Interview to the consul of Bhutan

A few days ago I had the pleasure to interview Ian Patrick Guerrero Triay the consul of Bhutan and the first representative in Spain of this mystical country situated in the Himalayas.

We must stress that Mr Ian has been a very important person in terms of establishing diplomatic relations between these two countries, for example in 2010 the Prime Minister of Bhutan made his official visit to Spain and thanks to him  this Prime Minister had the opportunity  to achieve meetings with important figures of the Spanish scene as the King of Spain, strengthening the diplomatic ties between Bhutan and Spain.

We can say that the major target of Bhutan towards Spain is the tourism, as Mr Ian said “the percentage of Spaniards who travel to Bhutan are usually a few hundred, then one of the short-term objectives between both countries would be to increase tourism from Spain towards Bhutan, improving the country’s development”.

Speaking of tourism I asked to him why in the past the Government of Bhutan restricted the entrance of tourists and if there is any type of restriction now a days, in this issue he remarked ” the only thing that wanted and want now a days the government of Bhutan is to achieve a high quality and environmentally friendly tourism, also, we have to say that today there is not any restriction but what the government want to do is to avoid mass tourism like happened in Nepal “.

We have to say that Bhutan is a very Small state with less than 700.000 inhabitants and its between two major states of the world that are China and India, in words of Mr Ian Bhutan is ” the meat between two slices of a sandwich” and he said “Bhutan is one of the smallest countries in the world and because of this economically depends heavily of India, this country also, is the major financier of Bhutan, with  Indian finance of long-term soft loans Bhutan is  building dams to generate electricity with the fall of water from the Himalayas, thus supplying the north of India creating strong ties between these countries and improving development”

When I was with him I also asked about the diplomatic relations between China and Bhutan, he told me that they are not as strong as the relations with  India, but Mr Ian said to me that they maintain cordial relations. ” one of the reasons why China and Bhutan do not maintain great relationships is because these countries are divided by the Himalayas and this means that they are very badly connected and also we have to say that the boundaries between them are no well defined, because of this sometimes tensions are created” he remarked.

The international organization  Freedom of house gave to Bhutan in 2005 the status of a not free country and in 2015 they have given to this country the status of a partly free state,  because of this I asked him  what happened during this years  and he answered me “the former King of Bhutan abdicated in favor of his son to modernize the country and get a totally free and democratic country, in 2008 the first constitution was introduced to achieve this goal, based on more than 50 constitutions and one of them being the Spanish constitution and after this first elections were held”.

It is known that the Bhutanese Government cares more about the happiness of the inhabitants than the country’s economy.  “the government believes that the economic indicators are not the determinants of the welfare and happiness of the inhabitants because of this the actual king of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuck had created a index that is called Gross National Happiness an index that measures the happiness of the inhabitants” he remarked.

The organization Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) has just published its World Giving Index and places Bhutan as one of the most supportive countries in the place 17 of 134 countries. About this issue he told me: “in my opinion this is because the majority of Bhutanese are Buddhists and have the sense of helping others very involved, in my travels I have observed this and I think that in our country we have to recover this idea”

Oihan Iglesias Lamuedra.

IMG_3630

The Consul of Bhutan and Oihan Iglesias in Intercontinental Hotel (Madrid) 

 

 

Japan approves its largest defense budget in response to China’s strength

Japanese Government approved the largest defense budget in their history in response to the rise of Chinese military power.

Japanese Self Defense Force destroyer

Japanese Self Defense Force destroyer. Source: The Telegraph

Last Wednesday, 4th of February, it was approved by the Japanese Government the largest defense budget in Japan’s history.

The Japanese Government is going to spend 4,98 billion yen -36.000 million euros- in its defense budget, 2’98% more than last year. This would help Japan to reach position eighth of the world’s biggest defense spending country.

This is the third consecutive year in which the Japanese Government has increased its defense budget. However, this growth is still waiting for the approval of the Japanese Parliament. If this budget is approved, it will represent 5% of the national budget (2015).

The aim of this incensement of the defense budget is to strengthen aerial and maritime surveillance. They want to buy aerial surveillance aircraft and fighter jets to help the alertness system in some specific places of the country.

The Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs said that it is going to be useful for Japan as it is going to be seen as a force of peace and stability in East Asia.

The Japanese constitution was born after the Second World War when the Allied forces occupied Japan. They considered that the new constitution should not let Japan have a military force to avoid any chance for this country to enter again into a war. This mandate can be seen in Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution of 1947, where it prohibits Japan to enter into a war and to maintain war potential, even though it does not specifically forbid self-defense military capability.

The policy of demilitarization of Japan changed when, for the sake of peacekeeping of the international community, it was allowed to increase its military potential only for self-defense purposes.

Article 9 has been very popular since the end of the Second World War, but it was not until recently that Japan has begun to take its security more seriously.

Japan’s rearmament is just a decision to face what the country believes that belong to them. In an Asian context: China is modernizing its navy and acting with growing assertiveness within territorial disputes –most of them tense relations within the China Sea- as well as challenging U.S. military access to Asia. Similarly, Vietnam and Indonesia are constantly growing.

Because of all that facts, Japan is just responding to Chinese behavior.

As a last issue, mention that China should rethink their own steps in order to contain not only India, Vietnam and US through the pearl necklace, but also to Japan itself.

The economic and political future in the Philippines with Antonio Manuel Reyes

I first met Antonio Manuel Reyes on the plane from Frankfurt to Madrid on a cold January evening, he was on his way to take part at a conference about minorities hosted by the UN. Mr Reyes, an International Relations graduate himself , started his impressive career by joining the UN in Vienna back in the 70s and since then he has successfully led development programmes in Latin America/West Africa, worked as a career diplomat in the Caribbean and held advisory positions in his native Philippines.

After talking on the plane, we kept in touch via email, so when I had the chance to cover the Philippines for my interview I felt it would be natural to consult mr Reyes on skype as he is possessing valuable information about the region.

He started off by explaining the political and economic situation in the Philippines, which he characterises as “chaotic and severly mismanaged” and he adds that authorities in Manila have lost touch with reality as they, in his words ”neglect the most basic of rights and undermines sustainable growth, favouring the elite and marginalizing the increasing number of poor.”

I further ask him to elaborate on this lack of sustainable thinking by the authorites and how the formidable economic growth is only benefitting a few. “I saw the same thing in Nigeria, vast oil reserves that is increasing GDP, boosting spending, however the overall picture remains the same, we are moving in circles, facing over-population and lowered quality of life. Economic growth is one thing, sustainability something else” I ask him about how the Philippines compare with other countries in the region, and if there is a pattern.

He takes a deep breath and explains me how the Philippines is still troubled by its past and how todays society inherited large structural problems in terms of lacking infrastructure, nepotism, bureaucracy and corruption. “Philippines is plagued with a sense of two steps back – one step forward mentality, in which we lack the basic tools to create a shift in living conditions seen elsewhere in in East Asia.”

“What we need is proper governance, and to increase our share of the world trade. Philippines possess vast human resources, and in many ways we could be the next Asian tiger, if we reshape our policies and manage to get people out of poverty.”

“I believe the Philippines will play an increasingly important role in the next few years, and its strategic position in the pacific could allow for new trade opportunities. We need to become a regional player, turning Manila into a hub for commerce. So much potential and more than 7000 islands, could you imagine!”

He then talks about the pitfalls of rapid population growth and how to address them, as I move on with my questions. How is the high birth rate and young population affecting the country, I asked. “Look at Indonesia, in many ways similar Geography, but a different way of tackling the massive population growth and the transition into a growing power, the secret lie in their Governance and how leaders are able to empower the younger generation, fostering innovation and giving the new generation new ideas. We need to change our mindset.”

I continued our interview, Mr Reyes seemed more enthusiastic than ever. What about relations with China in the East Asian Sea? “The Philippines depend on China as a trade and diplomatic partner, a partnership deemed very beneficial to our country. However, some matters need a firm hand, and geopolitcally speaking Philippines is not afraid of sticking to their principles, in this case it means to fight for something that could be considered rightfully ours”
Territorial disputes he said in the area is extremely widespread and 8 countries are currently fighting over vast areas of land. “Its all about the crude oil and controlling the supply routes to and from the South China Sea, something especially China is very keen on doing.”

“They have strong interests there, China is seeking energy independence. Controlling Malacca is a long lost battle, therefore they want something they can depend on” “I believe the Philippines should act carefully in the region, sometimes compromises need to be made” I gave him a puzzled look, but you just said the opposite?

“Well, it was my initial thought. However, I do understand the complexity of the issue. You have to ask yourself, if a good or bad relationship with China is more important” I answered him, saying integrity and predictability could be considered important in high politics. We need to get to grips with domestic matters, address the big challenges. Soaring unemployment, generations of filipinos growing up outside the world economy. Thats our challenge. Then we take on China”

I do feel I benefitted from talking to Mr Reyes as he is now turning 75 and have experienced a myriad of changes in politics and society. His background from diplomacy makes him very relevant when studying IR and he is possessing invaluable skills.

Brisbane & the Gold Coast of Australia: Reflection of a semester abroad

I chose to interview Markus Krüger, a companion from my time in school and asked about his experiences in Australia. He studied politics in Halle and was on exchange at Griffith University in Brisbane in 2012.

I was curious about his experiences and impressions, as well as his motivations to go to the other side of the globe. In my opinion it is a strange place for studying, having worked in tourism I know about the Gold Coast for slightly different reasons. Furthermore, it is a place I might end up for a year, too. Germans can apply for a “Work & Travel visa” for one year and can extend the visa under certain circumstances for another year.

Of course a general fascination for the continent, its flora and fauna and learning English was important for him. Markus admitted that Australia is not exactly the best place to learn proper English, because many people swear a lot, even in general conversation. For practicing fluency while enjoying study-abroad, Australia sounds perfect on the other hand. When asked about what makes Australia so special, he started to rave about his year abroad. The most time he spoke more about the Gold Coast south of Brisbane. I guess it left a very positive impression on him. The Gold Coast is a tourism hotspot of Australia with many offers in water sports, which he enjoyed a lot. The nightlife is amazing and at the same time crazy. Markus described the people he met as very open, different from home. Foreigners are welcomed and he said it was explained to him as the local’s ancestors were all foreigners. The ease in the daily routine was impressive. In general, he described the mood best with “live the moment”, just more as people from Europe might imagine.

Beside the most visited places by tourists, such as the Great Barriers Reef and Ayers Rock, Australia still got a lot to offer. There are lot of places you get to know when meeting with locals and one of the many travelers.

Tourism is indeed quite important for Australia. It provides 5.6% of the country’s jobs and 4% of its GDP. The Gold Coast of Australia has an about 80% room occupancy rate and 12 million visitors a year, indicated a stable tourism economy and expected to be growing over the next years. 2 national visitors come on 1 foreign visitor, which means an equal to half the population of Australia spends a few nights or more in Brisbane and the gold coast. Brisbane, as the biggest city in the area, has 2 million habitants, only a sixth of the total amount of visitors. Beside this, the gold coast is famous for surfing and other water sports and is focusing on this target group.

“It’s almost as if the locals adopted the vacation mood from the visitors.”

Its advertisement and focus on watersports might have played some role, since the attitude of for example professional surfers is slightly different from the European business-man.

Asked if he would consider starting a business at the gold coast, he replied it would mean a tough competition. Markus replied he would love to do anything if he had the experience but the high amount of competitors makes it necessary that you really know what you are doing, even if many businesses are running smooth. Considering his current unpaid internship, he added: “It’s a good place for young people. You can learn very fast, sometimes even on-the-job and the salary is good. Maybe I’ll go back there after my contract expires for a year.”

When we spoke about the perception of environmental issues, it became a little bit more complicated. Over-development of the gold coast is obvious and with it, all its side-effects. At the same time, people seemed to be against the intrusion of the government in the Australian nature. The Great Barrier Reef is just one example of many issues in Australia and he said if people were not so comfortable, they may oppose the government more actively.

All in all, he said, he enjoyed his year abroad. “It was almost like vacation. Australia has so much to offer, you can’t miss it.”

 

When we first spoke about his time in Australia when he came back, I was quite impressed about what Markus said. Now, 2 years later we both had fun doing the interview and speaking about Australia. After working in tourism, seeing now some different angles, for example when speaking about the environment, made his reflection quite interesting and refreshing for me.

Tackling Climate Change in Australia

greenpeacesa

Greenpeace ad in the Sydney aquarium

Australia fears the consequences of more extreme weather and how it might impact their national economy, geology and society in general. The last few years, Australian voters have been voting over the future of their environmental policies. Different paths and policies have been introduced. The Gillard government for instance introduced a carbon tax which was seen as a step forward by some, and a controversial move by others. Personally, I find myself to be somewhere in the middle as putting taxes on everything we do not like or want to get rid of could be considered a slippery slope, in other words why stop there? On the other hand, it offered a good incentive for Australians to cut carbon emissions and so they did. By 11% according to official government figures.

The big question remains though, how can Australia lower its emission in an effective way? And at what price for society? Some scholars argue that the government needs to redirect its environmental track completely, taking into account that Australia is the 10th largest emitter of CO2, whilst others are fiercely against any measure or even the political debate about a change in policy. This is also part of the problem, Australia is still stuck in a position where consensus in the general population is miles away, overarching agreements and even a proper debate is still tucked beneath the bed.

In many ways this is ironic, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott was elected on the grounds of introducing more effective environmental schemes. This happened in 2013, but Australia is still lacking a clear cut environmental profile.

That might prove to be serious as the country is by many climate experts said to be extremely vulnerable to environmental changes. Some states may already have seen parts of what could be expected in the future. Residents in New South Wales woke up to record breaking temperatures last summer, people in Queensland have been facing increasingly fierce tropical storms and the population in Victora has spent the last year trying to gain control over the numerous wildfires.

So where should Australia head next then?

A combination of the schemes introduced by the Gillard government, increased awareness among Australians and a gradual switch over to renewable resources would be the short answer. The longer answer would require more details, but as a starting point it would mean to completely reshape the current energy platform and to take advantages of the excellent resources the country is possessing. Ironically the same resources that are endangered if the current trend is continuing.

In other words, Australia needs to think radically outside the box. Create incentives in order to move consumers away from traditional platforms, introduce alternatives, incorporate technology that will allow for a reduction of emission in both the private and public sphere.

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/06/02/3443604/australia-hottest-two-years/

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/05/australia-risks-going-backwards-on-climate-change-and-straining-pacific-ties

http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/ http://article.wn.com/view/2014/06/13/Pacific_leaders_warn_Australia_isolated_on_climate_change/

http://www.theshovel.com.au/2014/06/10/australia-canada-to-withdraw-from-climate-change/

http://phys.org/news/2012-09-australian-coal-basin-polluter-greenpeace.html

Philippines seek cooperation in South China Sea dispute

On 21st May, the Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung and the Filipino president Aquino announced their cooperation against “illegal” Chinese activities and sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

Shortly after, on May 22nd, the Vietnamese minister held a speech at the World Economic Forum in Manila, Philippines, saying that Vietnam is considering joining the Philippines in a lawsuit against China under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The declaration of cooperation from Wednesday was made only two days after Aquino accused China to violate an informal agreement from 2002 between the 10 ASEAN member states and China. Within this informal code of conduct, China and the ASEAN member states declared to refrain from building new structures, such as oil rigs, and occupying uninhibited reefs.

South China Sea: Interactive map (click it)

According to Filipino intelligence, China started to claim territory surrounding the Johnson South Reef, considered to be within the Filipino Exclusive Economic zone (EEZ), already in 2012. Several military surveillance photos were released on May 15th, providing evidence of Chinese construction sites on uninhibited reefs.

The EEZ is regulated by the UNCLOS, which was signed and ratified by China. The UNCLOS defines the EEZ of a state 200 miles from it’s shores.

On May 1st, China deployed an oil rig close to the Vietnamese shore, within an area Vietnam considers to be part of it’s EEZ.

After deploying the oil rig, Vietnamese boats tried to stop the Chinese vessels and by today (May 22nd), fights with ramming and water cannons between coast guards and fishing vessels of both states continue. No hard ammunition was reported to be used thus far, but demonstrations against Chinese sea occupation in Vietnam resulted in several deaths.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the main source of conflict in the South China Sea is about resources. Beside fishery and hydrocarbons, which are in high demand due to the forthcoming industrialization of the coastal areas, the South China Sea is expected to have at least seven billion barrels of oil reserves and 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Furthermore, about 50% of global oil tanker shipments routes through the South China Sea and traffic is significantly higher than in the Suez Canal or Panama Canal.

Since the US is increasing it’s activity in the pacific, China might feel forced to secure this very important trade lane and to get the disputed territory and resources under control before external forces become a thread to the Chinese interest in the South China Sea.

The US announced it’s focus on the transpacific relations in 2010. Right now, the US is negotiating a free trade area, called Transpacific Partnership (TPP), with several states within the pacific ocean.

Besides the TPP, the US also announced on April 28th a military cooperation with the Philippines and will reactivate military bases within the Philippines.

Bibliography:

http://www.cfr.org/china/south-china-sea-tensions/p29790

http://www.fpri.org/articles/2013/09/imperative-american-strategy-southeast-asia

http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/05/16/china-building-military-base-in-south-china-sea-on-territory-claimed-by-philippines-manila-says/

http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/687720-vietnam-and-philippines-cooperate-to-oppose-china/?photo=2

http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/05/19/philippines-china-idINL3N0O52AK20140519

http://www.voanews.com/content/vietnam-pm-threatens-legal-actions-against-china-over-oil-rig/1919946.html

https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetailsIII.aspx?&src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XXI~6&chapter=21&Temp=mtdsg3&lang=en

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/12/11/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-trans-pacific-partnership/

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/04/28/obama-says-us-philippine-military-pact-will-improve-asia-security/

http://www.interaksyon.com/article/87360/vietnam-mulls-legal-action-other-defense-options-vs-china—premier

Australia´s New Border Agency

The increasing problem of immigration in the region is making Australia nervous, as it fear the consequences of long term influx on the country. New Zealand, Indonesia, Papua, New Guinea and Nauru are the countries where the immigrants come from and Australia is concerned about these migrants, as Australia have traditionally served been wary about imposing limitations due to diplomatic interest. Until now.

 

The Australian Defense Minister, have voiced his concern about the increasing number of immigrants and as a result of this, Australian authorities have announced the creation of the Australian Border Force (ABF) which will begin operating in July next year and will act as the nation’s single frontline enforcement agency. Minister of Defence Scott Morisson justifies these changes in policy by saying: “This measure will save hundreds of million (dollars) but it is not a saving measure, it is a reform measure.”

The Minister says ABF will be “intelligence-led, mobile” and “technology enabled”, and will operate strategically to ensure officers are deployed “to greatest effect”. “Disciplined, uniformed Border Force officers, some armed, will carry out these tasks and will be supported by mobile and other portable technology which will enhance their ability to clear cargo, remotely access data and information, and wirelessly report back to Strategic Border Command,” Mr Morrison told the Lowy Institute in Sydney.

S. Morrison said that the ABF will always put the national security first. Some people is opposing this change in politics, however Morrison argues Australia is in need of a political reformation in order to secure its borders and he backs up this claim by drawing parallels to other western countries.

Furthermore, with the ABF they can secure the stability of their GDP, which traditionally have been prone to fluctuation and is affected negatively due to the high level of immigrants. This is not only a social problem it affects all areas (Social, economic, political, cultural…). In other words, Australia and its economy could benefit from the proposed measures as it calls for a more predicable and linear foreign policy, reducing costs and increasing efficiency, ensuring Australia gets more bang for the buck.

The neigbouring countries supports these measures as they are deemed necessary to provide a sound and reliable fix to Australia and its challenges with immigration. However, some government officials have claimed the measures to be too drastic, infringing on basic rights and limiting individual freedom. Additonal sources, also suggest these measures could create friction in the Pacific region, where Australia serves as a diplomatic figurehead and is renowned for its pragmatic and close ties to its less economcically developed neighbours.

In the end, the reformation of its border agency suggest Australia is prepared to face rising challenges, and to improve its mobility and allocation of resources. More widespread use of technology and decreased command chain means Australia and its border patrol 2.0 is ready to embark on a mission. However, the long term consequences are hard to forecast and the country depend on its close ties with neighbouring countries, serving as a reminder of the fragile nature of this policy.

Bibliography:
http://www.lowyinterpreter.org%2Fpost%2F2014%2F05%2F14%2FDefence-budget-2014-Heavy-weights-still-in-the-rack.aspx%3FCOLLCC%3D906509343&h=SAQHcT0G2
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-09/immigration-minister-scott-morrison-announces-new-border-agency/5441968

http://www.immi.gov.au/About/Pages/australian-border-force.aspxv