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Saturday, February 28, 2015 A15

Comrades in arms
Paul Letters says China and Russias
decision to jointly commemorate the
end of the second world war must
be understood against the
background of their shared
experiences but only up to a point

Thomas Knapp says whistleblowers

such as Edward Snowden are on
an unstoppable mission to bring
down the nation-state system

ast week, China and Russia

announced their intention to
plan joint commemorations for
the 70th anniversary of the end
of the second world war. Such
cuddling up on the world stage may
appear merely a modern political convenience against Western antipathy. The two
countries seek to refresh history and commemorate only the sweet taste of a sweet
and sour relationship. But when you look
at the course the war ran for each of them,
theirs was in part a shared experience.
At the hands of fascistic enemies, by
1945, both nations had suffered to an
extent many even in occupied Western
Europe let alone more remote America
could only struggle to comprehend.
The number of war deaths (military
plus civilian) for the US or Britain were
each around 400,000; France, 600,000. We
need not six figures but eight for China and
the Soviet Union, where most estimates
vary between 10 and 20 million and 20 and
30 million respectively.
That experts cannot be sure, within a
range of 10 million, how many citizens of
China or the Soviet Union were slain says
much about the nature of war in those
theatres: the dead lay disrespected and
unaccounted for on a scale unseen on the
western front. It is understandable that at
the end of the war, both nations expected
to mitigate terrible losses through significant gains from the peace. Soviet forces set
a precedent as to how to claim multiple
victory prizes, from Prague to Pyongyang.
For China, immediate rewards were less
abundant; regaining Hong Kong was one
dashed hope.
The West has long been blind to the
roles China and the USSR played in the
second world war. Americans can grow up
thinking the Flying Tigers won the war in
Asia, yet between 1937 and 1942, the USSR
was the only country providing material
assistance to the precarious Republic of
Chinas cause. Before the Nationalist withdrawal to Chinas interior, the vehemently
anti-communist Chiang Kai-shek relied
upon Soviet air power to enable China to
stand up against the Japanese. (Stalin
feared losing China to the Japanese more
than he feared the Nationalists.)
A few years earlier, the Republic of
China had courted military aid not only
from the US, but also from the Nazis until
Japan forced Germany to withdraw its
military advisers.
The end of the cold war saw the

The big picture

archives open up in the former Soviet

republics and, belatedly and tentatively, in
the Peoples Republic. Russias take on the
Great Patriotic War crosses communist/
non-communist dividing lines, but China
is more internally angst-ridden. The Chinese Communist Party has yet to shed its
reluctance to illuminate all aspects of the

China and Russia

were bound together
by something greater
than ideology: a
common enemy
war effort, but, today, Chinese researchers
are quietly rediscovering their nations
muddied history, including the enormous
contribution the Nationalists made.
The USSR and Japan were not at war
with each other for the vast majority of the
war: Soviet Russia resolutely sought to
avoid war. From the historically indefensible Nazi-Soviet Pact to its 1941 neutrality
pact with Japan following border clashes,

the Soviet Union was a reluctant combatant. China had to wait until August 1945 for
the Soviets to declare war on Japan.
The Sino-Soviet friendship was far
from close by the wars end. At the 1945
Yalta Conference, Stalin asked for Franklin
Roosevelts blessing on independence for
Outer Mongolia in exchange for his assurance that the USSR would not support the
Communist Party in the Chinese civil conflict. Moscow doubted the communists
ability to win the civil war.
That they won it and still maintain
power has some bearing on the USSRs
former communist KGB chief Vladimir
Putin and his desire to stand alongside
China today. Back then, the reward to the
same communists who had fought alongside Americans and Britons in the AsiaPacific theatre was Western-led international excommunication.
So began a relationship admittedly at
times a squabbling sisters relationship
where China and Russia were bound
together by something greater than ideology: a common enemy. The West, long
Soviet Russias enemy, had declared itself
the enemy of the Peoples Republic of
China before the new communist state
could take its first breath.
This 70-year anniversary snuggle-up
overlooks much dirt from the war era.

Heaped on the Russian side of the garden

fence was the Nazi-Soviet division of
Poland, the Katyn massacre, and the
acquisition of the three Baltic states.
Poland Natos last stand in the east
clearly feels threatened by Russian military
aggression again today, and, according to
the British government, so should Latvia,
Lithuania and Estonia. British Defence
Minister Michael Fallon avowed last week
that they are in Putins sights.
Look back nearer to the beginning of
the second world war to a 75th, rather
than 70th, anniversary and while China
had suffered a decade of invasion by an
axis power, the lengths Soviet Russia went
to in order to avoid war included aiding
Japans key ally, Germany. Indeed, Germanys invasions of Western Europe in
1940 were fuelled by oil and grain, and
fought with steel, supplied by the Soviets.
But history is something we judge by its
endings. Today, Beijing and Moscow want
to promote their own historical and
future narrative distinct from any Western version. Seventy years ago, Asias two
largest countries ended up on the winning
side, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Paul Letters is a political commentator and
writer. His new world war two novel is
launched this week. See

SA whistleblower Edward Snowden continues

to loom large in the worlds news. Revelations
from the trove of data he disclosed to
journalists roll out on a near-weekly basis, followed
by denials and excuses from politicians and
bureaucrats he exposes as responsible for rights
violations around the world. Citizenfour, a
documentary covering his heroic actions on behalf of
the public, just grabbed the Oscar for best
documentary feature.
Its easy to get lost in the minutiae of Snowdens
individual disclosures. And thats OK. Each disclosure
tells us something important about those who rule
us. But theres more to it than the details. Theres a
bigger picture.
In a February 23 Ask Me Anything discussion on
Reddit, Snowden encapsulated that bigger picture.
[W]e the people, he wrote, will implement systems
that provide for a means of not just enforcing our
rights, but removing from governments the ability to
interfere with those rights.
Thats the whole ball game right there, folks. The
purpose of political government has never been, as
the US Declaration of Independence claims, to
secure these rights [life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness] deriving their just powers from the
consent of the governed. The purpose of political
government has always been to monopolise
violations of rights and to use those violations to
redistribute power, control and wealth from you to
the political class.
Many perhaps most of us dont get it.
Sometimes Snowden himself doesnt seem quite sure
of it. But the politicians know it deep down in their
When the worlds panicked potentates and
powermongers squeal that people like Snowden
make it more difficult for them to protect us, what
they really mean is that people like Snowden unlock
and open the doors of the cages were kept in.
The politicians arent afraid of bad actors getting
in. Theyre afraid of us getting out. Worse, theyre
afraid that while were out, well realise we never
needed them.
They fear that the final shred of the emperors
clothes the notion that the state is a necessary evil
will fall away, revealing them to us in all their
nakedness as the unnecessary evil theyve always
been. And that fear is fully justified.
Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Snowden
(among others; Barrett Brown and Ross Ulbricht also
come immediately to mind) have earned their places
as central figures in the pantheon of human liberty.
They will one day be revered (indeed, they already are
among many) as modern-day Thomas Paines.
Paines work brought down the British empire in
one small corner of the planet; it also inspired and
informed the revolution in France. The effects
reverberate across more than two centuries of human
history down to this very day. Snowden and those
others are in the process of completing Paines
mission by bringing down the global political class
preferred governance model of the last 400 years, the
Westphalian nation-state.
Snowdens Great Removal is in progress and
unstoppable. It deserves our enthusiastic embrace.
Thomas L. Knapp is senior news analyst
at the Centre for a Stateless Society.

Asean leaders wisdom can ensure peace Officials must dare to stand
and prosperity beyond the golden years up for Hong Kongs interests
Andrew Sheng says despite regional challenges, the future looks bright for the grouping

Stephen Vines says a show of bravery could reinforce two systems

f you are looking for a telling

snapshot of how the one
country, two systems
concept is working out, look no
further than Tuen Mun or
maybe Tsim Sha Tsui or
indeed any other place jammed
with visitors from the mainland.
At one extreme, their
presence provokes ugly
demonstrations but, more
generally, it incites a bitter
response. What lies behind this
is not merely their presence but
the sense of hopelessness that is
enveloping Hong Kong, which
appears to have a government
with no control over, or even any
desire to shape, this places
When it comes to the influx
of visitors from across the
border, officials say they are
waiting for instructions from
Beijing, when it comes to
constitutional reform, they say
that these decisions are made in
Beijing, and, it now appears that
orders from above are even
dictating who will be appointed
to various public offices.
Meanwhile, there is no
getting away from the folly and
ugliness of confrontations
between ordinary people from
the mainland and, mainly,
working-class people from Hong
Kong. This is plain wrong as
both parties are victims of a
system that puts them in the
back seat.
The folly is compounded by
the idiots waving colonial-era
flags who provide Hong Kongs
born-again patriots with an
excuse to justify their desire for a
new colonial status.
It really was not supposed to
work like this although

here are two ways to see

whether something is
going to do well or badly
a top-down view or a bottom-up
view. Over the past year, I have
travelled through Indochina,
visiting eight of the 10 Asean
member states, to get a firsthand view from the ground up.
In two years, the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations will
celebrate its golden anniversary.
This year, Malaysia chairs the
community at a time when the
dream of an Asean Economic
Community is due to be fulfilled.
In a world awash with strife
and uncertainty, Asean remains
the rising star. Taken together,
the McKinsey Global Institute
estimates that Asean is already
the seventh-largest economy in
the world. With a combined
US$2.4 trillion GDP and a
population of 620 million (over
100 million more than the EU),
Asean can power global growth.
Its labour force, the worlds
third-largest, is also very young,
with 50 per cent below 30.
Travelling by bus through
Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia
last month, I could feel Aseans
rapid growth. Every city and
rural area is full of construction,
and felt very much like China of
the past decade. Cambodia, one
of the poorest countries in the
1990s, has achieved regular 7 per
cent-plus growth per annum,
much as a result of rapid
urbanisation. According to the
UN, Aseans urban population
will total more than 500 million
by 2050. McKinsey estimates 125
million Asean households will
join the middle-income class by
2025, more than double the
figure today.

As I sat amid the ruins of

Angkor Wat, I reflected on the
two factors that struck me most
about my tour: war and water.
Our tourist guide in Hanoi had
started her introduction to
Vietnams history as fighting
China for a millennium, France
for a century and the US for two
decades we beat them all.
You only have to realise there are
still unexploded bombs in parts
of Laos and Cambodia, and see
the musicians maimed by
mines, to remember that this is a
region marred by war.

Travelling by
bus through
Vietnam, Laos
and Cambodia,
I could feel
Aseans growth
I also brought along Robert
Kaplans 2014 book Asias
Cauldron, about how the South
China Sea could be the next flash
point of geopolitical conflict.
Born during the period of the
Vietnam war, the Asean
community realised that
geopolitical neutrality and
political stability are the anchors
for peace and prosperity. Unlike
the European Union, Asean is
not a political integration but an
economic zone focused on
regional peace. Its strengths are
its consensual nature of
agreement highly frustrating
for some and its ability to get

the balance of power right.

Aseans problems are the same
as the rest of the developing
world. Inter-country income
disparity is narrowing, but
within each country, inequality
is rising. Growth in six of the
less-developed countries
remains far faster than the richer
four Singapore, Brunei,
Malaysia and Thailand.
But the emerging six
Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar,
Indonesia, Philippines and
Vietnam all need higher levels
of spending on infrastructure,
education and health care to
continue growing. Clearly, fast
growth has helped deal with
extreme poverty, but the
Lamborghinis I saw in Hanoi
and Phnom Penh suggest the
gap between the few urban rich
and the mass rural poor is not
being addressed.
The good news is that the
Japanese, Europeans, the Asian
Development Bank, and the new
Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure
Investment Bank, are more
willing to fund infrastructure.
Furthermore, the fall in oil prices
has meant Asean members can
enjoy cheaper energy while
enabling Indonesia, Malaysia
and Thailand to remove their
energy subsidies, freeing up
funds for infrastructure and
dealing with social inequality.
However, travelling through
the countryside also revealed the
importance of water in the
regions ecology. Almost all the
water comes from the monsoon
rains and the rivers that flow
from the Himalayas through
Yunnan in China. The Mekong
flows for more than 4,000km
through six countries, and

provides water and transport for

over 80 million people.
Deforestation, global warming
and changing weather patterns
all threaten the fertile ricegrowing areas from Myanmar to
Vietnam, which depend on
water availability. History shows
that droughts and associated
diseases accelerated the fall of
the Khmer empire. Vietnam says
drought, increased salinity and
rising sea levels could erode 40
per cent of the Mekong Delta in
the next century.
Despite these challenges, I
disagree with Kaplan that
territorial disputes over water
and resources will be the end of
a stable region. For one thing,
the region has too much to lose
from rising trade and economic
Having survived and thrived
during nearly 50 years of living
and working together, one has to
trust the innate wisdom of Asean
leaders to understand that the
regional and global future rests
on a clear-sighted balance of
power, opportunities and risks.
Aseans founding fathers had
the foresight and overcame their
differences to ensure regional
stability and prosperity. Lets
hope that outside powers also
have the wisdom and restraint to
keep Asean growing in peace for
the next 50 years.
Andrew Sheng writes on global
issues with an Asian perspective
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fascinating contortions are being

performed to suggest that both
the Basic Law and the SinoBritish Joint Declaration are
blueprints for Hong Kongs
subservience to the mainland in
all matters.
Yet, the fundamental
principle of the one country,
two systems concept drew a
line between what needed to be
decided in Beijing and the high
degree of autonomy offered to
the local government. As Deng
said in 1984,
we should have faith in the

Hong Kong
appears to have
a government
with no control
over this
places destiny
Chinese of Hong Kong, who are
quite capable of administrating
their own affairs.
What happened to that faith?
The bald facts are that is has
largely been eroded by the very
people who were handpicked in
Beijing to lead the new special
administrative region.
Instead of working
assiduously to build Hong
Kongs own institutions and
preserve its distinctive identity,
they have opted for a reflex
desire to refer all big decisions
up north and have chosen to tell
the leaders in Beijing only what
they want to hear. A true leader

is also the bearer of unpleasant

Meanwhile, back on the
streets, places rarely visited by
the grand people who run Hong
Kong, ordinary people cant get
on buses taking them to work,
find that their local shopping
centres no longer serve their
needs and fear that, because of
mainland money inflating
property prices, the dream of
ever owning a home will never
be realised.
One country, two systems
was always a novel and difficult
concept. Yet it contained the
genius of a plan to serve the
interests of both systems.
Now it looks like a sham and
the wilful abandonment of the
plan is fuelling discontent that
will hardly be ameliorated by the
chief executives masterly
suggestion that Hong Kong
people should be more like
There are many practical
ways in which the tension
between Hongkongers and
mainlanders can be eased, such
as improving public transport in
areas principally affected by the
influx and introducing a real
programme for widespread
home ownership.
However, what is really and
urgently required is a
government that shows signs of
standing up for the interests of
the people it governs.
If this means being just a little
brave and sometimes asserting
itself in the face of the central
authorities is this really too
much to ask?
Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based
journalist and entrepreneur