South China Sea: why aid will trump islands – The hidden good fortune for China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision

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As per the famous Confucian quote, ‘The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones’, the South China Sea ruling may not have gone China’s way, but it opens up a range of opportunities in the region the country can capitalize on, Dr. Rosita Dellios writes.

The Hague ruling against China’s claims in the South China Sea reminds me of the Daoist story of the farmer who lost his horse. The horse had run away, but when the farmer’s neighbours sought to commiserate over his misfortune, the farmer simply said ‘maybe’. He said the same thing the next day when the horse returned in the company of six wild horses and the neighbours congratulated him on his good fortune. He was right to remain circumspect. The next day his son went to ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke a leg. ‘What a misfortune’, the ever-solicitous neighbours said, to which the farmer answered ‘maybe’. Not long after, the village was visited by conscription officers who were rounding up able-bodied young men for the army. The farmer’s son was seen to be unfit. When the neighbours remarked how well the story ended, the farmer said ‘maybe’.

So, too, the ruling against China might seem like a misfortune for the PRC but it is not necessarily so. When the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled in favour of the Philippines on 12 July, China naturally protested. But in reality plans were underway to negotiate with the ‘winner’ who, in turn, was keeping a low profile. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte refrained from triumphant rhetoric, seeking instead the path of diplomacy.

The dispute which triggered Manila’s international legal action against China in 2013 was over Scarborough Shoal, 124 nautical miles (229.7km) northwest of the Philippines. Despite the legal win, Filipino fishermen remain the losers as the China Coast Guard continues to deny them entry into the area. Here lies a human security issue that goes to the heart of China’s wider regional strategy: the importance of development via the One Belt, One Road Initiative. Little wonder then that smaller countries like the Philippines and Vietnam that have competing South China Sea claims are not crowing about the ruling. They need Chinese investment and inclusion in the Belt and Road transformation which will lift living standards and will have a far greater impact than reef-consolidation exercises. Vietnam has already been promised investment in education and health, “with an additional half billion [dollars] for infrastructure”.

China might have lost to the Philippines but it has had the good fortune of finding Taiwan on the same side of the argument. Beijing and Taipei share a view on South China Sea sovereignty. Indeed, it was the Republic of China which first drew the infamous map with the U-shaped line. The Republic of China (rather than the “Taiwan Authority of China”, as referred to in the ruling) still flies its flag on Taiping Island (Itu Aba), the biggest of the Spratly group in the South China Sea. That this was demoted to a non-island in the ruling, which designated land features to be mere rocks and reefs, further outraged Taiwan. It meant that it was not entitled to a 200 nautical mile (370.4km) exclusive economic zone.

South China Sea

Image credit: Flickr

Taiwan’s new president, Tsai Ing-wen, with whom Beijing was having difficulties, is now closer to China in her stance against the arbitral award, a fortunate turn of events for China. She is even sending a warship to Taiping Island to conduct its patrols sooner than had been planned.

This article was originally written by the author for The Asia & the Pacific Policy Society (APPS) Policy Forum. The original article can be found here.

What Confucius said – Quote of the week

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Achieving Social Order, Harmony and Peace in the Workplace – The Confucian Way

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In today’s modern society, most people spend a significant portion of their day at their workplace. Companies invest millions of dollars into employee well-being programs and identifying ways to retain their most valuable assets.

Many studies have confirmed that a positive harmonious workplace directly correlates to productive work environment, increased revenue and the overall success of an organization.

According to the Confucian philosophy, the maintenance of social order, harmony and peace is created and maintained by adopting the five virtues  within the five cardinal relationships:

-Ruler to subject
-Father to son
-Husband and wife
-Elder brother to younger brother
-Friend to friend

If we viewed each company’s work environment as individual ‘societies’, would a modern Confucian approach be valuable by applying the 5 virtues to the ’employer to employee’ relationship – similar to the ‘ruler to subject’ relationship? How would one interpret the five virtues within this environment?

Employers can adopt Ren 仁 – ‘Benevolence and humaneness’ by upholding high standards of behavior through their everyday actions and treating their employees with respect by “not doing onto others as you would not wish done to yourself.” In return, employees would feel valued and empowered in their workplace.

It would be in an employer and employees’ best interests to adhere to Li 禮 – by following laws that have been created to govern workplaces such as workplace health and safety legislations and laws that protect employees from discrimination and sexual harassment. This will ensure that all employees can enjoy a safe and healthy work environment.

Yi can be upheld by employers identifying the need to (and also by encouraging all their employees to) always do good, and also to recognize what is right and wrong  and using moral intuition to make the right decisions and having the best moral interests of their company at heart. This is particularly relevant in situations where an employer or employee may be tempted engage in activities for their self interests such as receiving bribes.

Everyone makes mistakes, but it is only when employer reflects on them and correct themselves as part of adopting Chi 智 – moral wisdom that they and their employees can continue to build a stronger company in the future.

When all employers and employees in a ‘workplace society’ practice Xìn 信, by being integral, honest and faithful, this will ultimately contribute to a harmonious, productive peaceful work culture that leads to success.



Confucian values embedded in staff perks

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Chambroad Holding, a booming oil refining and petrochemical company in China,  believes so strongly that Confucian values are the key to success that its fantastic staff perks revolve around the deeply-held traditional Confucian concept of ‘filial piety’.

Parents of ordinary workers can enjoy a 200 Yuan ($30 AUD) payment in their bank accounts monthly and those whose children are in managerial positions receive payments of up to 10 percent of their child’s wage. Furthermore, manager parent’s also receive free apartments and access to elder care facilities in the Shandong province where the company is headquartered.

Chairman of the company, Ma Yusheng, has created a corporate culture heavily based around Confucian values, with a particular focus on respect for parents when he instituted the staff perks. It is deemed a success, with the company experiencing high growths of revenue in the past decade to 50 billion yuan ($7.51 billion AUD) in 2015.

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Ma Yusheng actively practices the Confucian way of setting a good example as a leader to his followers (employees), by imposing a non-drinking habit during weekdays on himself as alcohol is banned to staff during the week as a reflection of industry practices. He has admitted to penalizing himself 300,000 yuan ($45000 AUD) when he consumed spirits over a dinner with local government officials as per the Confucian quote “If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.”

The company has even installed large sculptures of Confucius with his students near their headquarters to further encourage their employees to practice the philosophy.


What Confucius said – Quote of the Week

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The origins of Confucius’ surname

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Did you know that Confucius’ surname ‘Kong’ (孔) still remains as one of the most influential and highly regarded surnames today in Chinese society? There is an estimated 2.7 million inhabitants in China carrying this surname which equates to approximately 0.22% of the nation’s population.

The history of “Kong” (孔) can be traced back to three family sources in China namely:

– Kong Jia, who worked as an official historian during the Yellow Emperor’s reign.

-The family of ‘Zi’ from the Shang Dynasty (16ht-11th century BC). “Zi” (子) was considered a royal surname during this time, and some descendants chose “Kong” as their surname after combining “Zi” (子) with “Yi” (乙) from “Taiyi” (太乙) . “Taiyi” was the courtesy name of Tang of Shang, the founder of the Shang Dynasty. The combination of ‘子’ and ‘乙’ formed’ 孔’- Kong. A noble named Jia in the Zhou Dynasty adopted “Kong” as his courtesy name, and it later used by his son to name his clan when he settled in Qufu to escape war after Jia was murdered. Confucius was one of the descendants from this source.

– Minority groups including Tujia, Miao, Mongolia, Hui and Tibetan groups who adopted this name during their interactions with the Hans throughout history.

The “Kong” family thrived in Qufu, and it eventually became the primary origin of most people surnamed Kong in China today. In particular, when Confucius and his teachings received official sanction during the Han Dynasty after the philosophers death,  the “Kong” clan was recognized as a distinguished and influential clan within the country.

By the Yuan Dynasty (1000 years after the Han Dynasty), the Kong family had managed to spread to most regions in China as well as other countries such as Korea.  Today, it is estimated more than 80 generations of Kong descendants have passed since Kong Fujia, 2500 years ago.

The origins of the Kong family in Qufu and its most famous descendant, Confucius is still celebrated to this very day, as seen by the opening of the first official Confucius Post Office in Qufu last month.

Is Confucianism the Secret to Brand Success?

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In an article published by, the authors credits the success of many Chinese brands in today’s global market to the country’s fundamental education system of strict discipline and high academic achievement culture strongly influenced by East Asia Confucian values. They believe that workers that emerge from this type of education system adopt a strong work ethic in their workplace that ultimately leads to better outcomes for an organisation.

They further discuss Asia based airlines such as Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines and propose that “these prestigious airlines have built brand awareness through their high quality workforce providing Asian caring service, putting the customer first.”

These two airlines have both ranked in the top three best airlines in 2015 (SKYTRAX)

The strong staff work ethic and customer focus values from both airlines is evident within their respective advertising campaigns. Consider the following images from Cathay Pacific’s  current campaign:


The common theme across the above messages is a harmonious and respectful interaction between their staff and customers and within staff themselves which runs parallel to East Confucian emphasis of maintaining harmonious and positive relationships in all aspects of life.

Singapore Airlines has also changed their advertising message recently to reemphasise their flight attendant’s dedication to creating a harmonious relationship with their passengers. As explained by Singapore Airlines’ Sheldon Hee, Vice President – Marketing Communications & Development, “The campaign is very much about the spirit of Singapore Airlines and the lengths that we go to make sure that each and every customer feels at home, feels that their needs are anticipated and taken care of.”

Since 2014, Qantas attempted to rebuild their tarnished image with a “Feels like home” advertising campaign consisting of real passenger homecoming stories including:

– Young women to returning to Sydney from London to reunite with her mum and sister
– Miner coming home to his family after a work excursion in rural Australia
– A mother living in Hong Kong, bringing her baby home to meet her grandparents for the first time

This campaign also demonstrates a strong sense of Confucianism through the importance of family relationships and filial piety.

Applying Confucian values in education systems and workplace culture has achieved brand success in Asian brands, and it appears that Western brands are starting adopt some of these values into their future business strategies.