Author Archives: Michelle Chen

Creating Opportunity for Women in Papua New Guinea

This past September was my second time visiting Papua New Guinea (PNG), known as “the land for opportunity.” From my experiences there, this phrase is no exaggeration. PNG is a country full of untapped (natural) resources, talents, and compassionate people who love their country and are devoted to their families. But, despite these advantages, gender inequality is crippling development in PNG.

Driving around town in Port Moresby, you can see street vendors selling all sorts of locally made goods and products. At a recently established Market Expo, you can purchase beautiful “bilum bags” and coffee beans, among other items, from the highland regions that are unique to PNG. But these products have untold stories behind them in that many were handmade by women whose meager income is solely dedicated to supporting her family while her spouse’s income is not shared. When and if the family is taken care of, these women are left with nothing else to spend, undercutting their independence and leaving them vulnerable to their spouses’ abuse.

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Sustaining the Momentum in Thailand’s Fight Against Corruption

Photo: CAC

Photo: CAC

Corruption has been a major roadblock to a meaningful and sustaining democracy in Thailand. According to CIPE Asia Regional Director John Morrell, “corruption was the stated justification for the military’s ousting of an elected government in 2006 and the Supreme Court’s sacking of another elected government in 2008.” In Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perception Index, Thailand was ranked 85th out of 175 countries.

To address this corruption issue in Thailand within the local context, CIPE partnered with Thai Institute of Directors (IOD) and launched a Collective Action Against Corruption initiative in 2010. This project is unique in that CIPE and IOD aim to combating the supply side corruption in the private sector through a coalition of member companies, established in this initiative, which vowed to adhere to the highest standards of corporate governance, compliance, and anti-bribery protocols.

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The Contest of the Century


In a recent forum held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Christopher Johnson led an open discussion with Geoff Dyer on Dyer’s new book, The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China, and How America Can Win. This book, according to CSIS, “gives an inside account of Beijing’s quest for influence and an explanation of how America can come out on top.”

Dyer opened up the conversation with a glaring fact that China’s role in the international realm has evolved tremendously over the past five years — that it began to assume more characteristics of a major global power. What triggered this change, Dyer argues, is related to two major phenomena: the financial crisis in 2008 and the pressure from below (from the citizens).

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Dr. Jesus Estanislao on the Recipe for Successful Reforms

It took years of patient effort to consolidate democracy after the Philippines' People Power Movement toppled the Marcos regime in 1986.

It took years of patient effort to consolidate democracy after the Philippines’ People Power Movement toppled the Marcos regime in 1986.

Democratization and the desire for a free market economy continue to be major driving forces behind reform movements around the world. In recent years, we have witnessed millions of people rising up for meaningful political and economic reforms, especially in the Middle East region. Genuine democracy, however, calls for more essential ingredients in its recipe for success and sustainability — namely good governance and responsible citizenship.

Dr. Jesus Estanislao, Chairman of the Institute for Solidarity in Asia and of the Institute of Corporate Directors, is one of the leading advocates for good governance and for responsible citizenship. He observes a crucial connection that reformers must comprehend— “Economic and political freedoms belong to the essence of a genuine democracy.”

In his recent interview with CIPE, now published as an Economic Reform Feature Service article, Dr. Estanislao shares his personal experiences in strengthening democracy through market-oriented reform. He reveals several factors that contribute to successful and meaningful reforms by providing readers with his first-hand knowledge of good governance advocacy and reform — factors that will benefit current and future reformers.

Read the whole article here.

Book Review: A Contest for Supremacy – Dragon vs Eagle


A Contest for Supremacy is a book that thoroughly examines the history of Sino-American relationship and provides a clear view of the challenges and risks for the United States as China’s power continues to grow.

Despite the fact that author Aaron Friedberg inevitably touches on recycled opinions made by other Western China experts, he indeed offers unique insights and assessments on this widely discussed topic, proving to the readers that the book is unlikely to collect dust on the shelf for the upcoming years.

Friedberg’s core argument is two-fold: China and the U.S. are on the path to compete for power and for influence worldwide, with an emphasis on the Asia region — a newfound source of economic dynamism. The Sino-U.S. relationship, according to Friedberg, is increasingly intensified while the power gap narrows. Furthermore, Friedberg argues that an emerging Sino-U.S. rivalry is not the product of easily correctable policy errors or misperceptions, but rather is driven by the differences of ideology and political agenda.

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China’s Foreign Relations

President Li Jinping at the APEC summit in Bali, Indonesia. (Photo: South China Morning Post)

President Xi Jinping at the APEC summit in Bali, Indonesia. (Photo: South China Morning Post)

In recent years, China has seemed to take a more central place on the world stage. But is it really as important a player as its image suggests?

In a recent book review event held at George Washington University, Professor Robert Sutter talked about his new book: Foreign Relations of the PRC: The Legacy and Constraints of China’s International Policies since 1949. Sutter’s overarching assessment of foreign relations in China carries a negative tone throughout—for now, China is not as important in international affairs as it was in the past. To support his statement, Sutter provided an overview to address the following points:

  1. Does China have any strategy in foreign affairs?
  2. Has China come to follow modern world order/Is China a status-quo power?
  3. How is China important in world affairs?
  4. Does China have principles for its actions?

Sutter’s answer to the first point is a solid “no.” He argues that while China does have certain goals it desire to achieve, its policies change constantly based on circumstances inside and outside of China, causing competition between its different priorities. China positioning itself in a triangular relationship with the United States and the Soviet Union while its priority was (supposedly) nation building, according to Sutter, was an example of China’s lack of foreign affairs strategy. This assessment reminds me of Professor David Shambaugh’s lecture on China’s foreign policy—“policies in China are made by the top leaders, but its process remains a myth.”

While all four points are crucial in Sutter’s assessment, I am particularly interested in the discussion of the second point because he used free market in China as an example— a major theme that CIPE focuses on in its programs. In Sutter’s analysis, China uses its capacities in the realm of the military, economy, and technology only to fulfill its interests. China’s overall trade policies, Sutter said, “degrade the free market, which contradicts international norm.”

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A Closer Look at “China’s Trapped Transition”


Recently, I read a widely discussed book called “China’s Trapped Transition” by Minxin Pei. Pei challenges popular arguments about China’s development as a neo-authoritarian regime: that economic development will provoke better governance; that gradualism works well to promote economic growth; that economic growth in China will eventually lead to democratization; and that authoritarianism is a better system to sustain economic development.

The underlying assessment of Pei’s book is that China has reached a phase in which its growth is stagnant. China’s political system, Pei argues, cannot be reformed because of its deep-rooted corruption issues and due to the lack of institutional infrastructure to address these issues. Pei labels China’s situation as “self-destructive political dynamics inherent in an autocracy caught up in rapid socioeconomic change.”  While Pei provides credible statistics and evidence to support his assessment, he fails to incorporate an ongoing major factor of competition between China’s socialist ideology and capitalist ideology in other parts of the world. A re-visit of Pei’s assessment, published in 2006, is necessary because China has hitherto maintained its growth (more or less) while its system remains unchanged, and in some ways seems even stronger.

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