HONG KONG — Once again, it is time to give away the Asian Institute of Discord Analysis (Aida) “awards” for the just concluded Year of the Horse, an offbeat listing made exclusively for The Japan Times.

In the field of intra-Asian relations, Aida judges had no difficulty picking the recipient of the “Diplomatic Folly of the Year” honor. In support of their choice, they merely quoted an AP dispatch filed from Jakarta on Sept. 6:

“Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) exchange artillery fire, while Vietnam shoots at Philippine planes. Filipinos demand a chunk of Malaysia, which threatens to cut off water supplies to Singapore. All this was happening among Asian countries supposed to be the closest of friends.

“(These) recent tensions illustrate just how far the 10 ASEAN countries are from (their) high-minded goals. In August, ASEAN foreign ministers and their counterparts from the Pacific Rim pledged at a gathering in Brunei to improve regional security. Those undertakings began to unravel even before the signatories left Brunei.”

Worse was to come: ASEAN foolishly neglected to inject real dynamism to its 25-year-old pursuit of an ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), and opted instead to try to form a free trade area with China. For this, the group qualified for the intra-Asian “Failure of the Year” award.

All praise goes to Chinese diplomats, who won the “Diplomatic Persuasion of the Year” award for managing to overcome Southeast Asia’s traditional and deep-seated Sinophobia, and conned the Southeast Asians into once again becoming, as it were, tributary states.

But no praise at all to ASEAN for failing to see that there is a very limited economic future for them as an appendage of China’s internal market, itself a yet-to-be-developed free trade area.

But at least three ASEAN countries deserve to share this year’s honor for “Useful Diplomatic Precedent of the Year.”

First, Indonesia and Malaysia took their 33-year old dispute over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague. Indonesia accepted the court’s verdict when it awarded to Malaysia ownership of these two small atolls in the South China Sea off the coast of Sabah.

Recently a verbal war broke out between Singapore and Malaysia concerning sovereignty over a strategically situated speck at the eastern end of the Singapore Straits. The islet is Pulau Batu Putih for the Malaysians and Pedra Branca for the Singaporeans, who have operated the Horsburgh Lighthouse on it since halfway through the 19th century.

These two nations have also agreed to take their dispute to the ICJ in 1998; however, they have neglected to sign a formal affidavit to this effect.

In another islands dispute, a nationalist-like President Vladimir Putin will not be inclined to subordinate Moscow’s aggressive 1945 grab of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomais — all of which lie just to the north of Hokkaido — to World Court jurisdiction, even though doing so could greatly improve Russia’s financial health, since Japan would be more disposed toward economic cooperation with Moscow in exchange for the islands’ return.

Conversely, rightwing conservatives in and outside Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party will not agree to subject the Northern Territories to an ICJ ruling, fearing that the court might hand down a verdict under which only Shikotan and the Habomais revert to Japanese sovereignty.

So the “Anachronism of the Year” award has gone again to Moscow and Tokyo. Where Russo-Japanese relations are concerned, World War II is still NOT yet over. It won’t be until those two nations sign a peace treaty. But they will not do that while the fate of those islands remains in dispute.

Similarly China and Russia — as they try to fool everyone that the old Sino-Soviet rivalry is dead and buried — will not be taking their dispute over ownership of “Bear Island” (its neutral English name) to the ICJ anytime soon. The island lies across the Amur River opposite the city of Khabarovsk. The Russo-Chinese border is supposed to run down the middle of the river. But Russia owns Bear Island, while China only claims it.

Putin cannot return the Northern isles to Tokyo because that would only increase pressure from Beijing. Similarly he cannot agree to the retrocession of Bear Island to Beijing for fear of enraging Tokyo.

China, of course, cannot make a gesture of donating the island to Khabarovsk for fear of enraging 1.3 billion Chinese. For these reasons, Russia and China grabbed the prize for “Diplomatic Concealment of the Year” award.

Beijing got the the institute’s “Shortsighted Policy of the Year” prize for the umpteenth time, because of its persistent failure to pursue a sensible policy regarding China’s reunification.

On the one hand, as the PLA installed increased numbers of medium-range missiles along the coast of Fujian (all aimed at Taiwan) and undertook military exercises (also with the aim of intimidating Taiwan), China persisted with a policy toward its chief foreign investor which ought to be counterproductive.

The fact that the Taiwanese nonetheless continue to be the leading foreign investors in China seemingly made them a shoo-in for the 2002 prize for the “Most Masochistic Nation” — but they were edged out by South Korea.

Beijing also won, the Aida judges said, because of its consistent undermining of its own policy of “one country, two systems” by the myopic way Beijing has been handling Hong Kong.

As China made it perfectly plain that it was not interested in obeying the Basic Law’s injunction to develop democracy in Hong Kong after 2007, and as Hong Kong’s freedoms were clearly placed in jeopardy by the clumsy way in which Article 23 was initially implemented, even the most dedicated mainlanders in Taiwan became convinced that “one country, two systems” is simply not for them.

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