/cpi-inflation-india2014.aspx).
236 ‘Rate cut call loud and clear’, The Hindu, 23 November 2014.
237 ‘The contours of economic recovery’, The Hindu, 20 October 2014.
238 ‘Tracking recovery through industrial output data’, The Hindu, 16 November
2014.
239 ‘India-GDP. Economy slows’, Focus Economics, 28 November 2014.
299
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
so again in 2015.240 Finally, the UN World Economic Situation and Prospects
2015 estimated India’s GDP rate of growth at 5.4% in 2014, 5.9% in 2015
and 6.3% in 2016.241
No doubt, all the above amounted to positive results. How much
Modinomics were really responsible for them remains, however, a moot
point. In the previous section it was stressed that, in Modinomics, the
politics of brave announcements and promises was at least as important as the policy of concrete decisions.242 It is doubtful that, by itself,
the concrete steps taken by Modi and his government could cause the
upturn experienced by the Indian economy in the period under review.
Indeed, as shown above, there is reason to think that this positive upturn had started before Modi’s victory. Apart from that, it is only fair to
stress that, in such a complex socio-political and socio-economic setting
as India, no significant reform can be implemented quickly. This, no
doubt, was a fact of which Modi was well aware. Hence his politics of
brave announcements and promises, which, while masking Modi’s difficulties and slowness in implementing his pro-business promises, did
have a beneficial placebo effect on the economy. But, possibly, the most
decisive help in making Modinomics a success of sorts was the crushing
down of the international cost of crude oil (see Figure 1). In a country
so heavily dependent on energy imports, this fortuitous development
could not but have powerful positive cascading effects on the whole
economy, giving much of the substance behind Modi’s politics of brave
promises and announcements. Which, of course, is far from meaning
that Modi did not intend to proceed at full speed, compatibly with the
‘India surprised this year; may do so again in 2015: Citigroup’, The Hindu, 7
December 2014. For its part Moody’s was similarly optimistic. See ‘India to growth
5-6 per cent in 2015: Moody’s’, The Hindu, 10 December 2014.
241 ‘India likely to improve economic growth to 6.3% in 2016: UN’, The Hindu, 11
December 2014.
242 Interestingly both critics and admirers of Modinomics, in order to make their
opposing points, gave as approved some laws which were not. An example of the
former is Kranti Kumara, who, while harshly criticizing it, gave as ‘just passed’ the
Factories Amendment Act, (‘India implementing raft of «pro-investor» measures’,
World Socialist web Site, 10 December 2014). Indeed, the Factories Act (Amendment) Bill 2014 was still under discussion in the Lok Sabha while this chapter was
finalized. See ‘Factories Act Amendment Bill being revised’, The Hindu, 29 January
2015. An example of a Modinomics admirer being taken in by the politics of brave
promises and announcements is Go Yamada (see ‘India’s Modinomics picks up
speed on a bumpy road’, Nikkei Asian Review, 30 October 2014). He claimed that:
‘In October [2014], the government also decided to speed up project approval
procedures, abolish the minimum alternative tax in special economic zones and
extend the period of validity for business licenses from the current three years to
seven years’. In fact, none of these measures either had been or were implemented
in the period under review.
240 300
India
political and social hurdles he had to overcome, in implementing a set
of neoliberal policies any inch of which was as invasive and non-inclusive
as those he had implemented in his home state.
Table 4. Brent Crude and WTI (West Texas Intermediate) oil prices in
US$ January 2014–January 2015
Source: Mike Bird, ‘How the price of oil could fall to just $20 a barrel’, Business
Insider Australia, 7 January 2015 (http://www.businessinsider.com.au/how-low-canoil-prices-go-2015-1)
7. State elections
During 2014 there were several state elections. The states involved
were Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh,243 Odisha (formerly Orissa),
Sikkim,244 Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, and Jharkhand.
The tables below give an overview of the results in the largest states. (The
party of the new chief minister is indicate in bold; in the case of undivided
Andhra Pradesh are set in bold the parties of the new chief ministers of
Andhra Pradesh/Seemandhra and Telangana).
243 244 In Arunachal Pradesh the Congress obtained an absolute majority.
In Sikkim the Sikkim Democratic Front obtained an absolute majority.
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Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
Table 5. Andhra Pradesh – Incumbent government: Congress
Congress
BJP
Seat
won
Vote
share %
Seat
change
21
11.6
-135
9
8.5
+7
Telugu Desam Party (TDP)
120
29.1
+28
YSR Congress
68
28.9
NA
Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS)
61
14
+51
Source: Election Commission of India (http://eci.nic.in/eci/eci.html)
Table 6. Odisha – Incumbent government: BJD
Seat won
Vote share %
Seat change
Biju Janata Dal (BJD)
115
43.4
+12
Congress
16
25.7
-11
BJP
11
18
+5
Source: Election Commission of India (http://eci.nic.in/eci/eci.html)
Table 7. Maharashtra – Incumbent government: NCP–Congress
Seat won
Vote share %
Seat change
BJP
122
27.8
+76
Shiv Sena
63
19.3
+19
Congress
42
18
-40
Nationalist Congress Party
(NCP)
41
17.2
-21
Source: Election Commission of India (http://eci.nic.in/eci/eci.html)
Table 8. Haryana – Incumbent government: Congress
Seat won
2014
Vote share
2014
Seat change
BJP
47
33.2
+43
Congress
15
20.6
-25
Lok Dal
19
24.1
-12
Source: Election Commission of India (http://eci.nic.in/eci/eci.html)
302
India
Table 9. Jammu and Kashmir – Incumbent government: National
Conference
People’s Democratic
Party
BJP
National Conference
Congress
Others
Seat
won
Vote
share
%
Seat change
28
22.7
+7
25
15
12
6
23
20.8
18
+14
-13
-5
Source: Election Commission of India (http://eci.nic.in/eci/eci.html)
Table 10. Jharkhand – Incumbent government: Jharkhand Mukti
Morcha
Seat won
BJP
JMM
JVM
Congress
AJSU
Others
37
19
8
6
5
6
Vote share
%
31.26
20.43
9,99
10,46
3,68
Seat change
+19
+1
-3
-7
-1
Source: Election Commission of India (http://eci.nic.in/eci/eci.html)
A brief look at Tables 5-10 reveals that, with the exception of Odisha,
the story of the state elections is the story of the victory of the BJP and the
defeat of the Congress. The Congress lost ground in Odisha too; however,
the popularity of the incumbent chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, leader
of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), coupled with the negligible organizational
strength of the BJP in the state, secured the fourth victory in a row for
Patnaik’s party. It is also very significant that, for the first time in India’s
history, the BJP obtained the relative majority of the votes in Jammu and
Kashmir (India’s only Muslim majority state) and formed a coalition government with the People’s Democratic Party.
The results of the state elections were important for Modi and the BJP
in ways that go beyond the mere conquest of some important states. First,
they showed that Modi’s popularity was still intact. This is extremely important as Modi’s «winnability» galvanizes «vote mobilizers» that in turn
multiply the BJP’s chances of winning in subsequent elections.245 Moreo245 Pradeep Chhibber and Susan Ostermann, ‘The BJP’s fragile mandate: Modi
303
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
ver, Modi’s ability to win elections strengthens his position against his
(still rather numerous) internal enemies within the BJP and in the RSS.
Second, the BJP and its allies now control the most economically dynamic areas of the country and as much as 37% of India’s GDP.246 This is
obviously important per se. But it is also important for the implementation
of Modi’s national agenda on infrastructure. The BJP now controls, for
example, all the states in the Delhi–Mumbai industrial corridor.
Finally, the BJP, although enjoying a comfortable majority in the Lok
Sabha, does not control the Upper House. Hence, controlling the states is
crucial for gaining the control of the Rajya Sabha, since its members are
elected by the state assemblies.
8. Foreign policy
During its last two years in power, the attention of the UPA government was focussed on the difficult internal situation, without much time
and energy to spare for foreign affairs. During that period, no major
changes were visible in India’s foreign policy. However, there is no gainsaying that a certain level of unease had crept into two of India’s main
foreign connections: the one with the US and the one with Russia.
The reorientation towards the US had become the pole star of India’s foreign policy since the fall of the USSR; in the most recent period,
the key turning point in US-India relations had been the civilian nuclear
agreement, realized between 2005 and 2008, which put an end to the international nuclear embargo on India.247 Paradoxically, however, the US,
which had taken the initiative in this difficult démarche, had not reaped all
the anticipated economic rewards, because of the passing of the Nuclear
Liability Act by the Indian Parliament in 2010. Although much criticized
by the opposition, as it capped the amount of liability in case of each
nuclear accident at Rs. 5 billion, the Act, by allowing both the victims of a
nuclear disaster and the operators themselves of a nuclear plant involved
in a disaster to sue the suppliers «for tortuous and criminal liability»,248
effectively deterred the US nuclear companies from entering the Indian
market. This was left open for French and Russian operators, which, unlike the US firms, in case of a nuclear accident could fall back on the ecoand vote mobilizers in the 2014 general elections’, Studies in Indian Politics, 2, 2,
2014, pp. 137-51.
246 ‘37% of GDP now in states under BJP control: what this means for economics
and politics’, Indian Express, 20 October 2014.
247 This had been established following a US initiative, after the Indian PNE
(Peaceful Nuclear Experiment) of 1974.
248 Rohan Tigadi, ‘Critical Analysis of the Indian Civil Nuclear Liability Act, 2010’,
Social Science Research Network, 16 May 2012 (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.
cfm?abstract_id=2254490), p. 8.
304
India
nomic help of their respective states. The situation had been made worse
by the dissatisfaction of the Obama administration regarding what the US
President himself considered the inability of the Indian government to
push through a second generation, «big bang» neoliberal reforms, such as
to open more space in the Indian market for international capital.249
Although, on the whole, the connection with the US remained a mainstay in India’s foreign relations, the relationship between the two countries had become cold enough to make possible, in December 2013, the
Devyani Khobragade incident, and the following acrimonious spat between the two governments.250
Russia – traditionally a close friend of India – had recovered much of
its importance as India’s partner and its main provider of weapons since
Vladimir Putin’s ascent to power in 2000. However, the US–India civil nuclear agreement, if it did not open the lucrative field of building nuclear
power plants to US private capital, had made possible the steep rise in
importance of the US as an arms supplier to India. Although Russia still
remained the biggest arms exporter to India in term of overall numbers
(75% of the weapons imported to India came from Russia), value-wise the
US had taken first position since 2013. 251 In fact, the value of the weapons
and weapon systems bought by India from the US had grown to such an
extent that, in 2013, the South Asian country had elbowed Saudi Arabia
out as the main buyer of American arms. 252 Also, India had further diversified the sources of its military imports, particularly by turning to France
in purchasing French Rafale fighters, and to Israel, among other reasons,
to procure spare parts for Russia-supplied weapon systems.253 All this had
249 ‘India needs another wave of reforms’, The Hindu, 15 July 2012; ‘Worried Obama
highlights need for Indian Reforms’, The Statesman Weekly, 21 July 2012, p. 5.
250 Devyani Khobragade, then Deputy Consul General in New York, had been arrested and strip searched by the New York police, being suspected of visa fraud and
false statements related to her domestic help, a woman of Indian nationality. This
treatment, which ran contrary to any diplomatic propriety, had caused the reaction
of the Indian government, which, in retaliation, had subjected the American diplomatic personnel in New Delhi to a series of restrictive measures.
251 On 12 August 2014, the Indian Defence Minister, in a written reply to the Rajya
Sabha, indicated that, in the three previous years, India had bought weapons from
the US to the amount of Rs. 32,615 crore [326,150 million], from Russia to the
amount of Rs. 25,364 crore [253,640 million], from France to the amount of 12,047
crore [120,470 million], and from Israel to the amount of 3,389 crore [33,890 million]. Weapons with an additional total value of 10,043 crore [100,430 million] had
been bought from other nations. ‘US pips Russia as top arms supplier to India’,
The Times of India, 13 August 2014. See also ‘Hagel visits India in bid to strengthen
defense ties’, The Wall Street Journal, 7 August 2014.
252 ‘India becomes biggest foreign buyer of US weapons’, Financial Times, 24 February 2014.
253 Following some incidents involving Russia built Indian MiG fighters, Russia
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Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
irritated Russia, but, to a certain extent, its loss to the US, France and
Israel of an increasing share of India’s arms market had been counterbalanced by India’s support for Russia’s «legitimate interests» in Crimea
and Ukraine.254 Accordingly, as in the case of the India-US relationship,
the India-Russia alliance – although less warm than in the past – had remained in place as a mainstay in India’s foreign policy.
Only in two fields had India’s foreign policy continued to show considerable dynamism even in the second half of the second UPA government: the first was the relationship with Japan, which continued to grow
increasingly close and cordial; the second was Delhi’s spirited fight inside
the World Trade Organization (WTO) for the safeguarding of India’s national interests.255
During the first half of 2014 and up to the formation of the Modi
government, on one hand, no new developments occurred in the field of
India’s foreign policy, and, on the other hand, foreign policy – as is generally the rule in Indian electoral politics – was conspicuous by its absence
as a topic of debate in the electoral campaign.256 This suddenly changed
at the moment itself of the swearing in of the new Modi government. In
fact, the heads of state of the other SAARC (South Asian Association for
Regional Cooperation) countries, the prime minister of Mauritius and
the head of the Tibetan government in exile were invited to the ceremony
(26-27 May 2014).257
This move – widely seen as aimed at starting friendlier and closer
relations with the neighbouring countries – was only the opening one in
a kind of international campaign with two main goals: projecting India as
a major world power and getting international support and cooperation
in promoting and accelerating India’s economic development. This interhad acidly commented that Indian MiG fighters would stop crashing when India
stopped buying ‘counterfeit (spare) parts’ from Israel. ‘Putin’s visit could help sort
out glitches in India-Russia defence ties’, Times of India, 9 December 2014.
254 ‘India backs Russia’s «legitimate interests» in Ukraine’, The Diplomat, 8 March
2014.
255 On India-Japan relations see: Peter Lee, ‘India places its Asian bet on Japan:
Roiling the waters of the Asia-Pacific’, The Asia-Pacific Journal, 11, 24, No. 3, 17 June
2013; P.K. Sundaram, ‘The emerging Japan-India relationship: Nuclear anachronism, militarism and growth fetish’, The Asia-Pacific Journal, 11, 22, No. 1, 2 June
2013. On India and the WTO, see Torri, ‘L’India nell’anno della legge sulla sicurezza alimentare’, pp. 156-59.
256 In recent times, the only exception to this rule is represented by the 2009
general election, when the Left Front parties spent a great deal of energy in criticizing the India-US civil nuclear agreement. The results, however, were highly disappointing. On the 2009 general election, see Torri, ‘L’India nell’anno del trionfo del
Congresso’, pp. 80-97.
257 ‘India: Modi’s neighborhood overtures’, The Diplomat, 8 June 2014; ‘Modi invite to PM-in-exile thrills Tibetans’, The Times of India, 27 May 2014.
306
India
national campaign – it is worth stressing – was primarily led by the new
prime minister in person, while the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sushma
Swaraj, was relegated to managing the daily bureaucratic routine of her
ministry and carrying out some of the foreign visits of less import.
In the period up to the end of the year under review, the new prime
minister took part in no less than 10 state visits and/or major international conferences, and hosted no less than eight visits of prime ministers
or heads of state of foreign powers (see Table 11), which made of him the
most active Indian premier in foreign policy since Rajiv Gandhi’s time.
This intense diplomatic activity can be described as mainly – even if
not exclusively – organized around two principal axes: the US–WTO–Russia axis and the China engagement/China containment axis. Its two main
goals, as noted above, were: the acceptance of India at the international
level as a major world power; and the acquisition, from the other major world countries, of direct investments, technological know-how and,
more generally, any economic means necessary to speed up the growth of
India’s economy. However, before focussing our attention on the pursuit
of these objectives, it is necessary to return very briefly to the Modi government’s oath-taking ceremony and the meaning of the above quoted
invitations to heads of states and heads of government.
As mentioned above, that ceremony was widely seen as aimed at starting friendlier and closer relations with the neighbouring countries. However, on closer examination, the rationale beyond that move seems to
be different. Indeed, the hypothesis can be made that, according to RSS
ideology, those invitations were aimed at stressing India’s hegemonic relationship with the other SAARC countries plus the Maldives. Namely, at
stressing India’s position as paramount power in the geo-political space
that, according to Hindu nationalist ideology, has historically been, and
should be, part of India.
In fact, what Modi had in mind appears to have been the establishment of a set of bilateral relations based less on the principle of good
neighbourhood than on the acceptance of India’s hegemony. This soon
became visible in the evolution of the relationship with Pakistan. After
the invitation of Pakistan’s President Nawaz Sharif to the swearing-in ceremony, the icy relations between the twin South Asian enemy countries
had appeared to be heading towards a thaw. Modi had expressed words of
sympathy for the victims of the recent floods in the Pakistani part of Kashmir, while Sharif had reciprocated by sending mangoes as a gift to Modi.
However, this bonhomie suddenly evaporated when, on 18 August 2014,
the Indian government cancelled the already planned foreign secretarylevel talks with Pakistan. The reason for this move was the decision by
Pakistan’s High Commissioner in New Delhi, Abdul Basit, to meet Hurriyat leaders,258 according to a practice that had been tolerated by the
258 The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) is an alliance of 26 political, social
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Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
previous Indian governments.259 By then the Hurriyat – which had suffered a series of internal splits – enjoyed a limited political relevance. In
spite of this, and in spite of the just noticed fact that the previous Indian
governments, although objecting to these meetings, had never imposed
any anti-Pakistan sanction, New Delhi’s decision was to put a stop to the
recently renewed dialogue with Islamabad. This was as clear cut an indication as any that New Delhi, rather than negotiating with Islamabad on a
position of parity, was interested in showing Pakistan – namely the only
other South Asian state which, although far from having the same political weight as India, was not a lightweight – who was the dominant power
in South Asia.
Table 11. A non-exhaustive list of Modi’s state visits abroad and of
foreign dignitaries’ state visits to India in 2014
Dates
Modi’s visits abroad
8–9 June
16–17 June
Modi visits Bhutan
13–16 July
Modi visits Brazil and
takes part in the BRICS
conference at Fortaleza
US State Secretary
John Kerry visits India
30 July–1 August
3–4 August
Modi visits Kathmandu
(Nepal)
United States Secretary
of Defence Chuck
Hagel visits India
7–9 August
30 August–3 September
Visits from foreign
dignitaries
China’s Foreign
Minister Wang Yi visits
India
Modi visits Kyoto and
Tokyo (Japan)
and religious organizations created on 9 March 1993 as a political front which,
according to its own constitution, aims, through peaceful struggle, to obtain the
exercise of the right of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir,
in accordance with the UN Charter and the resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council. The Hurriyat Constitution states that the right of self-determination
also includes the right of independence and that, in order to arrive at a negotiated
settlement, all three parties involved in the Kashmir dispute – India, Pakistan and
the Kashmiri people – should take part in the negotiations.
259 ‘India calls off foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan’, Dawn, 18 August 2014.
308
India
Tony Abbott, Prime
Minister of Australia,
visits India
4–5 September
11–12 September
Modi takes part in
the SCO meeting at
Dushanbe (Tajikistan)
Chinese President Xi
Jinping visits India
17–19 September
26–30 September
Modi visits the USA and
takes part in the UN
general assembly
Nguyen Tan Dung,
Prime Minister of
Vietnam, visits India
Daniel Kablan Duncan,
Irish Prime Minister,
visits India
27–28 October
4 November
11–13 November
14–18 November
Modi visits Naypyidaw
(Myanmar) and takes
part in the East Asia
Summit
Modi visits Brisbane,
Canberra, Melbourne
and Sydney (Australia)
and takes part in the
G20 summit
19 November
Modi visits Suva (Fiji)
25–27 November
Modi visits Kathmandu
(Nepal) for the SAARC
summit
10–11 December
Russian President
Vladimir Putin visits
India
Sources: Indian and international press; Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
8.1. The US-WTO-Russia axis
For quite some time after the 2002 Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom,
Narendra Modi had been kept at arm’s length by the Western countries.
However, parallel with the rise of Modi’s political star in India, the antiModi wall in the West had started crumbling.260 The US – which had canThe first Western nations to end the ban on Modi had been Denmark and
Sweden in 2008; Great Britain, France and Germany had followed suit in 2012.
Harsh V. Pant, ‘Modi’s unexpected boost to India-U.S. Relations’, The Washington
260 309
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
celled Modi’s visa in 2005 – had been the last important nation to move
away from its former anti-Modi position; eventually, in February 2014,
namely before the conclusion of the Indian general election campaign,
US Ambassador Nancy Powell had visited Modi, ending a nine-year boycott.261
Immediately after Modi’s victory, before the oath-taking ceremony,
US President Barack Obama had congratulated the new Indian prime
minister on the phone, inviting him to visit the United States in September.262 This had been followed by US Secretary of State John Kerry’s
statement on 20 May 2014, publicly congratulating Modi and pointing
out that the US stood «ready to work closely» with the new Indian premier «to promote shared prosperity», namely economic cooperation, and
«strengthen our security», namely bringing India more firmly into the
arc of containment which the US was building around China.263 This had
been followed by the official announcement (28 July 2014) that Kerry
would visit New Delhi for the 5th US-India Strategic Dialogue and meet
the new Indian prime minister, heading an important delegation, which
included US Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker.264
Nevertheless, already before the official announcement of Kerry’s visit
to New Delhi, the new Indian government took a momentous decision
bound to irritate the US. At the WTO ministerial conference held in Bali
in December 2013, a consensus had been reached on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), namely a trade facilitation agreement aimed at reducing and
standardizing customs and simplifying related bureaucratic rules. Once
implemented by all the WTO countries, the agreement would reduce the
total costs of trade between 13 and 15% for developing countries, and
more than 10% for developed countries, creating an estimated number
of 21 million new jobs and adding approximately USD one trillion to the
global economy.265
Already at Bali, reaching the agreement – the first in the 19-year existence of the WTO – had been made difficult by India’s insistence on
a parallel pact. This pact would allow developing countries to subsidize
and stockpile foodgrains for food security reasons, in amounts potentially
Quarterly, 37:3, 2014, p. 96.
261 ‘Ambassador Nancy Powell meets Narendra Modi, ends 9-year US boycott’,
DNA, 13 February 2014.
262 ‘Barack Obama’s phone call ended frosty ties with Narendra Modi: Kathleen
Stephens’, The Economic Times, 20 August 2014.
263 The quotations are from ‘Narendra Modi named Prime Minister of India’, Wall
Street Journal, 20 May 2014; their interpretation is that of the present authors.
264 U.S. Department of State, ‘Secretary Kerry Travel to New Delhi for Strategic
Dialogue’, Jen Psaki’s Press Statement, 28 July 2014.
265 ‘India’s resistance to key trade agreement deal «major blow» to WTO’, Deutsche
Welle, 1 August 2014; ‘Assessing the impact of the US-India food security deal’,
Deutsche Welle, 13 November 2014.
310
India
bigger than that sanctioned by WTO rules. According to these rules, the
value of subsidies aimed at maintaining public stockholding of foodgrains
could grow only up to 10% of the value of agricultural production, calculated with reference to 1986-88 prices. Breaking through that ceiling
would invite heavy financial sanctions.
This was an impending risk for India, particularly after the enactment,
on 12 September 2013, of the Food Security Act, which was bound to raise
food subsidies. 266 Hence, in December 2013, at Bali, Anand Sharma, then
India’s Industry and Commerce Minister, heading the so-called G-33
group,267 had fought a spirited battle to gain a «peace clause», namely an
agreement that, while standing, would suspend any legal challenge to the
food subsidy policy of any WTO country.
Eventually, a four-year «peace clause» had been agreed, a clear victory
for India, but only a tactical one. In fact, in 2017, the whole question was
to be examined once again, without any assurance that India could win
the war, namely to be exempted from the ceiling on food stockholding
and food subsidies.268
This being the situation, Narendra Modi, in one of his first decisions
as premier, rather than waiting for 2017, decided immediately to rejoin
battle on the issue. Clearly, he had come to the conclusion that it was better to confront a challenge which, anyway, he was bound to face in 2017,
while enjoying all the political strength given to him by his recent and
conspicuous electoral victory.
On 21 July 2014 – some days in advance of Kerry’s arrival in New
Delhi, and 10 days before the deadline set for the final ratification of the
Bali agreement by the WTO nations – the news started to circulate that,
unless a more satisfactory solution was found for the problem of allowing
developing countries to maintain their food-security-related public stockholding of foodgrains, India would not ratify the FTA.269 As ratification
by all the 153 WTO countries was imperative for the FTA becoming part
of the WTO rules, this meant that India was ready to kill the agreement
(and, as a result, possibly the WTO itself), unless it got its way.
In challenging the WTO consensus, Modi was possibly betting on the
fact that his decision, although bound to trigger the ire of the US, was of
less import to the Obama administration than the need to «reboot» the
US–India connection. If that was Modi’s wager, it undoubtedly paid off.
On the political and legislative process leading to the Food Security Act, see M.
Torri, ‘L’India nell’anno della legge sulla sicurezza alimentare’, pp. 98-121.
267 In fact, the G-33 was a grouping of 46 developing nations including China
and Indonesia. See ‘Food security non-negotiable: Anand Sharma’, The Hindu, 4
December 2013.
268 On the Bali agreement, ibid., pp. 156-59.
269 ‘India willing to stall WTO deal to ensure food security for all’, Hindustan Times,
24 July 2014.
266 311
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
The decision not to sign the Bali agreement unless the agricultural subsidies question was satisfactorily resolved did trigger the ire of most WTO
member states. In fact, the situation became so tense that rumours started to circulate that the consensus principle on which the WTO operated
could be given up in favour of a policy of partial agreements, which would
«leave behind those that don’t want to come along».270 Kerry himself, at
the end of his visit in Delhi, let the US displeasure be known, through the
statement of a US State Department official.271 However, India did not
budge in spite of «tremendous pressure from other WTO members».272
Certainly, it is a fact that, notwithstanding Kerry’s warning, India’s
stand at the WTO did not seem to affect the ongoing blossoming of the
Washington–New Delhi relationship. The same US State Department official who had conveyed Kerry’s warning about India’s decision not to
ratify the FTA nevertheless stressed that the Kerry–Modi meeting had
been «strong and positive».273 In fact, Kerry’s visit was closely followed
by that of US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel (7-9 August 2014), which
highlighted the growing importance of the huge US arms sales to India
and signalled the possible injection of US investments in the burgeoning
India defence sector.274 This was followed, in September, by the sending
of a team of the Indian Defence Ministry to Washington, «reportedly with
the aim of finalizing details for Indo-US joint production of the third
generation Javelin anti-tank missile».275
All these diplomatic exchanges, although significant, were only the
prelude to the crucially important official visit by Narendra Modi. A politician who, only one year before, was unable to obtain a visa to enter the US,
now went to a five-day long official visit in that same country, receiving red
carpet treatment from the US authorities and a rousing reception from the
bulk of the influential, 2.8 million strong Indian-American community.276
During his visit Modi had two main objectives: attracting US private investment to India and renewing and expanding defence cooperation between the two countries. Modi pursued the former objective by meeting the
‘Disappointment, uncertainty after India blocks WTO trade deal’, Reuters, 1
August 2014.
271 ‘Failure to sign the Trade Facilitation Agreement – declared a State Department official – sent a confusing signal and undermined the very image Prime Minister Modi is trying to send about India’. See ‘India refusal on WTO deal a wrong
signal: John Kerry to Narendra Modi’, DNA, 1 August 2014.
272 ‘Assessing the impact of the US-India food security deal’.
273 ‘India refusal on WTO deal a wrong signal’.
274 ‘US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visits India’, The Diplomat, 8 August
2014.
275 Keith Jones, ‘US elite rolls out red carpet for Indian PM Modi’, World Socialist
Web Site, 30 September 2014.
276 For a detailed chronicle of Modi’s US visit, see ‘Narendra Modi: The million
dollar US visit’, The Free Press Journal, 1 October 2014.
270 312
India
CEOs (Chief Executive Officers) of several leading organizations both in
New York and Washington. During these meetings, Modi successfully strived
to convince the representatives of «America Inc.» that, in India, times had
changed, «archaic» labour laws and bureaucratic impediments to the full
deployment of international capital were on the way out, and, on top of it all,
India was now ready to discuss modifications to its nuclear liability act.277
The objective of renewing and expanding defence cooperation was
arrived at through the renewal of the 2005 cooperation agreement for
an additional 10-year period and the decision by the US to make available advanced military technology to the Indian navy.278 Moreover, in the
joint declaration that concluded Modi’s visit, it was stated that the US and
India would «treat each other at the same level as their closer partners»
on questions such as «defense technology, trade, research, co-production
and co-development».279 Finally, the two countries, in a statement clearly
aimed at China, stressed their support for freedom of navigation in the
South China Sea.280
Modi’s triumphal visit was capped by his «wonderful» meeting with
Barack Obama on 29 September 2014,281 followed the next day by the
quite unprecedented publication in The Washington Post of a joint editorial
by the US president and the Indian premier.282
While Modi was visiting the US, the WTO question had resurfaced as
a matter of preoccupation for US entrepreneurs.283 However, Modi had
reiterated India’s stand in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations,
saying that, while India was not against a trade facilitation agreement, it
could not but take into account the welfare of its poor people. This, in
Modi had signalled his decision to modify the Nuclear Liability Act already on
the eve of his departure for the US. See ‘Nuclear liability law signal before take-off
for US’, The Telegraph, 26 September 2014. Concrete steps in that direction were
taken after his US trip. See ‘Private firms to join US nuke talks’, The Telegraph, 17
October 2014. On the topic, see also ‘Nuclear liability laws strain U.S.-India energy
policy’, The Washington Times, 30 September 2014. More generally, on the interaction between Modi and the leading US CEOs see: ‘Power-pitch to U.S. CEOs’, The
Hindu, 30 September 2014; ‘Modi promises U.S. CEOs a return to market reforms’,
Reuters, 30 September 2014; ‘US elite rolls out red carpet’; ‘Modi to America Inc:
Will use SC coal order to clean up, look ahead’, The Indian Express, 30 September
2014; ‘Upbeat mood persists after Modi visit’, The Hindu, 3 October 2014.
278 Pant, ‘Modi’s unexpected boost’, p. 107.
279 Ibid.
280 Ibid.
281 The expression is that of Modi himself. E.g. ‘Wonderful meeting Obama, says
Modi after «Kem Chho» greeting’, Deccan Herald, 30 September 2014.
282 Narendra Modi and Barack Obama, ‘A renewed US-Partnership for the 21st
century’, The Washington Post, 30 September 2014.
283 ‘Modi promises U.S. CEOs a return to market reforms’, Reuters, 30 September
2014.
277 313
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
turn, made it imperative for India that the agreements on trade facilitation and food security be secured together.284
In spite of the persistence of the WTO hurdle, some of the most perceptive India-watchers were convinced that, behind the scenes, India and
the US were working together on brokering a compromise on the FTA.285
That, indeed, some kind of behind-the-scenes negotiation had been going on became clear on 13 November 2014, when India and the US announced that they had reached an agreement on the WTO question. More
than a compromise, however, the India-US agreement was an unqualified
acceptance of India’s position. In fact, in exchange for India’s ratification
of the FTA and waiting for a final solution of the food stockpiling subsidies, the «peace clause» would now have an indefinite timeframe.286
Clearly, Modi’s bet had paid off: economic and strategic cooperation
with India was more important for the US than keeping faith with the
neoliberal orthodoxy prohibiting food subsidies to agriculture. Of course,
the bilateral US–India agreement had to be accepted by the WTO; but,
given the US’s clout in the organization, the end result was not in doubt.
In fact, on 27 November 2014, the WTO’s General Council «unequivocally» agreed to the indefinite «peace clause»; the fact that on the same
occasion 31 December 2015 was set as the deadline to find a permanent
solution for public stockholding for food security purposes was only a
convenient fig leaf to cover the WTO’s complete surrender to India.287
Of course, this agreement represented a major political victory for
India, but most particularly for Narendra Modi, who had decided to challenge the majority of the WTO member states and had been successful.
Indeed it was such a complete victory as to make some observers wonder
how it could have been reached without any concession in return.288
In reality, a potentially conspicuous cost – although an indirect one
– brought about by the WTO victory and the increasingly close relationship with the US could be the deterioration of India’s relationship with
Russia, historically India’s oldest and most faithful ally. In fact, Russia
had followed with growing unease both the upgrading of the New Delhi–
Washington relationship and the US cornering an increasingly huge share
Ibid. and ‘PM’s address and interaction at Council on Foreign Relations in New
York’, 29 September 2014 (http://pmindia.gov.in/en/news_updates/pms-addressand-interaction-at-council-on-foreign-relations-in-new-york-city-2).
285 ‘Modi seeking to revive US investment in India’, Deutsche Welle, 26 September
2014.
286 ‘Assessing the impact of the US-India food security deal’.
287 ‘Success at WTO without any compromise: Nirmala Sitharaman’, The Hindu,
28 November 2014.
288 See, for example, the hardly disguised disbelief of Remya Nair and Elizabeth
Roche, the two authors of ‘India, US resolve WTO food security row’, Live Mint, 13
November 2014, who wrote of a deal won without any major concessions, ‘at least,
not to public knowledge’.
284 314
India
of the Indian weapons market.289 Moreover, Russia – hemmed in by Europe and subjected to the US and EU sanctions because of its Ukraine
policy – was clearly afraid that India’s support could ebb away, leaving an
increasingly isolated Russia over-dependent on Chinese support.290
These preoccupations were however put to rest by the short but extremely successful visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 10–11
December 2014, when 20 agreements «worth billions of dollars» were
signed.291 The contract between the Indian Department of Atomic Energy
and Russia’s Rosatom – aimed at building 12 nuclear reactors, beyond
the two already under construction at Kudankulam, by 2035 – was among
the most noteworthy among these agreements. Also worth noticing was
the agreement between India’s Essar and Russia’s Rosneft, engaging the
latter to supply 10 million tons of crude oil annually at a discount price.
Moreover, Indian companies signed a 2.1 billion US dollar pact to source
rough diamonds directly from Russia’s mining giant Alrosa (one of the
main diamond producers in the world) to Indian polishing and cutting
firms, without going through the main diamond hubs, such as Antwerp
and Dubai. Finally, Russia showed itself to be open to the Modi-sponsored
«Make in India» campaign, agreeing to produce in India and export from
there 400 Mi-17 medium lift and Ka-226 light utility helicopters to the
tune of 400 helicopters a year, and make in India the nuclear components
for the 12 new Russian-built reactors. 292 Finally, another topic very much
present in the Modi–Putin interaction was the necessity to address the
problem of either supplying or manufacturing in India spare parts for
Indian weapons of Russian origin. That was a crucial problem because
India still maintained 60–70% of its defence inventory from Russia hardware.293
This being the situation it does not come as a surprise to find Narendra Modi’s declaration (11 December 2014) that Russia was to remain
‘Should Russia worry about Modi’s U.S. visit?’, Russia & India Report, 1 October
2014.
290 In spite of this, in November, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu went
to Pakistan and signed a ‘milestone’ military agreement with his Pakistani counterpart. ‘Pakistan, Russia sign «milestone» military cooperation pact’, The Express
Tribune, 20 November 2014. That was possibly a way to jog India’s attention to the
danger of isolating Russia.
291 ‘Testing times for India-Russia ties’, The Hindu, 13 December 2014.
292 ‘Modi to Putin: Russia to stay India’s top defence partner’, Reuters, 11 December 2014; ‘Russia India: Putin agrees to build 10 [sic] nuclear reactors’, BBC News
India, 11 December 2014; ‘Sanctions-hit Putin seals energy deals in India’, Daily
Mail, 11 December 2014; ‘Vladimir Putin’s productive India visit’, The Diplomat, 12
December 2014.
293 ‘Testing times for India-Russia ties’, for the higher estimate and ‘Russia need
not worry as India-US ties poised for higher trajectory’, RT.com, 11 August 2014
for the lower one.
289 315
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
India’s «top defence supplier» and that the importance of the India-Russia relationship and «its unique place in India’s foreign policy will not
change».294 Also Modi reassured Putin that India would continue to oppose Western sanctions against Russia.295 Both the multi-million-dollar
agreements and Modi’s political assurances to Putin were the clear cut
demonstration that India’s increasingly close entente with the US would
not come at Russia’s expense.296
8.2. The China-engagement/China-containment axis
The other main axis around which Narendra Modi’s foreign policy
has been organized is the relationship with the People’s Republic of China. This was a relationship which had two different aspects: engagement
and containment. During the period under review, it became clear that, if,
on one hand, Modi was interested in strengthening and rebalancing the
economic connection with India’s giant neighbour in the North, on the
other hand he perceived China as a military and political threat, which
had to be put under control.
All this became evident in due course. At the moment of Modi’s electoral victory, however, the way in which he would deal with China was anybody’s guess. On one side there was the fact that, while the major Western
countries had banned Modi, China had welcomed him with open arms. In
fact Modi, who had already been to China once before becoming Gujarat
chief minister, in that capacity officially visited it three times (in 2006,
2007 and 2011), always being received with the highest honours. Indeed,
in the years of Modi’s chief ministership, economic relations between
China and Gujarat flourished. It is true that, during the electoral campaign, while in Arunachal Pradesh (the Indian state that China reclaims
as «South Tibet»), Modi decried China’s expansionist mindset. However
that had been explained away by Chinese authorities as electoral campaign rhetoric. In fact, Modi’s election had been greeted with considerable satisfaction by China, and one Chinese commentator had gone so far
to hypothesize that the newly elected Indian prime minister was «likely to
‘Modi to Putin: Russia to stay India’s top defence partner’; ‘Putin pledges oil,
weapons and nuclear power for Modi in India’, Bloomberg, 11 December 2014.
295 ‘Putin pledges oil, weapons and nuclear power’.
296 Another clear cut hint in the same direction was the fact that the Prime Minister of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov arrived in India on Putin’s flight, to establish
contacts with Indian businesspeople. Officially, Aksyonov was not a member of
Putin’s delegation and, according to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, the
Indian government was ‘not officially aware’ of his visit. See ‘Crimean PM meets
Indian business group in New Delhi during Putin visit’, The Hindu, 11 December
2014. But, of course, it is difficult to think that the visit could have been arranged
without the Indian government’s previous knowledge and assent.
294 316
India
become India’s Nixon».297 On the other hand, those same Indian big businessmen which had so powerfully and decisively supported Modi in his
elevation to the prime ministership were clearly in favour of the rebooting of India-US ties and the continuation of India-Japan ties.298 In other
words, they were in favour of a policy which could not but alarm Beijing.
To this it must be added that the RSS leadership was traditionally hostile
to China and that, by and large, Indian public opinion had consistently
been against China at least since the 1962 Sino-Indian war.
China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang, within three days of Modi’s victory, was the first head of government to phone him. This was followed
by a two-day visit in New Delhi (8–9 June 2014) of China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, aimed at preparing for the visit of Chinese President Xi
Jinping.299
However, even before Wang set foot in India, Modi had signalled that
any China engagement policy on his part would come accompanied by a
series of conditionalities. The first signal had been the induction in the
new government of former General V.K. Singh as Minister of State of External Affairs and Minister of State (independent charge) for the North
East Region, and the choice of former master spy Ajit Doval as National
Security Advisor. V.K. Singh, who was in charge of that same Arunachal
Pradesh reclaimed by China as «South Tibet», was a well-known hawk on
security issues, who had never concealed his aversion to China; on his
part, Doval was known for his proximity to the Tibetan cause.300 A second
even more evident signal had been the above quoted invitation to the
new Indian government swearing-in ceremony, along with the heads of
state of the SAARC countries, the prime minister of the Maldives, and
Lobsang Sangay, prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile from
27 April 2011.
Xi Jinping’s visit to India was planned for mid-September, rather later
than desired by China.301 Meanwhile, before Xi’s journey to India, Modi
made three visits abroad, which were relevant in understanding – and
making observers understand – where the new Indian prime minister really stood on the China question. Modi visited Bhutan on 16-17 June, and
M.K. Bhandrakumar, ‘Himalayan handshake for India’s Modi’, Asia Times, 5
June 2014. The reference was to the Republican US President who, in spite of being a right wing politician, had started the new phase of US-China engagement.
See also Jonathan Ward, ‘Chinese analysts interpret Modi’s new India’, China Brief,
14, 12, 19 June 2014.
298 Bhandrakumar, ‘Himalayan handshake for India’s Modi’.
299 Jayadeva Ranade, ‘Fresh overtures – Chinese Foreign Minister’s India visit’,
Centre for China Analysis & Strategy, 11 June 2014; ‘China: Foreign Minister’s India
trip has «great significance»’, The Diplomat, 11 June 2014.
300 Bhandrakumar, ‘Himalayan handshake for India’s Modi’.
301 R. Hariharan, ‘Strategising India’s foreign policy’, Chennai Centre for China
Studies, 2 December 2014.
297 317
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
Nepal on 3-4 August. Significantly, both Bhutan and Nepal are Himalayan countries which share their borders only with China and India. In
both cases it was clear Modi’s intention to bring those countries more
firmly inside the Indian orbit, in competition with China. More relevant,
however, was the third visit, which took Modi to Japan from 30 August to
3 September 2014, namely to a country whose relationship with China
had been steadily and conspicuously worsening in recent years.
As remarked above, India-Japan ties had been flourishing under the
UPA government, including its terminal period. Moreover, as in the case
of China, Modi was no foreigner to Japan, which he had visited twice as
Gujarat chief minister. Moreover, it seems, the new Indian prime minister enjoyed a close personal connection with Japan’s prime minister Abe
Shinzō.302 This being the situation, Modi’s visit to Japan was an almost total success. Japan promised to invest USD 35 billion in India over the next
five years and double its FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) during the same
period. Energy cooperation and military ties were upgraded. A «two-plustwo» security arrangement, namely regular meetings between foreign and
defence ministers, was decided. Also an agreement was signed, concerning the joint production of rare earths, a group of 17 chemically similar
elements crucial to the manufacturing of many hi-tech products, including mobile phones, hybrid cars, wind turbines and guided missiles. In
nature, rare earths are indeed less rare that one might assume from their
name; but their extraction is difficult and polluting, and, to a large extent,
monopolized by China, from where Japan used to supply its needs. However, the worsening of the Japan–China relationship had brought about
a diminution of China rare earth exports to Japan and Japan’s effort to
diversify its sources.303 Accordingly, the help of India, which owns 2.2%
of the world’s known reserves, was welcomed. The agreement signed between Indian Rare Earths, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Indian Department of Atomic Energy, and Japan’s Toyota Tsusho Corporation was
aimed at producing between 2000 and 2300 tons of rare earths in India,
to be preferentially exported to Japan, thus fulfilling around 15% of the
Japanese demand.304
The only visible snag in the successful outcome of Modi’s visit was
302 ‘New Dynamics’, Outlook, 31 July 2014. In this chapter, Japanese family names
are given first.
303 ‘Amid tension, China blocks vital exports to Japan’, The New York Times, 22
September 2010; Amy King and Shiro Armstrong, ‘Did China really ban rare earth
metals exports to Japan?’, East Asia Forum, 18 August 2013; ‘Japan loosens China’s
grip on rare earths supplies’, Reuters, 4 September 2014.
304 ‘Japan, India to jointly produce rare earth metals for export to Japan’, The
Japan Times, 29 August 2014. The fact that this agreement built on a previous one
signed by the UPA government (‘Japan signs pact to import rare earths from India
to reduce reliance on China’, The Economic Times, 16 November 2012) was conveniently forgotten by the Indian media.
318
India
his inability to finalize a nuclear energy agreement with Japan. At least
for the time being, that was prevented by the Japanese public opinion’s
sensitivity in relation to the fact that India was an atomic-weapons state
which had neither signed nor intended to sign the NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) and other nuclear weapons controlling agreements.305
Undoubtedly, Modi’s visit strengthened the Japan–India entente;
and this was an entente which could be read as aiming, among other
things, at containing China. The impression that, while waiting for Xi
Jinping’s visit, Modi had actively been promoting an India-sponsored
arc of containment around China was further reinforced by the official
visit to India of Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbot, who landed in
Delhi the day after Modi’s return from Japan. During his two-day visit,
Abbot signed an agreement (5 September 2014), engaging Australia to
export uranium ore to India. This agreement was accompanied by the
announcement of plans to increase security cooperation between India
and Australia.306
It was in this rather inauspicious context that Xi Jinping’s «landmark
visit to India» took place. It started with Xi’s arrival not in New Delhi, but,
in a highly symbolical move, in the capital of Gujarat, Ahmedabad, on 17
September 2014, namely Narendra Modi’s 64th birthday.307 Xi’s arrival
was followed by the signing of a host of economic agreements between the
two countries and China’s engagement to invest USD 20 billion for a fast
train corridor and a new strategic road in the next five years. Although a
sum decidedly inferior to that promised by Japan only a couple of weeks
before – and much lower than «over 100 billion dollars» hinted at by the
Chinese consulate in Mumbai only days earlier – it represented a dramatic improvement over the USD 400 million invested by China in India
during the previous ten years. On top of that, China agreed to spend a
further USD 6.8 billion on the construction of two industrial parks, one in
Gujarat and one in Maharashtra. Finally 24 Chinese companies engaged
to buy pharmaceuticals, farming and other India-made products, for an
additional USD 3.6 billion.308
Gauri Khandekar, ‘Modi’s foreign policy mantra: geoeconomics, regional hegemony, global aspirations’, Agora Asia-Europe, No. 17, November 2014, pp. 3-4.
On the difficulties in India-Japan nuclear relations see: Ankit Panda, ‘The nuclear problem in India-Japan relations’, The Diplomat, 31 October 2013; Bhaskar
Balakrishnan, ‘The nuclear thorn in India-Japan ties’, Business Line, 5 September
2014 David Brewster, ‘Japan may not be such an easy pushover on nuclear deal
with India’, East Asia Forum, 26 September 2014.
306 Peter Symonds, ‘Australia-India uranium deal strengthens economic and strategic ties’, World Socialist Web Site, 6 September 2014.
307 ‘PM Modi welcomes Xi Jinping in Ahmedabad; India, China sign 3 pacts’,
Times of India, 17 September 2014.
308 ‘Xi Jinping’s landmark visit to India’, Deutsche Welle, 19 September 2014; ‘Who
sabotaged Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India visit?’, Forbes, 23 September 2014.
305 319
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
These agreements signalled the existence of the reciprocal desire by
Modi and Xi to strengthen and upgrade the economic ties between the two
giant neighbours. Also, they seemed to open the path to a more cordial relationship between the two countries. However, in the late afternoon of 18
September 2014, the news became known that some 1000 Chinese soldiers
had intruded beyond the LAC («Line of Actual Control», namely the provisional India-China border) in southern Ladakh. Modi, while dispatching
troops on the spot, asked Xi – who, by the way, is the supreme commander
of the People’s Liberation Army– to withdraw Chinese troops.
In spite of Xi’s assent to Modi’s request, the following day – the one
concluding Xi’s Indian visit – Chinese troops were still on the Indian side
the LAC.309 It comes as no surprise that the cordial atmosphere between
the two leaders suddenly turned icy, and, in a «rather strong way to express to the world their lack of agreement», the visit ended with two separate communiqués.310
It is possible that – as argued by Forbes’s Eric Meyer – the whole incident was engineered by Xi’s internal enemies.311 But it had been the exact
replica of a similar incident that had taken place one year before, during
Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s visit to Delhi. This could not but
encourage China’s many enemies in India to vent their anger against the
neighbour of the North and caution India’s public opinion against the
danger of any appeasement with it.312
At the end of the day, the Chinese incursion in Ladakh could not
but give legitimacy to Modi’s decision to carry on with the containment
side of his China policy. In the period under review, the last significant
act of this policy was the tightening of India’s relationship with Vietnam, namely a state whose adversarial relationship with China has been
likened to the adversarial relationship existing between India and Pakistan.313
The relationship between India and Vietnam – two countries which
shared the preoccupation vis-à-vis a China, which was perceived as
harbouring hegemonic ambitions and with which both India and Vietnam had fought a war and had an unsolved problem of undefined
borders – has started to become increasingly close since 2000. In 2006,
ONGC Videsh Limited (India’s largest oil and gas exploration and
production company) obtained rights from Vietnam for block 127 and
128, namely for Vietnamese maritime territory which, however, was
claimed as its own by China. Moreover, in 2007, Vietnamese Prime
They were withdrawn only after Xi’s return to China.
‘Who sabotaged Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India visit?’
311 Ibid.
312 E.g. Namrata Goewami, ‘China bargains with Indian territory’, Asia Times, 19
September 2014.
313 Bharat Karnad, ‘Vietnam as India’s Pivot’, The New India Express, 31 October 2014.
309 310 320
India
Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited New Delhi, signing a strategic partnership agreement.314
No doubt, Modi intended not only to maintain the already robust
India-Vietnam connection, but to upgrade it. Already two days before Xi
Jinping’s arrival in India, on 15 September 2014, seven important agreements had been signed between India and Vietnam at the presence of
India’s President Pranab Mukherjee, then visiting Vietnam. These agreements strengthened the bilateral cooperation between the two countries
on the basis of a «strategic partnership» focused on political, defence and
security cooperation.315
On 27 and 28 November 2014, Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Vietnam was
reciprocated by Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s visit to New
Delhi, where the Vietnamese premier arrived accompanied by a large business delegation. Dung’s visit had a dual objective: one was diversifying and
expanding economic relations; the other was promoting and expanding
military and strategic cooperation. The latter aim had an anti-Chinese bent
that was clear to everybody. Certainly Modi, in his interaction with Dung,
gave pride of place to the military cooperation with Vietnam, which Modi
defined as among India’s «most important ones».316 In doing so, the Indian
premier stressed India’s commitment to modernize Vietnam’s defence forces; an aim that India would reach by making operational at the earliest the
USD 100 million line of credit opened during President Mukherjee’s visit
to Hanoi. 317 While the two premiers were discussing India-Vietnam military ties, ONGC Videsh Ltd and PetroVietnam signed a «Heads of Agreement» document «for mutual cooperation for exploration in PetroVietnam
Blocks 102/10 and 106/10 in the South China Sea».318 Although, unlike the
blocks previously given for exploration by Vietnam to India, Blocks 102/10
and 106/10 were not reclaimed by China, the agreement could not but be
viewed with distaste in Beijing, as China considers the South China Sea as
part of its own sphere of influence. Finally, the joint statement concluding
Dung’s visit had a distinctive anti-Chinese ring, asserting that the two premiers «agreed that freedom of navigation and overflight in the East [China]
Sea/South China Sea should not be impeded».319 This was a clear indication
that New Delhi and Hanoi jointly disapproved of China’s attempt to exFor an introduction to India-Vietnam ties, see Mohammad Samir Hussain and
Vinayak Subhash Lashkar, ‘India-Vietnam strategic partnership getting stronger’,
Turkish Weekly, 3 December 2011.
315 ‘India, Vietnam ink seven agreements’, The Times of India, 15 September
2014.
316 ‘Consolidate India-Vietnam ties’, The New Indian Express, 6 November 2014.
317 Ibid.
318 Kapil Patil, ‘India-Vietnam axis: Energy & geopolitical imperatives’, NAPSNet
Policy Forum, 8 December 2014.
319 Quoted in ‘Consolidate India-Vietnam ties’.
314 321
Michelguglielmo Torri e Diego Maiorano
pand its influence in the East China and South China seas, where such an
attempt was resisted in particular by Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines,
supported by the US.
***
Il presente capitolo analizza gli sviluppi politici ed economici in India nel
corso del 2014. L’anno in questione è stato caratterizzato dalle elezioni generali,
tenute per la 16ª volta dal raggiungimento dell’indipendenza. Tali elezioni hanno
visto la catastrofica sconfitta del partito del Congresso, al potere nel corso delle due
precedenti legislature, e la brillante vittoria del BJP, guidato da Narendra Modi.
Le ragioni e le conseguenze di questo esito elettorale sono analizzate in dettaglio,
non solo attraverso la trattazione dello scontro elettorale a livello panindiano,
ma mediante lo studio di tre studi di caso, rappresentati dalle elezioni nell’Uttar
Pradesh e nel Bihar (dove il BJP ha vinto non contro il Congresso, ma contro
potenti partiti regionali a base castale) e nell’Andhra Pradesh (dove il Congresso
ha perso non contro il BJP – che in quello stato è una forza politica irrilevante –
ma contro i partiti locali). Il saggio si sofferma poi sul funzionamento del nuovo
governo guidato da Narendra Modi, mettendo in luce il processo di accentramento
dei poteri nelle mani del nuovo primo ministro e del PMO (Prime Minister Office)
che lo caratterizza. Viene inoltre messo in luce come l’azione del governo Modi sia
stata caratterizzata dall’attuazione dell’agenda «culturale» del fondamentalismo/
nazionalismo indù. Anche se realizzata seguendo strategie di basso profilo, tale
politica ha già avuto il risultato di portare ad un peggioramento nei rapporti fra
le diverse comunità religiose.
Il capitolo passa poi ad analizzare l’andamento dell’economia, dimostrando
come la ripresa economica fosse iniziata prima della conquista del potere da parte
di Modi e come molti dei positivi sviluppi della seconda metà dell’anno siano stati
frutto anche del crollo del prezzo del petrolio a livello internazionale. Infine, il
capitolo analizza la politica estera indiana, sottolineando il nuovo dinamismo ad
essa impresso da Modi e analizzandola come incentrata intorno a due assi: quello
volto a realizzare un avvicinamento con gli USA, senza per altro rinunciare a
difendere gli interessi dell’India nell’ambito della World Trade Organization e
senza mettere in pericolo il tradizionale legame con la Russia, e l’asse volto a
costruire un arco di contenimento intorno alla Cina, evitando per altro uno scontro
frontale con Pechino.
322
Nepal 2013-14: breaking the political impasse
Enrica Garzilli
Asia Maior - An Italian think tank on Asia
[email protected]
1. Introduction
In 2014, Nepal was headed towards a resolution of the problems that
caused the political and constitutional impasse of 2012 and 2013. The
first Constituent Assembly resolved on May 28, 2012, before drafting
the new Constitution, to replace the interim Constitution of 2007. This
brought the country to a political deadlock. In March 2013, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai stepped down to facilitate the election process of
the second Constituent Assembly. Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi was appointed to serve as de facto prime minister and to form a new government.
The results of the election – which was held in November 2013 – saw the
emergence of the Nepali Congress as the leading party, closely followed
by the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist), and this
brought the country to another period of political deadlock. In February
2014, a new coalition government was formed under the new Prime Minister, Sushil Koirala, who replaced Regmi, ending the political impasse.
Koirala established, as his main task, the drafting of the Constitution.
On November 27, at a press briefing at the end of the SAARC summit,
he said that the Nepali parties were trying to find a consensus in order
to promulgate the Constitution by January 22, 2015. Other key goals of
the Koirala government were economic development and completing the
peace process through the investigation and persecution of human rights
abusers during the civil war (1996-2006). During the first half of 2014,
following the election of the second Constituent Assembly, Nepal’s economy stabilised. New input for development also resulted from improved
relations with India. In his two visits to the country in 2014, Indian Prime
Minister Narendra Modi signed important economic agreements to develop Nepal’s hydropower potential and to buy electricity to help tackle
India’s energy shortages, and also provided Nepal with a $1 billion line of
credit for various development purposes.
Enrica Garzilli
2. An Ongoing Political Impasse
The political deadlock which paralysed the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal due to the lack of a Constitution and ongoing quarrels
between the parties continued during the first months of 2013.1 As has
been rightly noted, Nepal’s political parties «have been unable to agree
even on a regular annual budget».2
The 1st Nepalese Constituent Assembly, which was elected in May
2008, had the task of writing a new Constitution and acting as the interim
legislature. However, the Parliament did not succeed in its mission to draft
a new Constitution, and eventually, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai
dissolved the Constituent Assembly on May 28, 2012. The major points of
disagreement were whether the government should be central or federal,
and the division of regions. The Maoists parties and those that represent
the Madhesi people (who inhabit the Terai region) demanded a federation of single-ethnicity states, while the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) demanded a smaller
number of states based on multiple ethnicities.
Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal
(Maoist), one of the key players in the Maoist insurgency and the 35th
Prime Minister, serving from August 2011 to March 2013, had scheduled the 2nd Nepalese Constituent Assembly elections for November 22,
2012, but the vote was put off by the Election Commission. Once again,
the country was without a functional government and without a Constitution. The two mainstream political parties, namely, the Communist Party
of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) and the Nepali Congress, had long
quarrelled about conducting an election under the authority of Bhattarai.
The dispute between the parties twice led to a postponement of the elections. Nepal was and is still ruled under an Interim Constitution.3
In March 2013, Bhattarai agreed to step down to ease the election process, and all of the major parties agreed to form an interim government led
by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Khil Raj Regmi, and a council
of ministers chosen by him, although the interim Constitution does not allow for a provisional government led by a Chief Justice. The appointment
raised many doubts in the country. First, the parties were criticised for not
working together to build democracy and to draft the Constitution, but instead being driven by their obsession with power. Doubts were raised about
bringing a judicial figure into the political domain. Moreover, Regmi’s appointment was proposed by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachan1 Enrica Garzilli, ‘Nepal, stallo politico e lentezze nella realizzazione del processo
di pace e di riconciliazione’, Asia Maior 2012, pp. 213-221.
2 ‘Steep political odds face mountainous Nepal’, Al Jazeera, 20 February 2013 (http://
www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/02/2013220121352455298.html).
3 Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007
(http://www.worldstatesmen.org/Nepal_Interim_Constitution2007.pdf).
324
Nepal
da, the Chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), an
ex-leader of the guerrilla war against the royal government, who served as
Prime Minister from 2008 to 2009. Because the idea to appoint the Chief
Justice to the role of interim Prime Minister came from Prachanda, this
raised some suspicion that the move was part of a Maoist conspiracy to coopt the judiciary. According to an editorial published in the Nepali Times,
«[i]t was a proposal by one party that wanted to remove the last remaining
hurdle in its quest for absolute power. After dissolving the assembly, buying into media, coopting the police, appeasing the army, infiltrating the
bureaucracy, only the Supreme Court was standing in the way».4 Voices were
raised to comment that the Chief Justice should not have accepted the proposal, as it was «ethically wrong».5
After a mechanism was proposed to oversee his government until
the day of the election of the new Constituent Assembly-cum-Parliament,
Regmi, too, expressed reservations about heading the interim government
unless he could have a free hand in choosing his ministers. It was also proposed that, if the interim government failed to hold the election by the first
week of June, it would be dissolved. Regmi’s fear was that he would only be
used as a proxy to endorse the decisions made by the main parties. Every
political force and the civil society agreed on the need for fresh elections for
a new Constituent Assembly to finally draft the Constitution, but this time,
on some solid basis of agreement, which could lead to a result shared by
the majority of the parties that had emerged in the first election. The three
main parties were the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – which
originated out of the fusion, in 2009, of the Communist Party of Nepal
(Maoist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unity Centre-Masal) – followed in the second position by the Nepali Congress, and in the third position, by the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). Elections for the sake of elections that were to be held on June 21, 2013 would
not solve the matter, and it would be better to give the new Chairman of
the Interim Election Council, namely, PM Khil Raj Regmi, enough time to
organise free and fair voting, even if it occurred later in the year.
3. New Interim Government: Chief Judge Khil Raj Regmi’s Appointment as
Chairman
The quarrels between the parties and the impossibility of drafting the
new Constitution caused widespread disillusionment among the Nepali
people against the main political parties and their leaders. According to
a Himalmedia Public Opinion Poll 2013 which was carried out over a
period of one week in mid-February in 38 districts for a total of 3,508
‘Electing to go for elections’, Nepali Times, 22-28 February 2013.
Daman Nath Dhungana, former Parliament speaker, as reported in ‘Steep political odds face mountainous Nepal’, Al Jazeera, 20 February 2013.
4 5 325
Enrica Garzilli
respondents, reflecting the proportionality of Nepal’s ethnicities, geography, gender, age, and literacy, 61,1% of the respondents thought that democracy was under threat, and 39,4% of the respondents thought that the
major reason was the wrangling among political parties. Of the disputes
among the parties, 15% of the respondents assigned responsibility to the
Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), led by Chairman Pushpa
Kamal Dahal, and 9,1% indicated foreign interference (85,3% indicating
meddling from India). More than half of the respondents did not trust
the party leaders, and 10,19% wanted to have an independent candidate.6
It was time for the political leadership to take action.
Despite the criticism of the Nepal Bar Association and the protests of a
dozen fringe political parties, which on June 14 called a general strike in the
Kathmandu Valley to protest against the formation of the government under a chief justice, the major parties finally agreed on the name of the chairman of the Interim Election Council. This agreement was part of an 11point deal reached by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the
Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist)
and the United Democratic Madhesi Front. The last group mentioned was
a coalition composed of three Madhesh-based political parties, the Madhesi
Jana Adhikar Forum, Nepal (also called the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum,
Nepal), and two minor parties: the Tarai-Madhesh Loktantrik Party and the
Sadbhavana Party. The parties also agreed to hold the election on June 21,
or to postpone the date until November in case of a lack of agreement.
On March 14, 2013, Chief Judge of the Supreme Court Khil Raj Regmi was sworn in by President Ram Baran Yadav, the 1st President of Nepal
(serving from July 2008 and still incumbent). Regmi’s service as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was unanimously considered beyond reproach;
however, his capacity as a leader was doubted because of his failure to appoint judges in the Supreme Court during his 22 months as head of the
Judicial Council, and his legal reconciliatory approach was considered a
weak point.7 Regmi was charged with leading a new interim government
and supervising the elections, to be held in three months, by June 21,
2013, and he became de facto prime minister. This brought the impasse
between the four main political parties to an end.8
Foreign countries, including the UK, India, China, Switzerland, and
the USA, welcomed the agreement among the four major political parties.
‘A wide open field’, Nepali Times, 15-21 March 2013.
‘CJ Regmi sworn in as chairman of interim election council’, The Himalayan
Times, 14 March 2013
(http://www.thehimalayantimes.com/fullNews.php?headline=CJ+Regmi+sworn+
in+as+chairman+of+interim+election+council+&NewsID=369313).
8 As noted above, in March 2013, the four main parties were, in order of importance, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the Nepali Congress, the
Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), and the United Democratic
Madhesi Front.
6 7 326
Nepal
As stressed by the US Embassy’s statement congratulating the Nepalese
people, the agreement on a Chief Justice-led government was «a complex
and challenging process and we commend the parties for their willingness to make the compromises necessary to achieve this important political
milestone».9
Besides the appointment of Regmi, the top leaders of the four major
political parties who signed the 11-point deal also agreed on two other
key issues: forming a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to provide
transitional justice and updating the voters’ list before the polls. Regmi’s
main political task was to hold the elections, and in his first speech, he
urged all parties and the civil society to cooperate in the process. Despite
being criticised as a weak leader, his nonpartisan status actually helped
the country to head towards elections.
Immediately after being appointed, Regmi included two former bureaucrats in the Cabinet, and five days after his election, he included eight
more ministers and allotted them portfolios, after the High-Level Political Committee Coordinator agreed on their names. A few days after his
appointment, in fact, Regmi had set up a High-level Political Committee
to help the Interim Election Council. The eight-member committee has
two each from the four major political parties, Unified Communist Party
of Nepal (Maoist), Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified
Marxist–Leninist) and United Democratic Madhesi Front. It was presided
over by the Chairman of UCPN-Maoist Pushpa Kamal Dahal. There was
a major effort to overcome the difficulties that had brought the country to
a political and constitutional crisis.10 The first Cabinet chaired by Regmi
pledged to hold free, fair and inclusive elections in June in order to reflect
the will of the Nepalese people. The Cabinet requested the political parties who had opposed Regmi’s election to get engaged in the Constituent
Assembly elections, and it appealed to civil society and the media to create a favourable environment for the elections.
4. The Second Constituent Assembly and the New Government
On June 13, 2013, the Interim Election Government formed in March
and headed by Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi announced that the election
of the new Constituent Assembly, a unicameral body tasked with drafting
a new Constitution and serving as the country’s Parliament, would occur
on November 19, 2013. The lack of a political consensus had forced a
deadline extension from the planned June 2013 election.
9 ‘India, China, US laud CJ govt deal’, Ekantipur, 14 March 2014
(http://www.ekantipur.com/2013/03/15/top-story/india-china-us-laud-cj-govtdeal/368455.html).
10 Enrica Garzilli, ‘Nepal, stallo politico e lentezze nella realizzazione del processo
di pace e di riconciliazione’, Asia Maior 2012, pp. 213-221.
327
Enrica Garzilli
Out of the 139 political parties registered in May at the Nepal Election
Commission, 76 were new ones, a sure signal that the democratic debate was
florid. They did not exist during the first Constituent Election of May 28,
2008. However, despite the support of the four major political parties, there
was still no consensus on the November elections. The new Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), a new party formed in 2012 from a split from the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and holding the same name as the
Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), merged into the Unified Communist
Party of Nepal (Maoist), did not register in the Election Commission, saying
that the election was not possible under the current political situation. An
alliance of 33 smaller political parties led by Mohan Baidya, the Chairman
of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), issued a statement declaring that
«the Government was unconstitutional as it was formed through an unconstitutional Presidential decree and holding an election on the basis of such a
decree is akin to pushing the country towards further crisis».11 They wanted
a party-led government and wanted to postpone the elections.
The Terai groups advocating Terai separatism and Madhesi self-determination declared their agenda, endorsing an eight-point course of
action aimed at disrupting the Constituent Assembly polls. The problem
of the inclusion of the marginalised Terai groups in the constitutional
process and the number of ethnicity-based regions have been present in
Nepal since the beginning of the democratic debate regarding drafting a
new Constitution to replace the interim Constitution of 2007.12
In August, the monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal announced
the launch of a nationwide signature campaign in October to demand the
return of the monarchy. There were strikes and violent protests by the opposition parties in the months before the elections, and all of the electoral
constituencies along the 1,700 Km border with India were kept under
special surveillance in view of the elections.13
Some 12,21 million people from 102 castes and ethnic groups, speaking 92 languages, voted in the second Constituent Assembly. The Assembly was enlarged to 601 seats to ensure the highest degree of participation
of the parties by instituting a 60/40 ratio for proportional and first-pastthe-post representations. A total of 30 parties and 2 independents were
represented. The Nepali Congress, which had been the second party in
the first elections, emerged as the largest party, winning 105 of the 240
S. Binodkumar Singh, ‘Nepal: Moving towards elections – analysis’, Eurasiareview, 15 July 2013 (http://www.eurasiareview.com/15072013-nepal-moving-towardselections-analysis/).
12 Enrica Garzilli, ‘Nepal, la difficile costruzione della nazione: un paese senza
Costituzione e un Parlamento senza Primo ministro’, Asia Maior 2010, pp. 161-179.
13 ‘Nepal strike shuts down capital Kathmandu’, BBC News Asia, 12 September
2013 (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-24059900); ‘Nepal opposition supporters held in pre-poll violence’, BBC News Asia, 12 November 2013
(http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-24911119).
11 328
Nepal
seats of the first-past-the-post seats and 91 proportional seats, for a total
of 196 seats. It was closely followed by the Communist Party of Nepal
(Unified Marxist-Leninist), which won a total of 175 seats. The Unified
Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) had a total of 80 seats, and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal received 24 seats. In November, Pushpa Kamal
Dahal, the Chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist),
demanded that the vote counting be stopped, claiming elections fraud,
and asked for an independent investigation, refusing to participate in the
Constituent Assembly if his demands were not met. The Election Commission, however, ruled out a revote or recount.14
The election manifesto released by the Nepali Congress in October
stated that a new Constitution was to be drafted within a year of the election and that it would establish multiparty competition, periodic elections,
separation of powers, press freedom, a transparent and inclusive governing
system, a federal structure, including two provinces in the southern plains
or Terai, and a focus on the economic development of the country.
The elections brought the country to another period of political deadlock
because no party had won a clear majority, although, in December, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) agreed to join the Constituent Assembly and to participate in writing the final chapters of the Constitution.
The results of the elections showed that the forces that have been fighting for an identity-based federalism, namely, the Unified Communist Party
of Nepal (Maoist) and the Madhesi parties, had been defeated, although
they had been confirmed as significant forces. The Terai, or Madhesh, region begins at the Indian border and includes the southernmost part of
the intensively farmed Gangetic Plain. The region is the breadbasket of the
country and is the main link between Nepal and its biggest trading partner,
India. The Madhesi parties wanted a single and separate province spanning
the southern third of the country from east to west. However, in the elections, the Nepali Congress emerged as the strongest force in the Madesh,
although the party had always opposed ethnicity-based federalism, warning
that it could lead to conflicts between the various ethnic groups.
On February 10, the Chairman of the Nepali Congress, Sushil Koirala,
a member of the party since 1955, was elected Prime Minister by the Constituent Assembly, ending months of political crisis. He secured 405 votes,
although 148 representatives of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal
(Maoist), the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal and some small parties
in the Maoist-led alliance voted against him. Regmi resigned as interim
prime minister and as chief justice, because the Nepal Bar Association
said that he could no longer serve as chief justice.
Koirala was known as a «clean politician» with a reputation for having
an austere lifestyle, and there was a large echo in the country when he said
‘Vote fraud is claimed by Maoists in Nepal’, The New York Times, 21 November
2013.
14 329
Enrica Garzilli
that he could list just three mobile phones as his assets, as he did not possess
land, houses, financial investments or even a bank account. His main task
was to bring the country to stability. He pledged to give the nation a new
federal democratic Constitution and to use all of its resources for economic
development. After long negotiations with the Communist Party of Nepal
(Unified Marxist-Leninist), the second largest party in the Constituent Assembly, to ensure the strongest possible support to draft the Constitution,
at the end of February, Koirala formed a new coalition government of 21
ministers from the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). The new government was criticised because, despite
electoral promises to include women, and ethnic and linguistic minorities,
only two ministers were women, both from Terai, and none were from the far
west, the poorest area of the country. The major tasks of the new government,
besides drafting the new Constitution, were holding local body elections to
vote for local people’s representatives, which had been delayed for 16 years,
and completing the peace process, including the formation of the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission and the Commission on the Disappeared to
provide transitional justice.15 In March, a 145-point common minimum programme of the coalition government, a 13-point ethical code of conduct for
the ministers - including the prime minister - to ensure austerity and good
governance, and a 10-point method for running the administration in a
transparent way, were announced. The programme was a commitment of the
ruling parties to complete the political process and to improve the economy.
In August, the Chief Election Commissioner, Neel Kantha Uprety, said that
the Election Commission was ready to conduct the local body elections within
the next three months, only after the political parties arrived at a consensus,
adding that the system of local body elections was more complicated than
that of the Constituent Assembly elections.16
5. New Hopes for the Economy
The Nepali economy stabilised during the first half of 2014, following
the election of the new Constituent Assembly, which reduced the political
uncertainty. Economic growth, however, was slow, although it was projected to recover to 4¾ percent in 2013/14, from below 4% the year before,
supported by agriculture, increased fiscal spending, and continued strong
remittance inflows.17
S. Chandrasekharan, ‘Nepal: Why all this fuss over local elections?: Update no.
294’, South Asia Analysis Group, 20 March 2014 (http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/
node/1481).
16 ‘Local polls in 3 months if parties agree: Uprety’, Ekantipur, 11 August 2014
(http://www.ekantipur.com/2014/08/11/top-story/local-polls-in-3-months-if-partiesagree-uprety/393447.html).
17 International Monetary Fund, Press Release No. 14/346, 16 July 2014
15 330
Nepal
Great expectations for economic growth resulted from the first and second visits of Indian Prime Minister Modi to Nepal. Kathmandu hosted, on
November 26-27, the 18th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional
Cooperation (SAARC) «Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity». The
hope was that India, the biggest state and the largest economy among the eight
member states, would take special responsibility, not only to make the summit
a success, but «to invest more in its own bordering areas of Uttar Pradesh,
North Bihar, North Bengal, Tripura, and Assam so that the local populations
of Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh don’t view India as a country of the fourth
world» in terms of infrastructure, especially roads, railways, health services,
and education.18 The first priority of SAARC was, in fact, economic integration, although the outcome was considered disappointing.19 The Agreement
for the Regulation of Passenger and Cargo Vehicular Traffic, and the SAARC
Regional Agreement on Railways, which would improve trade, regional tourism and interaction between the eight state members, were stalled for three
months because Pakistan held back.20 The SAARC Framework Agreement for
Energy Cooperation (Electricity) was signed. According to the independent
newspaper, Kathmandu Post, one of the largest in the country, the role played
by Koirala to facilitate the bilateral talks between India and Pakistan, which
brought Modi and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, to agree to
sign the Framework Agreement on Energy Cooperation and to commit to
signing the two other pacts within three months, was a big diplomatic success.21 More importantly, the day before the beginning of the summit, Nepal
and India signed a deal to build a $1-billion hydropower plant. The deal
allows India’s state-owned company, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam, to construct a
900-megawatt hydropower project on Nepal’s Arun river, with electricity expected to be generated starting in 2021. Both Nepal and India suffer from
electricity shortages and blackouts. Nepal will receive about 22% of the power
generated for free, while the remainder will be exported to India.
This was the second deal on hydropower projects. During the first visit
of PM Narendra Modi to Nepal at the beginning of August, Nepal and India had agreed to sign an agreement that would allow the exchange of electricity generated from hydroelectric projects in Nepal. A big project that
would be beneficial for both countries was signed by India and Nepal in
September: the Upper Karnali Hydropower Project. Slated for completion
in 2021, it will be the largest hydroelectric power station in Nepal, using the
water from the Karnali River to generate electricity to export to India.
On October 21, a historic Power Trade Agreement (PTA) was signed
to increase cooperation in the field of transmission interconnection, grid
(http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2014/pr14346.htm).
18 ‘Great expectations’, Kathmandu Post, 25 November 2014.
19 Sharmadha Srinivasan, ‘SAARC summit debriefing’, The Diplomat, 2 December
2014 (http://thediplomat.com/2014/12/saarc-summit-debriefing).
20 ‘Thirty-six-point Kathmandu Declaration’, Kathmandu Post, 27 November 2014.
21 ‘PM breaks Indo-Pak stalemate’, Kathmandu Post, 27 November 2014.
331
Enrica Garzilli
connectivity and power trade, paving the way for the free trade of power
between the two countries, to encourage and facilitate investments in the
power sector, to explore new areas of cooperation and to monitor the
progress in those areas by establishing two joint working groups.22
During his visit in August, Modi announced $1 billion NRs as a concessional line of credit to Nepal for various development purposes and
an «HIT» (meaning highways, I-ways and transways) formula for the development of the country.23 He also pledged to expedite the long delayed
project to build a 41-km Amlekhgunj (Nepal)-Raxaul (Bihar) petroleum
pipeline, which would later be extended to Kathmandu. The formal talks
began at the end of August, but in November, they could not be finalised
due to disagreements on the technical and financial implementation.
Before the SAARC summit 2005, activists called the «People’s SAARC»
issued a 24-point declaration stressing that the SAARC leaders should also
include the rights of migrants and the creation of support mechanisms for
stranded migrants and migrants in need in the agenda.24 Migrant workers
from Nepal bring back 30% of Nepal’s GDP at a high human cost due to
dubious recruitment agencies, which in some cases, are backed by transnational organised crime. Standard contracts and minimum wages in South
Asian countries would reduce the influence of trafficking organisations.
In a press briefing at the end of the SAARC summit, Prime Minister
Koirala clarified that Modi, who, two days before had said that the preliminary Constitution should be drafted in agreement, was not pushing
Nepali leaders to reach an understanding in order to promulgate a new
Constitution in consensus, because the process was up to Nepal. He underlined, however, that the parties were indeed trying to find a consensus
to promulgate the Constitution by the January 22 deadline.
6. Completing the Peace Process: The Commission on Investigation of
Disappeared Persons, Truth and Reconciliation Act 2014
Nepal’s success in writing a new Constitution also depends on how
it handles the issue of providing justice for victims of the civil war. Since
the end of the conflict, the investigation and prosecution of abusers of
human rights during the war has been a key point of discussion in the
country. The 11-point deal among the four major parties, which led to
the appointment of Regmi, included forming a Truth and Reconciliation
Commission to investigate human rights violations, such as torture, en22 Agreement between the government of Nepal and the government of the Republic of India on electric power trade, cross-border transmission, interconnection and grid connectivity
(http://www.moen.gov.np/pdf_files/PTA-English-21-Oct-2014.pdf).
23 ‘PM Narendra Modi announces $1 billion credit to Nepal’, India Today, 3 August 2014.
24 ‘People’s SAARC 2014 – Declaration’, Forum Asia, 25 November 2014
(http://www.forum-asia.org/?p=18092).
332
Nepal
forced disappearance, extrajudicial killings and crimes against humanity,
which took place during the conflict, to provide transitional justice, and to
give one Colonel and two Lt Colonel posts to the Maoist combatants who
had been integrated into the Nepali Army. The Truth and Reconciliation
Commission was already planned by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2006. One of the main problems the country faced in 2006, after
the end of the 10-year-long civil war, was the integration of the ex-Maoist
combatants of the People’s Liberation Army, Nepal, the armed wing of
the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal (who
later served as Prime Minister from August 2008 to May 2009), into the
national Nepal Army or into civil society.25
In 2013, the government had issued a Truth and Reconciliation Commission Ordinance (TRC) with the duty to prohibit potential amnesties
for serious crimes as a political deal, without meeting the minimum international standards required. The discourse on the TRC bill had been
focused on either the prosecution or amnesty for war time crimes, and the
political infighting focused on the question of impunity. The arrest in the
United Kingdom of Col. Kumar Lama in January 2013 on allegations of
torture during the Nepali civil war was an embarrassing incident for Nepal, while foreign peacekeeping missions denied positions to prominent
Nepalese generals.26
In January 2, 2014, the Supreme Court rejected the ordinance introduced by then Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai in 2013, following pressure from the Nepal Army and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal
(Maoist), granting a de facto amnesty, even to those involved in serious
human rights violations. The Supreme Court passed the directive to restructure the Commission under pressure from the international community to ensure that the transitional justice mechanisms meet established
international standards. However, in March, the 110th session of the Human Rights Committee pointed out the slow progress of the country in
its reforms, in ensuring justice to the victims of various forms of human
rights violations, in ensuring the distribution of citizenship certificates
without any legal hassles, and in curbing the corporal punishment and
killing of women in the name of witchcraft. The ill-treatment of Tibetan
refugees living in Nepal was also mentioned in the meeting.27
On the occasion of the International Right to Truth Day of March 25,
the National Victims Alliance (NVA) pressed the government to unveil the
truth regarding the disappeared persons, forming an all-powerful and imIbid., p. 214.
‘Nepal’s Colonel Kumar Lama charged in UK with torture’, BBC News UK, 5
January 2013 (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-20914282).
27 ‘Transitional justice mechanisms under UN scrutiny’, My Republica, 22 March
2014 (http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_
id=71375).
25 26 333
Enrica Garzilli
partial Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Commission on Disappeared, to punish the perpetrators of human rights violations and to implement the Supreme Court’s order on transitional justice. Making the status
of disappeared citizens public to ensure the right to truth, providing medical treatment to injured and physically impaired persons, and distributing
identity cards to victims of the war were among the series of demands.28
In 2012, according to the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, Relief
and Reconstruction Unit, Ganesh Prasad Upadhyay, some 17,800 people
died during the civil war. In 2014, some 850 cases of enforced disappearance were registered and were under investigation by the Nepal Human
Rights Commission, and over 3,000 cases of severe human rights abuse were
registered.29 During the 10-year conflict, civilians were targeted for extrajudicial killings and torture by both state security services and rebels. Women
were caught in the violence between police and the Royal Nepalese Army,
and in the violence and forced recruitment by Maoists. Rape became a gendered weapon and an instrument of retaliation and political repression.30
The fear shared by the international humanitarian organisations,
NGOs and the relatives of victims was that abusers, especially those in
political positions after the war, would enjoy impunity. According to the
2013 report by Amnesty International, in the previous four years, successive governments had withdrawn hundreds of criminal cases against individuals accused of serious offences, including murder, citing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement concluded between the Government of Nepal
and The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), dated November 21, 2006,
which called for the withdrawal of cases brought against individuals «due
to political reasons».31
The ruling of the Supreme Court of Nepal on January 2014 overturned
the 2013 Ordinance on Investigation of Disappeared Persons, Truth and
Reconciliation Commission by forming a separate Truth and Reconciliation
Commission and Disappearance Commission to ensure their effective implementation, making suspects of gross human rights violations ineligible
and reducing the discretionary power of the Attorney General to decide on
prosecution. However, the ruling was considerably criticised by the Office
of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and national
28 ‘Conflict victims appeal to the state to come clean’, The Himalayan Times, 25
March 2014 (http://www.thehimalayantimes.com/fullNews.php?headline=Conflict
+victims+appeal+to+the+state+to+come+clean&NewsID=409723).
29 ‘Nepal’s renewed hope for truth and reconciliation’, Irin: Humanitarian News
and Analysis, 17 February 2014 (http://www.irinnews.org/report/99662/nepal-aposs-renewed-hope-for-truth-and-reconciliation).
30 Enrica Garzilli, ‘The interplay between gender, religion and politics, and the
new violence against women in Nepal’, Johannes Dragsbaek Schmidt and Torsten
Rodel Berg (Eds.) Gender, Social Change and the Media: Perspectives from Nepal, Jaipur
(India): Rawat Publications, 2012, pp. 25-88.
31 Nepal: The search for justice, Amnesty International Publications, 2013, pp. 7-8
(http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/ngos/AI_Nepal_HRC108.pdf).
334
Nepal
and international NGOs for its failure to comply with international legal
standards.32 The ordinance was partially changed by the Supreme Court by
establishing the two commissions, enacting new laws excluding the possibility of amnesty for serious human rights violations, and criminalising serious
human rights violations as specific offences within domestic law. Under the
recommendation of the Supreme Court, an Expert Task Force was formed
that included Government officials, human rights lawyers, victims and conflict experts, to assist with the drafting of a new law. However, the Expert
Task Force only had some two weeks to meet, deliberate and draft its recommendations before the Bill was passed.
The Bill was passed by Nepal’s Parliament on 25 April 2014 as the
Commission on Investigation of Disappeared Persons, Truth and Reconciliation Act 2014. It was promulgated into law on May 21, despite the
previous political opposition of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal
(Maoist), who dissented on a comprehensive investigation of war crimes
on the grounds that all war-era cases were political in nature and that
punishing the perpetrators would not help to maintain peace in society
and would not allow a new Constitution to be drafted if the questions of
truth and reconciliation remained unsettled.
The Bill, based on a consensus between the major three parties, the
Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), was supported
by all of the parties, excluding smaller parties, such as the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal, whose Chairman Kamal Thapa remarked that the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as it was envisioned, would pardon the perpetrators involved in serious crimes committed during the
war era.33 With the Bill, «there has been some effort to implement the
recommendations of the Supreme Court, with the creation of two separate commissions, the inclusion of safeguards to enable the participation
of vulnerable witnesses, the incorporation of a system for institutional
reform and, importantly, a commitment to establish a Special Court to
adjudicate conflict era abuses».34 Nevertheless, the Bill presented flawed
provisions, allowing amnesty for crimes committed under international
law and gross violations of human rights. It was also criticised for failing
to define key terms, such as «serious violation of human rights», «act of
disappearing a person» and «reparation» in accordance with international
32 ‘Nepal: Truth and reconciliation law betrays victims’, Human Rights Watch, 22
March 2013 (http://www.hrw.org/node/114432).
33 ‘TRC will pardon perpetrators of serious crimes: Kamal Thapa’, Ekantipur, 26
April 2014 (http://www.ekantipur.com/2014/04/26/top-story/trc-will-pardon-perpetrators-of-serious-crimes-kamal-thapa/388799.html).
34 Alison Bisset, Transitional justice in Nepal. The Commission on Investigation of Disappeared Persons, Truth and Reconciliation Act 2014, (Bingham Centre Working Paper
2014/07), London: Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, BIICL, September 2014,
p. 8 (http://binghamcentre.biicl.org/documents/334_nepal_update_-_bisset.pdf).
335
Enrica Garzilli
law, and for the power of the Commission to reconcile victims and perpetrators without the consent of the parties involved. The Bill did not comply with international law and standards on transitional justice, and the
International Commission of Jurists made a series of recommendations
to the government of Nepal to amend the problematic points, while Human Rights Watch asked the government to act immediately to fix crucial
flaws.35 Nevertheless, despite the problematic points, the Bill is a big step
towards providing justice to victims of the civil war and towards settling
one of the main remaining questions that has constituted an obstacle to
the reconstruction process of the country.
***
Nel 2014 il Nepal si è avviato alla soluzione del problemi che avevano causato
l’impasse politica e costituzionale dei due anni precedenti. La prima Assemblea
Costituente si è sciolta il 28 maggio 2012, prima di redigere la nuova Costituzione
che avrebbe sostituita quella ad interim del 2007. Questo ha portato il paese a uno
stallo, sbloccato solo dalle dimissioni del primo ministro Baburam Bhattarai, a cui
è succeduto il presidente della Corte Suprema, Khil Raj Regmi. Le elezioni della
seconda Assemblea Costituente, che si sono tenute a novembre 2013, hanno visto
emergere come primo partito il Nepali Congress, seguito con uno scarto di pochi voti
dal Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). Questo ha portato a un
altro periodo di impasse politica, risolto nel febbraio 2014 con la formazione di un
nuovo governo di coalizione guidato da Sushil Koirala. Il principale obbiettivo di
Koirala è stato quello di redigere la Costituzione. Il 27 novembre, alla conferenza
stampa in chiusura dei lavori del summit dei leader della SAARC, Koirala ha
dichiarato che i partiti nepalesi stavano cercando di arrivare ad un accordo generale
per promulgare la Costituzione entro il 22 gennaio 2015. Altri due obiettivi chiave
del governo Koirala sono stati lo sviluppo dell’economia e la conclusione del processo
di pace seguito alla guerra civile del 1996-2006 attraverso il definitivo accertamento
delle responsabilità dei crimini di guerra la messa sotto processo dei responsabili.
Durante la prima metà del 2014, a seguito dell’elezione della seconda
Assemblea Costituente, l’economia del Nepal si è stabilizzata. Un ruolo chiave
nel miglioramento della situazione economica è stato rivestito dall’India. Nelle
sue due visite al paese, il nuovo primo ministro indiano, Narendra Modi, ha
firmato due importanti accordi per sviluppare l’enorme potenziale idroelettrico del
Nepal, comprando l’elettricità per far parzialmente fronte alla carenza energetica
dell’India. Modi ha anche aperto una linea di credito al Nepal di un miliardo di
dollari, destinati a finanziare vari altri progetti di sviluppo.
International Commission of Jurists, Justice denied: The 2014 Commission on Investigation of Desappeared Persons, Truth and Reconciliation Act (http://icj.wpengine.
netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Nepal-TRC-Act-Briefing-Paper.
pdf); ‘Nepal: Fix flawed Truth, Reconciliation Act’, Human Rights Watch, 8 July 2014
(http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/07/08/nepal-fix-flawed-truth-reconciliation-act).
35 336
Sri Lanka 2014: la continuazione del regime autoritario
e la crescente insoddisfazione popolare
Danila Berloffa
Asia Maior - An Italian think tank on Asia
[email protected]
1. Introduzione
Lo Sri Lanka ha visto, durante il 2014, il perdurare delle dinamiche
che hanno caratterizzato lo scenario politico e sociale del paese dalla fine
al conflitto civile, nel 2009. In particolare, il supremo potere politico ha
continuato ad essere esercitato dal presidente Mahinda Rajapaksa (il cui
vero nome è Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa). Eletto presidente per una prima volta nel novembre 2005 e rieletto per la seconda volta consecutiva
nel gennaio 2010, Mahinda Rajapaksa ha continuato a guidare il governo
della United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), dotato di un’ampissima maggioranza parlamentare. A sua volta, questa maggioranza parlamentare
era espressione della popolazione sinhala, ovvero l’etnia di maggioranza
nello Sri Lanka, grata al presidente per avere condotto il paese fuori dalla
guerra civile, tramite l’annientamento delle Tigri Tamil (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE),
Tuttavia, nel corso di questi nove anni, si è assistito, da un lato, all’instaurazione di un clima politico repressivo e autoritario, dall’altro all’incapacità dell’amministrazione singalese di attuare politiche in grado di riconciliare i vari gruppi etnici presenti nell’isola. Il presidente Rajapaksa,
infatti, è riuscito a concentrare vasti poteri su di sé e sulla propria cerchia
famigliare, piegando alla sua volontà l’autorità giudiziaria ed modificando la costituzione tramite l’emanazione del 18° emendamento. Quest’ultimo, la cui legalità è stata duramente contestata, ha permesso a Rajapaksa
di attribuire alla figura del presidente nuovi poteri e di abrogare il limite
di due mandati, rendendo così possibile la sua rielezione. Nel corso del
2014, si è assistito, pertanto, all’attuazione di politiche volte ad accrescere
il livello di militarizzazione dell’apparato statale e a soffocare le espressioni della società civile. Tale tendenza è stata inoltre legittimata in una
certa misura dalla presunta riorganizzazione delle Tigri Tamil, paventata
durante la prima metà dell’anno.
Nonostante che il presidente avesse in passato governato con pugno
di ferro, durante il 2014, per la prima volta, sono emersi alcuni segnali
Danila Berloffa
di debolezza. Il primo è relativo alla decisa pressione che la comunità internazionale, principalmente tramite le risoluzioni emanate dall’UNHRC
(United Nations Human Rights Council), ha esercitato nei confronti del presidente. Il secondo è il dato proveniente dalle elezioni provinciali di marzo e di settembre, caratterizzate da un’inedita erosione dei consensi per
la coalizione dell’UPFA.
Nel primo caso, le sanzioni dell’UNHCR dimostravano l’insofferenza
dei paesi occidentali nei confronti delle politiche del governo singalese
sia sul fronte interno che su quello esterno. L’intensificazione delle relazioni economiche e diplomatiche tra Colombo e Pechino ha infatti suscitato non poche apprensioni in seno all’amministrazione statunitense,
principale promotrice delle risoluzioni dell’UNHRC.
Nel secondo caso, sul versante domestico, il calo dei voti ha persuaso il presidente Rajapaksa a indire in anticipo le elezioni presidenziali,
fissando la data del voto al gennaio 2015, nella speranza di ottenere un
nuovo mandato, prima di perdere ulteriori consensi tra l’elettorato. La
decisione di anticipare le elezioni è stata accompagnata dall’apertura di
alcune crepe nella coalizione di governo, che hanno portato alla defezione di tre ministri. Particolarmente importante è stata la diserzione di
Maithripala Sirisena, ministro della Salute, passato nei ranghi dell’opposizione per candidarsi come presidente alle elezioni del gennaio seguente. La sua candidatura, infatti, è stata in grado di compattare i partiti di
opposizione in un fronte comune che, ipoteticamente, potrebbe essere in
grado di impedire la rielezione di Rajapaksa.
Se l’aprirsi di un’opposizione interna all’UPFA e l’erosione dei consensi tra la popolazione non si sono risolti in una vera e propria crisi di
governo, gli avvenimenti appena descritti hanno comunque fatto emergere alcune fragilità che, solamente l’anno precedente, sembravano lungi
dal potere sfiorare la monolitica coalizione di governo. L’insoddisfazione
verso l’amministrazione Rajapaksa, già diffusa tra i cittadini tamil e tra
le classi medie urbane, esponenti della società civile singalese, pare si sia
allargata alla popolazione rurale oltre che all’interno della stessa coalizione di governo. Solamente le elezioni del gennaio 2015 saranno però in
grado di decretare se l’egemonia della famiglia Rajapaksa sulla nazione
sia giunta al crepuscolo o se l’avere condotto il paese fuori dal conflitto
civile possa garantire al presidente l’imperituro appoggio della popolazione sinhala.
2. L’istituzione della commissione di inchiesta dell’UNHRC
Il 27 marzo 2014, a Ginevra, l’UNHRC ha decretato l’istituzione di
una commissione di inchiesta internazionale deputata ad indagare sui
presunti crimini di guerra e sulle violazioni dei diritti umani commessi
dalle forze armate singalesi e dalle Tigri Tamil durante le ultime brutali
338
Sri Lanka
fasi del conflitto civile che ha afflitto lo Sri Lanka per 26 anni, dal 1983
al 2009.1 L’adozione di tale risoluzione è stato un evento simbolicamente
molto significativo, sebbene il governo singalese, lungi dall’assecondare
le istanze dell’organismo internazionale, abbia respinto con sdegno l’ipotesi di un intervento esterno.
A cinque anni dalla fine della guerra civile, conclusasi con l’annientamento delle LTTE e con la completa vittoria del governo centrale, lo Sri
Lanka non è stato in grado di portare giustizia alle vittime del conflitto.
Al contrario, esso ha assicurato la totale impunità ai responsabili degli
abusi commessi, non riuscendo a mettere in pratica neppure i limitati
suggerimenti della commissione di inchiesta filo-governativa, la Lessons
Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), istituita nel 2010. La scarsa
volontà dimostrata dalle autorità dello Sri Lanka nel perseguire la giustizia e nell’addivenire ad un serio processo di riconciliazione nazionale ha
quindi spinto l’UNHRC ad emanare una serie di risoluzioni, nel 2009,
nel 2012 e nel 2013, il cui scopo era quello di incoraggiare il governo singalese a impegnarsi in tal senso. Il contenuto delle precedenti risoluzioni
concerneva però anche un’altra questione, ossia la preoccupante situazione della tutela dei diritti umani. La sistematica violazione dei diritti umani da parte delle autorità singalesi sotto l’amministrazione Rajapaksa,
infatti, era tale da suscitare l’apprensione di ampi settori della comunità
internazionale. Le sollecitazioni del Consiglio sono però state costantemente rigettate dal governo dell’isola, spingendo in tal modo l’UNHRC
ad adottare la risoluzione del 27 marzo, proposta dagli Stati Uniti ed
approvata grazie al voto favorevole di 23 paesi. Tra i 12 paesi contrari
alla decisione si sono schierati, tra gli altri, la Cina, le cui relazioni con
Colombo sono divenute negli ultimi anni estremamente amichevoli, e il
Pakistan; tra gli stati che si sono astenuti dal voto, vale la pena di annoverare il Giappone e l’India. L’astensione di quest’ultima, che aveva invece
votato a favore delle precedenti risoluzioni, era ufficialmente dettata dal
fatto che l’UNHRC non avesse tenuto in debita considerazione i progressi
fatti dal governo singalese in direzione di una riconciliazione nazionale
e dal timore che l’istituzione di una commissione di inchiesta internazionale potesse ostacolare tali «ragguardevoli sviluppi».2 Nel settembre
2013 infatti, per la prima volta nella storia dello Sri Lanka, erano state
indette le elezioni per la formazione del Provincial Council della provincia Settentrionale, popolata prevalentemente dall’etnia tamil. Nonostante ciò, il risultato delle elezioni, che avevano visto la vittoria del partito
d’opposizione, la Tamil National Alliance (TNA), era stato appannato da
1 UN rights council approves inquiry into alleged abuses in Sri Lanka war, ‘UN News
Centre’, 27 marzo 2014, (http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=47447#.
VH3UYcnwH3g).
2 UN vote on Sri Lanka adopted, India abstains, ‘Business Standard’, 26 agosto
2014.
339
Danila Berloffa
una serie di circostanze che attenuavano ampiamente la portata storica
e politica di tale evento.3 In realtà, pare più probabile che l’astensione
dal voto dell’India riflettesse in larga misura il desiderio di Delhi di non
danneggiare le relazioni con il governo singalese, evitando di spingerlo
ad avvicinarsi ulteriormente all’orbita cinese. Di conseguenza, pur non
negando la necessità di un’inchiesta indipendente e credibile sui crimini
di guerra, l’India ha deciso di non sostenere «l’approccio controproduttivo e tale da minare la sovranità nazionale [dello Sri Lanka]», quale era
considerato quello proposto dall’UNHRC.4
La reazione dell’amministrazione Rajapaksa di fronte alla decisione
del Consiglio è stata ostile e indignata come, del resto, lo era stata in
occasione delle precedenti e meno decisive risoluzioni. Il ministro degli
Esteri, G. L Peiris, spiegando la contrarietà dello Sri Lanka riguardo
alla risoluzione dell’UNHRC, ha infatti affermato che il governo singalese non avrebbe cooperato con le indagini. La legittimità dell’inchiesta
internazionale veniva confutata dalle autorità singalesi, che la giudicavano come una violazione della sovranità nazionale del paese. Lo Sri
Lanka non soltanto si è rifiutato di collaborare con la commissione investigativa, ma ha in seguito deciso di boicottarne l’opera, negando la
concessione del visto di entrata ai membri della squadra investigativa
internazionale.5 Nella visione del presidente Rajapaksa, la pressione
internazionale a cui il governo dell’isola è stato sottoposto era nociva,
perché contribuiva a polarizzare le spaccature etniche del paese, e ingiustificata, dal momento che gli sforzi fatti in direzione della riconciliazione nazionale e della pace erano stati notevoli. Tale punto di vista
si basava soprattutto sul fatto che il governo avesse effettuato massicci
investimenti nell’area settentrionale dello Sri Lanka, i quali hanno in effetti permesso la ricostruzione delle infrastrutture e il ripristino dei trasporti, nonché l’espansione dei servizi bancari, portando ad una rapida
crescita della depressa economia della provincia del Nord (cresciuta nel
2012 del 25%).6 A dispetto di tali progressi, la provincia Settentrionale
non solo ha continuato ad essere una delle più economicamente arretrate dello Sri Lanka, contribuendo soltanto al 4% del Prodotto Interno
Lordo (PIL), ma, una volta cessate le ostilità, ha visto permanere sul proprio territorio un ingente dispiegamento delle forze armate, circostanza
che ha ostacolato il consolidamento democratico e il rifiorire dell’economia all’interno dell’area.
Danila Berloffa, Sri Lanka: l’involuzione democratica del governo Rajapaksa, ‘Asia
Maior 2013’, pp. 197-199.
4 UN vote on Sri Lanka adopted, India abstains cit.
5 Sri Lanka visa ban won’t stop UN inquiry - Navi Pillay, ‘BBC News’, 19 agosto
2014.
6 Sri Lanka reduces regional disparity in economic growth, ‘Colombo Page’, 10 settembre 2013.
3 340
Sri Lanka
La pressione esercitata dall’UNHRC sullo Sri Lanka era interpretata
dall’amministrazione Rajapaksa come parte di una cospirazione messa in
atto dai paesi occidentali per destabilizzare il governo nazionale. Durante
la campagna elettorale per le elezioni dei consigli provinciali, il presidente Rajapaksa ha infatti colto l’occasione per screditare l’opposizione
interna, asserendo che la diaspora tamil stesse premendo sulla comunità
internazionale al fine di rovesciare il governo, con l’appoggio dei partiti
d’opposizione nazionali.7 In una certa misura, tale tesi trovava effettivamente riscontro nella realtà. L’onnipotenza del presidente Rajapaksa e
del suo gabinetto ha reso pressoché impossibile per i partiti d’opposizione competere per il potere o, quanto meno, influenzare le decisioni dei
vertici politici. L’appoggio della comunità internazionale, di conseguenza, è risultato un utile mezzo nelle mani delle opposizioni per cercare di
controbilanciare il potere di Rajapaksa.
Se l’efficacia della risoluzione adottata dall’UNHRC sul processo di
riconciliazione nazionale dello Sri Lanka rimane incerta, ciò che invece
appare chiaro è il fatto che il governo singalese non è disposto ad impegnarsi seriamente verso questo obiettivo. Il paese è infatti rimasto spaccato in due, dal punto di vista sia geografico che etnico. La conclusione del
conflitto civile ha visto emergere il trionfalismo del gruppo di maggioranza sinhala, prevalente nell’area centro-meridionale dell’isola, mentre tra
la popolazione tamil, residente principalmente nella zona nord-orientale,
è prevalso un sentimento di sconfitta e di impotenza. Il risultato di questa
spaccatura è stato il consolidamento di due visioni contrapposte e ostili
della realtà politica dell’isola: la prima teme il ritorno di un nuovo imperialismo occidentale in Sri Lanka, tramite l’intervento dell’UNHRC; la
seconda paventa invece una forma di neo-colonialismo sinhala a danno
dell’etnia tamil.8 Sta di fatto che il timore di ripercussioni economiche,
quali un calo degli investimenti esteri e degli scambi commerciali, o addirittura l’imposizione di vere e proprie sanzioni finanziarie, potrebbe
indurre il governo a cambiare le proprie posizioni sulla questione dei
crimini commessi durante la guerra civile. Un primo segnale in tal senso
è pervenuto il 19 agosto 2014, quando il presidente ha annunciato la
nomina di due personalità internazionali a consiglieri della Presidential
Commission Investigating Cases of Missing Persons, ossia la commissione
istituita da Rajapaksa nell’agosto dell’anno precedente per indagare sui
circa 20.000 casi di uomini e donne scomparsi durante la guerra. I due
consiglieri, l’attivista indiano Avdhash Kaushal e il giurista pachistano
Ahmer B. Soofi, si sono uniti ad altri tre esperti – due inglesi e un americano –, completando il comitato consultivo deputato ad assistere la commissione presidenziale. La mossa del presidente Rajapaksa, giunta a circa
7 Rajapaksa sees Opposition bid to topple him with global support, ‘The Hindu’, 24 marzo 2014.
8 Bridging the narratives in Sri Lanka, ‘The Hindu’, 19 aprile 2014.
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Danila Berloffa
due mesi di distanza dalla designazione dei membri della commissione
investigativa dell’UNHRC, è quindi parsa una reazione diretta alla pressione esercitata dalla comunità internazionale. Inoltre, nel luglio dello
stesso anno, il mandato della commissione presidenziale è stato ampliato,
venendo a comprendere anche la possibilità di indagare sui crimini compiuti durante la guerra civile.9 Se questi sviluppi sono certamente apparsi incoraggianti, occorre comunque del tempo per appurarne l’effettiva
portata. Il fatto che la commissione non abbia carattere indipendente,
bensì faccia capo al presidente Rajapaksa, ha lascito molti dubbi sulla sua
concreta efficacia, soprattutto se si tiene conto degli scarsi risultati ottenuti dalla precedente commissione filo-governativa deputata ad investigare
sui crimini di guerra: la Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.
3. L’allarme suscitato dalla presunta riorganizzazione delle Tigri Tamil
Nello stesso periodo in cui, presso l’UNHRC, si dibatteva il caso riguardante lo Sri Lanka, nell’isola asiatica si è assistito ad un crescente allarmismo, causato dalla presunta riorganizzazione delle LTTE. L’ipotesi secondo
cui le Tigri Tamil stessero pianificando una ripresa delle attività sovversive
ha preso forma il 13 marzo 2014, quando nel distretto di Kilinochchi si
è verificata una sparatoria tra la polizia e un uomo identificato come l’ex
guerrigliero tamil Ponniah Selvanayagam Kajeepa, alias Gobi. Il conflitto
a fuoco si è concluso con il ferimento di un poliziotto appartenente alla
Terrorism Investigation Division. L’avvenimento, che è parso confermare
i precedenti timori delle forze dell’ordine riguardo ad un eventuale riorganizzazione delle Tigri Tamil, ha provocato una decisa reazione da parte
delle autorità singalesi, le quali hanno mobilitato massicci contingenti militari e di polizia per catturare il sospetto.10 La provincia Settentrionale, già
fortemente militarizzata, ha così visto sul proprio territorio un ulteriore
dispiegamento delle forze armate. Grazie ad un’operazione militare che
pare abbia coinvolto centinaia di soldati, l’11 aprile l’esercito è riuscito a
scovare il presunto terrorista. L’intervento delle forze armate si è concluso
con l’uccisione di Gopi e di altri due uomini, identificati anch’essi come ex
combattenti delle LTTE, ossia Sundaralingam Kajeepan, alias Thevihane,
e Navaratnam Navaneethan, alias Appan. L’episodio ha rappresentato il
primo conflitto a fuoco tra esercito e ribelli tamil dalla conclusione della
guerra civile. Secondo il ministero della Difesa, Gopi sarebbe stato il promotore di un movimento, con base nell’area di Pallai, nella penisola di Jaffna, mirato a fare risorgere le LTTE con la complicità di alcuni gruppi della
Indian activist, Pakistan lawyer in Sri Lanka’s missing persons probe panel, ‘The Hindu’, 19 agosto 2014.
10 Shooting Incident at Tharmapuram: Is There a Real LTTE Resurgence in the North?
‘Daily Mirror’, 22 marzo 2014.
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diaspora tamil. Il gruppo di sediziosi locali sarebbe infatti stato guidato da
due leader delle LTTE basati in Europa.11
L’inasprimento delle misure di sicurezza messo in atto dal governo
singalese ha condotto le forze dell’ordine ad effettuare una serie di arresti, invero abusando del draconiano Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
Nel corso del 2014, infatti, sono stati oltre 80 gli arresti effettuati sotto
la giurisdizione della legge anti terrorismo, a partire da quello di Balendra Jeyakumari e della figlia tredicenne Vidushika, accusate di avere
dato riparo a Gobi.12 L’arresto delle due donne non ha mancato di suscitare proteste, dal momento che Balendra e Vidushika Jeyakumari erano
soprattutto note per il loro impegno civile, rivolto a fare luce sui casi di
scomparsa avvenuti durante il conflitto. Pochi giorni dopo il fermo di
Balendra Jeyakumari e della figlia, la polizia ha proceduto ad arrestare
altri due sospetti, ossia un attivista per i diritti civili, Ruki Fernando, e il
prete cattolico Padre Praveen. Questi ultimi però sono stati rilasciati in
breve tempo, in seguito alla pressione esercitata dai gruppi internazionali di tutela dei diritti umani.13 Le severe misure di sicurezza adottate
dal regime Rajapaksa per sventare un’eventuale riorganizzazione delle
LTTE hanno incluso anche la messa al bando di 16 organizzazioni e di
424 membri della diaspora tamil. Questi ultimi sono stati classificati come
sostenitori del terrorismo dal governo singalese, il quale, di conseguenza, ha proceduto al congelamento dei loro beni. Tale provvedimento era
d’altronde conforme alla risoluzione 1373 delle Nazioni Unite in materia
di terrorismo internazionale, il cui contenuto impone ai governi nazionali
di congelare i beni di «coloro che commettono o tentano di commettere
atti terroristici».14
L’allarme scaturito dall’ipotetica rinascita delle Tigri Tamil è emerso
con una tempistica quanto meno sospetta. La questione si è infatti presentata proprio a ridosso del dibattito dell’UNHRC sullo Sri Lanka, il
quale si trovava sotto osservazione non solo a causa dei crimini di guerra rimasti impuniti, ma anche per il clima repressivo e la costante violazione dei diritti umani di cui si era responsabile il governo dell’isola.
Il pericolo rappresentato da un’eventuale riorganizzazione delle LTTE
contribuiva infatti, da un lato, a legittimare l’atteggiamento oppressivo
dell’amministrazione singalese e, dall’altro, a fornire un valido pretesto
per intensificare l’utilizzo di misure repressive. Nel primo caso, le esigenze di sicurezza nazionale hanno fornito al regime Rajapaksa una giuS. Jayanth, Sri Lankan military kills alleged «LTTE suspects», ‘World Socialist Web
Site’, 16 aprile 2014, (http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/04/16/sril-a16.html).
12 Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act should be repealed, ‘The Hindu’, 30 settembre
2014.
13 Sri Lankan army heightens security, ‘The Hindu’, 25 marzo 2014.
14 J. S. Tissainaygam, Why Sri Lanka is serving ties between Tamils at home and abroad,
‘Foreign Policy’, 21 aprile 2014.
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Danila Berloffa
stificazione non soltanto per posticipare ulteriormente l’attesa riduzione
delle truppe stanziate nell’area nord-orientale dell’isola, ma persino per
incrementare la presenza dell’esercito nella regione. Nel secondo caso, i
provvedimenti adottati dalle autorità per fare fronte alla supposta minaccia derivante dalla ricostituzione delle Tigri Tamil hanno contribuito a
compromettere maggiormente la già fragile situazione della democrazia
singalese. A destare particolare allarme, oltre allo spregiudicato utilizzo
del PTA, erano soprattutto le possibili conseguenze della messa al bando,
come terroristi, dei sopra citati membri della diaspora tamil. Tra le organizzazioni classificate come «terroriste» si trovavano, tra le altre, il British
Tamil Forum, il Canadian Tamil Congress, il Global Tamil Forum e l’Australian
Tamil Congress, ossia gruppi che, nei rispettivi paesi di adozione, non solo
erano legalmente registrati, ma godevano anche di fiducia e prestigio. Se
fino al 2009 larga parte delle organizzazioni della diaspora tamil avevano
effettivamente sostenuto in modo attivo le LTTE, dopo la conclusione del
conflitto civile il loro impegno si era principalmente rivolto alle questioni
concernenti i crimini di guerra e la violazione dei diritti umani nello Sri
Lanka, tramite la raccolta di testimonianze e la segnalazione di abusi. Le
misure repressive adottate dal governo Rajapaksa contro i membri di tali
organizzazioni non apparivano giustificate da nessuna evidenza concreta.
In effetti, esse parevano principalmente mirate da un lato a colpire e a
isolare gli attivisti e i politici tamil locali che avevano legami internazionali e, dall’altro, a screditare la diaspora tamil internazionale, il cui ruolo
nel promuovere l’intervento dell’UNHRC nello Sri Lanka non era stato
marginale.15 Più, quindi, che da motivi concernenti la sicurezza nazionale,
il provvedimento a cui l’amministrazione singalese era ricorso è apparso
soprattutto finalizzato a indebolire la componente tamil locale.
In definitiva, si può affermare che il potenziale rischio di una ripresa del terrorismo tamil è stato certamente sfruttato dall’amministrazione
Rajapaksa per consolidare un regime in cui, al declino delle istituzioni
democratiche, si accompagnava una crescente militarizzazione dell’apparato statale. La risposta del governo singalese è infatti parsa come il corollario di un percorso, in atto sino dalla conclusione della guerra civile,
caratterizzato dal soffocamento del dissenso e dal trionfalismo sinhala.
Tali considerazioni hanno portato alcuni osservatori persino a dubitare
della veridicità delle informazioni riguardanti la riorganizzazione delle
Tigri Tamil, la cui rinascita sarebbe giunta in modo talmente puntuale e
opportuno, per il regime Rajapaksa, da risultare sospetta. Questa teoria,
secondo cui sarebbe stato il governo stesso ad orchestrare l’intera vicenda, trarrebbe origine dal fatto che le autorità singalesi, ossia l’unica fonte
di informazioni sulla presunta rinascita delle Tigri Tamil, non abbiano
diffuso nessuna prova volta a dimostrare che gli uomini uccisi dall’eserSri Lanka: Asset Freeze Threatens Peaceful Dissent, ‘Human Rights Watch’, 7 aprile
2014, (http://www.hrw.org/ku/node/124533).
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cito fossero effettivamente reduci delle LTTE, determinati a risvegliare il
movimento ribelle.16 Se una simile congettura appare invero azzardata,
è però certo che il governo dello Sri Lanka abbia tratto vantaggio dalle
circostanze per perseguire i propri obiettivi, avvalendosi di contro-misure
sproporzionate rispetto al rischio reale. Infatti, la probabilità che un tentativo di ripristino della defunta organizzazione tamil possa avere successo è alquanto remota, considerato il ramificato controllo che le forze
armate esercitano non solo nell’area nord-orientale, dove esso è maggiormente invasivo, ma anche in vasti comparti dell’amministrazione statale
nazionale. Il regime Rajapaksa ha certamente strumentalizzato ed enfatizzato il rischio di un ritorno del terrorismo tamil per giustificare, agli
occhi della comunità internazionale, la rampante militarizzazione dello
stato singalese e la costante repressione del dissenso interno, fenomeni
che sono andati acuendosi in seguito al configurarsi di tale minaccia alla
sicurezza nazionale.
4. La crescente militarizzazione dell’apparato statale e gli sfollamenti forzati
della popolazione
Come precedentemente osservato, a partire dal 2009, nello Sri Lanka
si è assistito ad un fenomeno che può essere definito come paradossale, ossia la costante militarizzazione delle istituzioni statali nella fase del
dopo guerra. Sebbene tale fenomeno non risulti evidente, prendendo in
considerazione i mutamenti annuali del principale indicatore del livello
di militarizzazione di un paese, ossia la percentuale di spesa pubblica per
la Difesa rispetto al PIL, che risulta lievemente diminuita rispetto al 2009,
un’analisi più dettagliata è in grado di convalidare l’ipotesi sopra esposta.
Infatti, se in termini relativi la spesa militare è passata dal 3,6% del PIL
del 2009 al 2,6% del 2012, in termini assoluti essa è considerevolmente
aumentata. Nel 2009 la somma destinata alla Difesa è infatti stata di 175
miliardi di rupie,17 mentre nel 2013 questa è cresciuta a 253 miliardi,
aumentando in questo caso anche in termini relativi rispetto all’anno precedente (dal 2,6% del PIL del 2012 al 2,7%).18 Il processo di militarizzazione dello Sri Lanka si è poi declinato attraverso forme che sarebbero
difficilmente decifrabili tramite un’esclusiva analisi dei dati macro economici. Esso, infatti, è stato caratterizzato, in primo luogo, dalla logica
16 No room For LTTE To Regroup In Sri Lanka Or Overseas – Suresh Premachandran,
‘The Sunday Leader’, 20 aprile 2014.
17 175 miliardi di rupie corrispondono circa a un milione di euro.
18 Military Expenditure Database - Sri Lanka 2012, ‘Stockholm International Peace
Research Institute’, (http://milexdata.sipri.org/result.php4); Military Expenditure
Data - Sri Lanka 2014, ‘The World Bank’, (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS); Sri Lanka ups defence budget, ‘Defence and Security Agenda’, 22 ottobre 2013.
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dell’occupazione e dell’umiliazione della parte sconfitta, che ha trovato
espressione attraverso il mantenimento del controllo, da parte dell’esercito, dell’area nord-orientale del paese.19 Vale la pena di descrivere un episodio esemplare, proprio di tale dinamica, verificatosi durante il maggio
2014, quando nella città meridionale di Matara ha avuto luogo «la parata
della Vittoria». La manifestazione, che aveva lo scopo di commemorare
il quinto anniversario della vittoriosa conclusione del conflitto, ha inevitabilmente destato alcune controversie, dal momento che una simile celebrazione, lungi dal promuovere la riconciliazione nazionale, ribadiva il
trionfo dell’etnia sinhala su quella tamil. Inoltre, se si considera che, contemporaneamente, la polizia e l’esercito hanno impedito lo svolgimento
di una commemorazione ufficiale dei caduti tamil, che avrebbe dovuto
svolgersi nella provincia Settentrionale, risulta chiaro come la narrazione
prevalente tendesse non a superare ma a cristallizzare le divisioni proprie
del periodo di guerra civile.20
La militarizzazione dell’apparato statale non è tuttavia rimasta circoscritta alle sole zone del nord-est. Nel corso del 2014 è infatti divenuto
chiaro come tale fenomeno riguardasse in realtà l’intero paese, manifestandosi con prepotenza nella stessa capitale, Colombo, e nelle città meridionali dello Sri Lanka, dove è stato realizzato un programma di sviluppo
urbano gestito dall’omonimo ministero. Quest’ultimo, assieme al Land
Reclamation and Development Board (LRD), è stato posto, dopo la fine
della guerra, sotto l’autorità del ministero della Difesa, capeggiato dallo
stesso presidente, in qualità di ministro, che lo gestisce attraverso il fratello, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, che ha la carica di segretario del ministro.
A partire dal 2010, i progetti di sviluppo e di miglioramento di alcuni
quartieri degradati di Colombo hanno condotto il ministero della Difesa
e dello Sviluppo Urbano a dare il via ad una serie di sfollamenti coatti destinati a coinvolgere tra i 70.000 e i 135.000 nuclei famigliari. Gli abitanti
di aree quali Slave Island, Narahenpita, Barnes, Borella, Bauddhaloka
Mawatha, Wanathamulla e Maligawatta sono quindi stati forzati ad abbandonare le loro proprietà affinché venissero demolite , per permettere
l’edificazione di nuove infrastrutture. Il piano di sviluppo, la cui realizzazione si è intensificata durante il 2014, avrebbe dovuto portare alla demolizione delle aree fatiscenti della città e alla successiva costruzione di attività commerciali e abitazioni di lusso, trasformando in tal modo Colombo
nel «fulcro commerciale dell’Asia meridionale».21 Tuttavia, l’esecuzione
19 Darini Rajasingham Senanayake, Post-war Development, Militarization and the Logistics of Humiliation in Sri Lanka, ‘Fourth Critical Studies Conference-Development,
Logistics, and Governance’, Kolkata, 10 settembre 2011, p. 1.
20 Sri Lanka marks end of war in victory parade, ‘Aljazeera’, 18 maggio 2014, (http://
www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2014/05/sri-lanka-marks-end-war-victory-parade201451882456289502.ht).
21 Vilani Peiris, Sri Lankan think tank criticises mass evictions in Colombo, ‘World Socialist Web Site’, 15 maggio 2014, (http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/05/15/evic-
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Sri Lanka
del progetto è stata caratterizzata dallo scarso riguardo per le normative
vigenti, dal momento che il Land Acquisition Act (LAA), che regola l’acquisizione di proprietà private da parte dello stato, prevede questa possibilità solamente nel caso si persegua uno scopo di pubblico interesse.22
Nonostante l’ampia gamma di usi previsti da tale legge, il fatto che l’LAA
sia stato impiegato per favorire il capitale privato, in particolare attraverso la realizzazione di hotel, di ristoranti e di campi da golf, ha naturalmente destato numerose proteste da parte di giuristi e attivisti singalesi.23
Se infatti il piano di sviluppo urbano, sostenuto dalla Banca Mondiale, è
certamente destinato ad attrarre gli investitori stranieri e a promuovere
il turismo, creando nuove risorse economiche per il paese, gli enormi
costi umani e sociali di tale operazione ne hanno però inevitabilmente
offuscato il successo. A creare ulteriori perplessità circa i vantaggi di una
simile operazione per la popolazione nel suo complesso, si è poi aggiunta
la questione riguardante i vasti incentivi fiscali che sono stati concessi ad
alcune delle compagnie decise a investire il proprio capitale nel progetto
di sviluppo urbano promosso dai fratelli Rajapaksa.24
Inoltre, sebbene esistesse un piano di ricollocamento della popolazione evacuata, ovvero il National Involuntary Resettlement Policy, l’esecuzione degli sfollamenti è stata contrassegnata dallo scarso preavviso con
cui le notifiche di sfratto sono state date e dalla vaghezza dei termini
di compensazione. Soprattutto, però, il piano portato avanti dall’UDA,
nonché dal ministero della Difesa, ha messo in luce l’elevato livello di militarizzazione e di centralizzazione raggiunto dell’amministrazione pubblica. L’intero processo di sfollamento della popolazione è stato affidato
all’esercito, che ha svolto il proprio compito impiegando diffusamente
intimidazioni e maltrattamenti. Neppure l’intervento della National Human Rights Commission, che nel marzo del 2014 aveva emesso un’ordinanza per bloccare gli sfratti dei residenti di Wanathamulla, è riuscito ad
impedire il proseguimento delle operazioni da parte delle forze armate.25
D’altronde, l’alto grado di impunità che è stato concesso dalle autorità
singalesi ai membri dell’esercito e della polizia ha certamente avuto un
ruolo decisivo nel processo di militarizzazione in atto nello Sri Lanka.
É oltretutto risultato evidente che le operazioni di sfollamento attuate
delle forze armate nella città di Colombo abbiano presentato dinamiche
e dimensioni molto simili a quelle condotte negli ultimi due anni del
m15.html).
22 Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena, Jayantha de Almeida Guneratne e Radika Guneratne, Not This Good Earth; Land Rights, Displaced Persons And The Law In Sri Lanka,
Law & Society Trust, Colombo 2013.
23 Bar Association Condemns Illegal Eviction Of Families And Militarization, ‘Colombo
Telegraph’, 31 gennaio.
24 Vilani Peiris, Sri Lankan think tank criticises mass evictions in Colombo cit.
25 Bhavani Fonseka, The Spectre of Evictions and Land Grabs in Colombo, ‘Groundviews’, 26 agosto 2014.
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Danila Berloffa
conflitto civile nelle aree del settentrione e dell’oriente dell’isola, ovvero
le zone che sono state il principale teatro degli scontri bellici.26 L’intero
processo di recupero delle aree urbane degradate è dopo tutto avanzato
su un percorso assai differente da quello democratico, tanto che i cittadini
e i rappresentanti politici dell’opposizione non hanno avuto alcuna voce
in capitolo.
Il fenomeno degli sfollamenti da parte delle forze armate rappresenta
in realtà soltanto un aspetto dell’ampio processo di militarizzazione che
ha condotto i membri dell’esercito a ricoprire funzioni più estese di quelle
che normalmente, in tempo di pace, competono loro. Non più confinati
ad incarichi di sicurezza nazionale, i militari hanno assunto la funzione
di veri e propri stake holders nella gestione della res publica, giungendo a
ricoprire importanti incarichi all’interno dell’amministrazione statale e
del corpo diplomatico. I membri delle forze armate hanno quindi assunto
un ruolo sempre più rilevante sia tramite la gestione di attività economiche statali, sia avviando con successo iniziative imprenditoriali private nel
settore del commercio e dei servizi.27 La dimostrazione più lampante di
questa tendenza è rappresentata dalla Rakna Arakshaka Lanka (RAL), ovvero una compagnia a carattere paramilitare di proprietà governativa. La
RAL, che è sotto l’esclusivo controllo del ministero della Difesa, è un’impresa commerciale che fornisce ad enti sia pubblici che privati un’ampia
gamma di servizi, che comprendono il settore della sicurezza militare (incluso il ramo dello spionaggio) e civile (ad esempio all’interno delle università), quello della formazione e del welfare e persino il comparto della
ristorazione. La compagnia, il cui personale è costituito prevalentemente
da ex personale dell’esercito, non risponde alle norme che generalmente regolano l’attività imprenditoriale pubblica o privata, godendo così di
ampi privilegi. L’infiltrazione degli spazi civili da parte dei militari è stata favorita da due circostanze: la prima è costituita dalla glorificazione
dell’esercito, avvenuta in seguito alla conclusione della guerra. Tale meccanismo ha condotto i membri delle forze armate ad acquisire un vasto
potere all’interno della società civile e, conseguentemente, a beneficiare
di un ampio numero di programmi di benessere sociale a loro riservati,
finanziati dalle donazioni di cittadini e di enti privati. Parallelamente,
si è assistito all’introduzione della disciplina e dei valori militari nella
vita civile, come, ad esempio, l’organizzazione di corsi di addestramento
militare all’interno delle università. In secondo luogo, il processo di militarizzazione degli spazi civili è stato agevolato da istituzioni democraticamente elette, ovvero dal presidente e dal parlamento.
26 Forced evictions in Colombo: The ugly price of beautification, ‘Centre for Policy Alternative’, 9 aprile 2014, (http://www.cpalanka.org/forced-evictions-in-colombo-theugly-price-of-beautification).
27 Blackwater In The USA And Rakna Arakshaka Lanka In Sri Lanka?, ‘Colombo
Telegraph’, 26 agosto 2012.
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Sri Lanka
L’esercito, dal canto suo, ha avuto un ruolo funzionale rispetto al fenomeno di centralizzazione e di accrescimento dei poteri presidenziali, permettendo a Mahinda Rajapaksa, che è anche comandante in capo
delle forze armate, nonché ai membri della sua famiglia, di dare vita ad
un sistema di governo che appare sempre più simile ad un’oligarchia.
Il regime Rajapaksa ha quindi favorito e sostenuto la militarizzazione
dell’apparato statale, che ha a sua volta consentito l’instaurazione di
un controllo assoluto sulla popolazione civile in periodo di pace.28 Tale
controllo sulla società, che ha permesso al regime singalese di limitare
fortemente la libertà di espressione dei cittadini, ha assunto col tempo
connotati sempre più autoritari e opprimenti. Tra le numerose misure
repressive adottate dal governo durante l’amministrazione Rajapaksa, si
è distinta, nel corso del 2014, quella riguardante la regolamentazione
delle Organizzazioni Non Governative (ONG). Tramite una circolare del
1° luglio 2014, il segretariato nazionale per le ONG, che opera anch’esso
sotto la giurisdizione del ministero della Difesa, ha infatti stabilito alcune
nuove regole finalizzate a proibire alle suddette organizzazioni una serie
di attività, fra cui lo svolgimento di conferenze stampa, di workshop e seminari per giornalisti, nonché la divulgazione di comunicati stampa.29 Questo provvedimento era ufficialmente motivato da cavilli giuridici, ovvero
dal fatto che le attività sopra elencate non fossero previste dalla legge che
regola il mandato delle ONG. Invero, nell’aderire meticolosamente alla
legge ordinaria, il governo Rajapaksa stava agendo in spregio della stessa
costituzione dello Sri Lanka, che garantisce a ogni cittadino i diritti fondamentali di espressione e di assemblea.30 È infatti verosimile ipotizzare
che le proibizioni imposte alle ONG mirassero principalmente a soffocare
il dissenso e rappresentassero l’ennesimo passo intrapreso dal governo
singalese sulla strada dell’autoritarismo, resa percorribile proprio grazie
alla crescente militarizzazione delle istituzioni statali e sociali.
5. Le elezioni provinciali
Il 29 marzo 2014, l’elettorato delle province dell’Ovest e del Sud, popolate prevalentemente dall’etnia sinhala, è stato chiamato al voto per
il rinnovo dei rispettivi Provincial Councils. La decisione di indire tali
elezioni avrebbe dovuto offrire al presidente l’occasione, da un lato, di
verificare la robustezza della propria popolarità in quelle aree dove essa
Recent Militarization Of Sri Lankan Life: The Elephant In The Room!, ‘Colombo
Telegraph’, 16 febbraio 2013.
29 Sri Lanka: AHRC Replies to Defence Ministry letter that seeks to restrict NGO freedoms,
‘Lanka News Web’, (http://lankanewsweb.net/news/8170-ahrc-replies-to-defenceministry-letter-that-seeks-to-restrict-ngo-freedoms), 11 luglio 2014 e Rampant militarisation of state apparatus, ‘The Hindu’, 2 agosto 2014.
30 The Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Art. 14.
28 349
Danila Berloffa
era maggiormente radicata, dall’altro, di lanciare un messaggio alla comunità internazionale circa la determinazione del popolo singalese a non
«tollerare interferenze straniere», con riferimento all’inchiesta avviata
dall’UNHRC.31
L’esito delle elezioni non è stato lusinghiero come probabilmente avevano auspicato Rajapaksa e la sua coalizione di governo, ovvero l’UPFA,
che detiene il potere in otto delle nove province del paese.32 Sebbene
l’UPFA sia emersa come forza egemone, l’affluenza alle urne è stata scarsa e il risultato del voto ha evidenziato un calo di consensi per l’alleanza
guidata dal presidente. Quest’ultima, infatti, ha conquistato 33 seggi su
55 nella provincia Meridionale, ossia cinque in meno rispetto alle elezioni
del 2009, e 56 su 104 nella provincia Occidentale, perdendo così 12 seggi
rispetto al 2009.33 Il risultato più rappresentativo concerne però il distretto di Hambantota, luogo di origine del presidente Rajapaksa, nonché
destinazione privilegiata degli investimenti governativi, dove l’UPFA ha
visto decrescere la propria percentuale di voto dal 67% delle precedenti
elezioni provinciali, al 57,4%.34
Tali risultati non potevano certamente essere interpretati come un
drammatico mutamento del comportamento elettorale, avendo permesso all’UPFA di riaffermarsi come principale entità politica nelle due province in questione. D’altro canto, è stato comunque possibile riscontrare
l’emergere di una nuova tendenza di voto, che ha visto l’alleanza partitica guidata dal presidente singalese perdere voti in favore, non tanto del
principale partito d’opposizione, lo United National Party (UNP), quanto piuttosto di una terza formazione politica, ovvero il Democratic Party,
guidato dall’ex generale delle forze armate Sarath Fonseka. Quest’ultimo
ha avuto un ruolo decisivo nella vittoriosa conclusione della guerra civile, conducendo l’esercito singalese, prima del suo arrivo virtualmente
allo sbando, alla schiacciante vittoria sulle Tigri Tamil. Una volta cessate
le ostilità, Fonseka, lasciato l’esercito, aveva debuttato nell’arena politica,
concorrendo alle elezioni presidenziali del 2010 come principale avversario di Rajapaksa. Sebbene Fonseka fosse stato sconfitto dal presidente in
carica, il suo vasto potenziale elettorale era risultato evidente. La carriera politica dell’ex generale aveva però subito una repentina interruzione
quando, l’8 febbraio 2010, era stato arrestato con la motivazione, invero
pretestuosa, di avere architettato un colpo di stato militare ai danni del
governo.35 Sottoposto al giudizio di una corte marziale, Fonseka era stato
Rajapaksa sees Opposition bid to topple him with global support, ‘The Hindu’, 24
marzo 2014.
Si ricorda che il Provincial Council della provincia Settentrionale è l’unico governato da un partito di opposizione, ovvero la Tamil National Alliance.
33 Message from Sri Lankan polls, ‘The Hindu’, 1° aprile 2014.
34 UPFA wins Matara and Hambantota districts, ‘Daily Mirror’, 30 marzo 2014.
35 Defeated presidential candidate accused of plotting to overthrow the President in military
31 32 350
Sri Lanka
riconosciuto colpevole e condannato a scontare tre anni di carcere. La
sua detenzione, tuttavia, si era conclusa in anticipo, quando, il 21 maggio
del 2012, era stato rilasciato in seguito alla concessione della grazia da
parte del presidente. È probabile che tale iniziativa fosse stata provocata
dalla reazione della comunità internazionale di fronte all’incarcerazione
di Fonseka, interpretata come l’ennesimo abuso di potere messo in atto
dall’amministrazione Rajapaksa. Il fatto che la grazia presidenziale fosse
giunta il 18 maggio 2012, poche ore prima dell’incontro a Washington
tra il ministro degli Esteri dello Sri Lanka, G. L. Peiris, e il segretario di
stato statunitense, Hillary Clinton, non è quindi apparso come una coincidenza.36 Quali che siano stati i motivi che hanno spinto il presidente a
concedere la grazia, tale decisione ha permesso a Fonseka di presentarsi
alle elezioni. Il risultato è stato che il suo partito, il Democratic Party, ha
ottenuto l’8% dei voti nella Western Province, diventando la terza forza
politica dell’area, mentre nella Southern Province ha guadagnato oltre il
6% dei consensi.37
Sebbene siano sorte delle controversie riguardo al diritto di voto attivo
e passivo di Fonseka, avendo quest’ultimo subìto delle condanne penali
che ne impedirebbero l’esercizio, la Commissione Elettorale singalese ha
stabilito che, almeno fino a quando non venga presentata un’obiezione in
tribunale, non intraprenderà nessuna azione per invalidare i diritti civili
dell’ex generale. In realtà, benché la costituzione singalese neghi per sette anni il diritto di voto a coloro che hanno scontato un periodo detentivo
di almeno sei mesi, in caso di ottenimento della grazia presidenziale tale
limitazione verrebbe a decadere.38 Il ritorno di Fonseka sulla scena politica ha di conseguenza fatto sorgere alcune aspettative circa la possibilità
di una sua candidatura alle prossime elezioni presidenziali. Tuttavia, il
risultato delle elezioni provinciali svoltesi in settembre nella provincia di
Uva, nel sud dell’isola, ha ridimensionato le speranze del Democratic Party, il quale è riuscito a superare l’1% dei consensi solamente nel distretto
elettorale di Wellawaya. Ciò che ha accomunato il voto di marzo e quello
di settembre è stato invece la riconferma dell’UPFA come forza politica
di maggioranza. Anche nel caso della provincia di Uva, però, l’alleanza
partitica guidata da Rajapaksa ha registrato un significativo calo della
propria percentuale di voto, passata dall’81% delle elezioni del 2009 al
51%. Il principale beneficiario del calo di popolarità dell’UPFA è stato,
in questa circostanza, il maggiore partito d’opposizione singalese, l’UNP,
il quale, grazie al 40% dei consensi, ha pressoché raddoppiato il proprio
coup, ‘The Independent’, 9 febbraio 2010.
36 The Fonseka release, Rajapaksa strategy and international pressure, ‘VivaLanka’, 21
maggio 2012.
37 Provincial Council Elections Results 2014, ‘Sri Lanka Departement of Elections’,
(http://www.slelections.gov.lk/pastElection2.html).
38 The Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Art. 89(d).
351
Danila Berloffa
numero di seggi, passando ad occuparne 13, rispetto ai sette conquistati
nel 2009.39 Il merito di tale notevole risultato è da attribuire non tanto al
leader storico dell’UNP, Ranil Wickremesinghe, quanto piuttosto al giovane candidato Harin Fernando, il quale è riuscito a ottenere sorprendenti
risultati, specialmente nel distretto elettorale di Badulla.
In definitiva, si può affermare che la frammentazione dei partiti di
opposizione ha permesso all’UPFA di conservare il potere in tutte e tre
le province in cui il voto ha avuto luogo. Inoltre, durante la campagna
elettorale svoltasi nella provincia di Uva, la Commissione Elettorale e altri
organismi di monitoraggio del voto hanno denunciato il perpetrarsi di
numerosi abusi, quali intimidazioni ed atti di violenza, avvenuti nell’indifferenza delle forze dell’ordine.40 Tali soprusi, compiuti principalmente a
danno dei partiti di opposizione, erano il naturale riflesso di un apparato
statale disfunzionale, le cui anomalie erano attribuibili alla graduale concentrazione di potere nelle mani del presidente.
6. Estremismo buddista e violenza settaria
Il nazionalismo buddista sinhala è un movimento politico radicale che
affonda le sue radici negli ultimi anni del XIX secolo, basando la propria
ideologia sulla presunta supremazia culturale del gruppo etnico maggioritario dello Sri Lanka. Entrato sulla scena politica singalese in seguito
all’ottenimento dell’indipendenza, nel 1948, il nazionalismo buddista si è
consolidato, acquisendo un carattere marcatamente ostile alle minoranze
etniche del paese. Non vi è poi dubbio che tale ideologia abbia avuto un
ruolo sia nello scoppio della guerra civile, sia nel suo sanguinoso svolgimento nell’arco di 26 anni. Il governo Rajapaksa è però stato il primo a
sposare l’ideologia buddista sinhala.41 A partire dalla fine della guerra,
l’estremismo buddista ha gradualmente assunto una connotazione specificatamente anti musulmana, e in parte anche anti cristiana, acquisendo
una crescente legittimità sia a livello politico che sociale. Nello Sri Lanka
contemporaneo, l’ascesa del buddismo radicale è stata principalmente
favorita dal gruppo militante Bodu Bala Sena (BBS, letteralmente, brigata
del potere buddista), che, dal momento della sua creazione nel 2012, ha
messo in atto una strategia mirata a promuovere tra la popolazione l’ostilità contro le minoranze religiose dell’isola.42 Attraverso una retorica che
Uva Provincial Council Elections – an analysis, ‘News First’, 21 settembre 2014,
(http://newsfirst.lk/english/2014/09/need-headline-5/54534).
40 Violation of election laws to be legalized, ‘The Sunday Times’, 21 settembre 2014.
41 Neil DeVotta, Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalist Ideology: Implications for Politics and
Conflict Resolution in Sri Lanka, ‘Policy Studies’, N° 40, East-West Center Washington, 2007, pp. 1-3.
42 Si ricorda che i musulmani e i cristiani dello Sri Lanka rappresentano rispettivamente il 9,7% e il 7,4% della popolazione totale; Department of Census and Stati39 352
Sri Lanka
ritrae i membri della comunità musulmana come una minaccia per l’etnia
di maggioranza, il BBS è stato il principale responsabile di una serie di attacchi ai danni della minoranza musulmana, rimasti per lo più impuniti.
L’ostilità anti islamica, che a partire dal 2102 si era manifestata attraverso
numerosi episodi di violenza, durante il 2014 ha acquistato intensità e dimensioni allarmanti, principalmente grazie all’atteggiamento conciliante
dell’amministrazione Rajapaksa nei confronti del nazionalismo buddista.
Il 15 giugno, nella città meridionale di Aluthgama e in altre aree circostanti, è infatti scoppiato un vero e proprio tumulto settario, che ha
portato all’uccisione di due musulmani e un tamil e al ferimento di circa
ottanta persone.43 L’episodio ha rappresentato per lo Sri Lanka uno degli
episodi di violenza religiosa più cruenti degli ultimi decenni.
Apparentemente, la violenza anti musulmana ad Aluthgama è stata
sprigionata da un litigio automobilistico, avvenuto il 12 giugno, tra alcuni
giovani musulmani e un monaco buddista accompagnato dal proprio autista. In seguito alla lite, il BBS ha infatti organizzato una serie di manifestazioni pubbliche in difesa del monaco, incitando all’odio religioso e alla
violenza anti islamica gli abitanti delle aree di Beruwala, Dharga Town e
Aluthgama, dove sono avvenuti i maggiori disordini. I tumulti che sono
seguiti alle manifestazioni del BBS hanno visto folle di fanatici buddisti
attaccare, derubare e incendiare abitazioni, attività commerciali e altre
proprietà, per lo più appartenenti a musulmani, incluse alcune moschee,
una scuola materna e una clinica medica. Nonostante il coprifuoco imposto dalla polizia in seguito ai primi episodi di violenza, i tumulti si sono
protratti fino alla notte del 17 giugno, provocando lo sfollamento di circa
10.000 persone, soprattutto musulmani.44 Nei giorni seguenti, nonostante l’intervento dell’esercito, la violenza non è comunque completamente
cessata, dato il perdurare di focolai di tensione.
La durata e l’intensità degli attacchi hanno penosamente messo in
luce l’incapacità del governo e della polizia di mantenere l’ordine pubblico. Sono occorse 72 ore, infatti, affinché le autorità si risolvessero a
bloccare le manifestazioni del BBS, ponendo così fine ai disordini. Inoltre, stando alle testimonianze delle vittime, pare che le forze dell’ordine
si siano dimostrate complici degli stessi assalitori, assistendo impassibilmente agli attacchi ed evitando di intervenire per frenare le sommosse.45
Il governo Rajapaksa, dal canto suo, ha sollecitato i media nazionali a
non pubblicare notizie relative ai tumulti di Aluthgama, giustificando tale
stics, Sri Lanka Census of Population and Housing, 2011, (http://www.statistics.gov.lk/
PopHouSat/CPH2011/index.php?fileName=pop42&gp=Activities&tpl=3).
43 Ayesha Zuhair, Is BBS the new face of Buddhist revivalism?, ‘Groundviews’, 13 luglio
2014.
44 The Human Tragedy Of Aluthgama, ‘The Sunday Leader’, 22 giugno 2014.
45 Buddhist-Muslim Unrest Boils Over in Sri Lanka, ‘New York Times’, 16 giugno
2014.
353
Danila Berloffa
richiesta col pretesto di non fomentare la disarmonia etnica. Nonostante
l’imposizione della censura, che ha incluso il blocco dei siti web di alcuni
quotidiani, alcuni giornalisti hanno ugualmente tentato di documentare
gli attacchi, divenendo a loro volta vittime degli assalitori.46
Sebbene l’esplosione di violenza fosse inizialmente apparsa come un
avvenimento spontaneo, in risposta al presunto sopruso verbale subìto da
un monaco buddista, alcune circostanze parrebbero convalidare l’ipotesi
secondo cui gli attacchi sarebbero invece il frutto di un piano organizzato.
Innanzitutto, l’arsenale con cui gli assalitori erano equipaggiati, che comprendeva armi da fuoco, bombe molotov e bombole di gas, lascia pensare ad un certo livello di preparazione logistica. Allo stesso modo, molte
delle zone colpite dalla violenza hanno assistito ad un’interruzione della
fornitura di energia elettrica e alla disattivazione delle linee telefoniche.
Infine, secondo quanto dichiarato da alcuni testimoni di etnia sinhala,
gli assalitori non sarebbero stati residenti dell’area, bensì forestieri provenienti da altre zone, condotti nell’area di Aluthgama e di Beruwela con
uno scopo preciso, ovvero fomentare la violenza settaria.47
Se tali indizi inducono a ipotizzare l’esistenza di una pianificazione
alla base dell’ondata di violenza verificatasi in giugno, ad avvalorare la
teoria dell’attacco premeditato vi sarebbe anche un altro fattore. Mangala
Samaraweera, membro del partito d’opposizione UNP, ha infatti apertamente accusato il governo di coprire, attraverso la secretazione di alcuni
documenti, tre ufficiali dei servizi segreti singalesi che avrebbero spalleggiato il BBS durante l’offensiva anti musulmana. Senza contraddire
tali accuse, il portavoce dell’esercito, Ruwan Wanigasooriya, durante una
conferenza stampa, ha significativamente affermato: «[…] qualche politico, grazie ai suoi privilegi parlamentari, sta tentando di rivelare dettagli
segreti sui membri dell’intelligence nazionale».48 Quindi, Wanigasooriya,
non negando il coinvolgimento degli ufficiali dei servizi segreti, ha di fatto diffidato i membri del parlamento dal diffondere informazioni riservate, rafforzando in tal modo la teoria secondo cui l’intelligence nazionale
sarebbe stata implicata nello sprigionamento della violenza settaria. Il
segretario alla Difesa ha invece negato ogni coinvolgimento da parte del
suo dicastero, anche se pare ormai accertato che il BBS goda di un qualche
patrocinio all’interno dell’apparato statale, tanto che proprio Gotabhaya
Sectarian violence in south de