US Asian Foreign Policy


October 26, 2014

US Asian Foreign Policy

by Dr. Munir Majid@www.the star.com.my

“US foreign policy in Asia, therefore, has to be delicate and sensitive enough to adjust to what can be described without exaggeration as seismic economic change. On the one hand, it should not be drawn too deeply into exclusively political-security manifestations despite China’s unacceptable belligerent and assertive actions. On the other, America must adjust to Asia’s economic rise.”–Dr. Munir Majid

Tan_Sri_Dr_Munir_MajidTHE United States is a global power. Asia the largest continent on earth. The Asian economies of the proposed RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) alone now constitute 30% of global output, with consistently the highest growth rates and holding the largest reserves in the world.

It is not likely the United States would have missed Asia in the conduct of its foreign policy in pursuit of its interests. The interminable discussion, particularly among academics, on the US pivot or rebalance to Asia, following President Barack Obama’s use of the former term, can be overdone. It can result in the wood being missed for the trees.

That discussion, furthermore, leads to concentration on the military and security aspects of US foreign policy in Asia. US policy-makers lend their weight to this, with statements such as those by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Asean Regional Forum in Hanoi in 2010 or previous Defence Secretary Leon Panetta at the Shangrila Dialogue in 2012.

Clinton had said freedom of navigation and the peaceful settlement of disputes were vital to US interests in the region. Panetta said that in the rebalance, US naval forces in the Pacific would be increased to 60% from the present 50%.

All this was said in relation to China, in the context of disputes the rising Asian power has with a number of states in the East China Sea and South China Sea. It did not take a leap of imagination to leave the impression the new emphasis of US foreign policy in Asia is primarily political-security in nature – and is intended to contain China as it became more assertive in the sea disputes.

A number of reasons has conventionally been offered for China’s greater assertiveness. It is a rising power; these things historically happen. On the other hand the US is a declining power; often a parallel is drawn with the conflict between Sparta and Athens in the 5th century BC which ended the latter’s domination of ancient Greece.

It is also asserted that there has been a loss of central control in China of the country’s bureaucratic political structures which allowed the fisheries department, for instance, to go ahead of the foreign ministry in asserting the sea claims. Unlikely as it may sound, this is not impossible especially as another reason offered is not mutually exclusive: the desire, at China’s centre, to shore up legitimacy at home at a time of increasing domestic stress, such as contending with the social consequences of slowdown in GDP growth from 10% to 7.5%.

All these reasons are not implausible, although I would add ASEAN’s desultory approach in pursuing the code of conduct under the terms of the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea of 2002 until the Scarborough Shoal stand-off in 2012 between China and the Philippines, and the failure of foreign ministers from the regional grouping to agree on a joint communique for the first time in that same year, gave Beijing time and space to fashion that greater assertiveness whatever its leitmotif.

In the context of US foreign policy in Asia, the China Question has become predominant again as it was all those years ago in regard to recognition of the communist regime, its representation of China at the United Nations and final establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979.

The objective of balancing, if not containment of, China cannot become the sole reason for the United States’ greater involvement in Asia. It delivers a political-security good which most countries in the region secretly desire, but it cannot become the sum total of US foreign policy in Asia.

The drama of the sea disputes has obscured the good reason for US’ greater interest in Asia which is primarily economic, the region’s dynamism which has moved the centre of global economic gravity eastwards to the Asia Pacific. While the political-security interest may secure economic benefits, it can also spoil their achievement if relations between US and China are possessed by such a concern alone.

What has been happening in Asia is that both US and China are driving each other into positions which are antagonistic and not cooperative. Leaving aside military chest-thumping and bellicose diplomatic language, they are also trying to exclude, or at least marginalise the other, in the organisation of Asia-Pacific regional economic cooperation.

The RCEP (negotiation for which involves Asean and six Asia-Pacific states) does not include the United States. China has not been invited to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. Vietnam, for instance, is a negotiating partner which would not pass the same pre-qualification as China if the US had some such objective test. It is realpolitik – and the compliment is returned with the RCEP.

Other Asian states are being forced into making a choice between the two constructs, whether they are members, or potential members, of both. Even if it is argued the two groupings will ultimately coalesce, the burning issue is the standards and style of trade and investment relations which differ, with the TPP particularly bearing heavy American imprint.

The US has done well in signalling its economic interest in Asia with the rebalance, often considered as the second pillar of the pivot to Asia. Understandably, having been at the centre of the international economic system that had driven Asian growth, it now wants, as a long-established Pacific nation, to share in further regional prosperity – by still being at that centre and by entrenching as well as by strengthening the rules of economic conduct.

Asian restoration

The latter gives rise to problems in the pursuit of US foreign policy objectives in Asia. It is a new Asia the US is dealing with, not the Asia of yore when the American writ was overwhelming.

It is a more confident Asia. Indeed the whole sweep of the change in the centre of economic gravity is something of an Asian restoration. Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund ranked China’s economy as the world’s biggest in purchasing power parity terms. American predominance in at most the last century is over. The Chinese economy which was the biggest in many more hundreds of years is now back.

The Economist observed: “The brief interlude in which America overshadowed it (China) is now over.”

Asia has also looked on as the American capitalist system came close to meltdown in the 2008 crisis because of many excesses embedded in the rules of the economic game. Rules and forms of crisis management which America taught Asia never to entertain were employed to save the economy. There have not been contrition and enough humility afterwards.

Indeed it would seem to Asia some of those rules are being strengthened with a vengeance in American trade and investment proposals, such as to be found in the TPP, particularly in respect of corporate rights against the state. Have not any lessons been learned both from recent economic experience and from the historic rise of Asia in the desire – perfectly understandably – to further Americans interests?

Yet the system America offers is still the best to achieve optimal economic outcomes. But it has to be substantially adjusted to avoid considerable social and political cost, and to reflect that other countries, especially in Asia, have grown up and grown big.

US foreign policy in Asia, therefore, has to be delicate and sensitive enough to adjust Barack Obamato what can be described without exaggeration as seismic economic change. On the one hand, it should not be drawn too deeply into exclusively political-security manifestations despite China’s unacceptable belligerent and assertive actions. On the other, America must adjust to Asia’s economic rise.

Schemes of trilateral or quadrilateral alliances, even of a “soft” kind, involving the United States, Japan, India and/or Australia, are provocative. While it is always stated by the advocates they are not against China, this is what Beijing reasonably feels. At the very least they isolate China. Alliances have a history of bringing about precisely the outcomes they purportedly want to avoid.

CHINA-RUSSIA-UN-DIPLOMACYChina for its part should not continue to be a stick in the mud, carping and complaining, self-righteous in proclaiming always that others are in the wrong, never Beijing. Whereas China’s actions in the South China Sea particularly have been bullying and abominable. Its sovereignty over areas it claims is not God-given. It is disputed. Other states have rights. It cannot go about behaving in the vein that might is right. It must recognise international laws and the friendships it eschews.

Actually, both America and China must give substance to the new type of great power relationship which was identified in the Obama-Xi Jinping meeting in Sunnylands, California in June last year. As Henry Kissinger wrote in the Washington Post in March this year the US must articulate its own vision for the evolving international order that is acceptable to both countries.

On the other hand, China should not expect to replicate principles of that kind of relationship which it had first forged with Russia in the mid-1990s. That model would not fit. Russia is not the United States. As the status quo global power and the revisionist rising regional power due weight must be recognised in each other. A very difficult process no doubt but neither should be in denial of the other’s position and a creative relationship can be forged without recourse to tired old foreign policy constructs.

ASEAN_logo_1ASEAN too has a role beyond tedious repetition of the ASEAN platform being the basis of regional cooperation and security. That platform will float away if there was not a stronger foreign policy positioning – particularly on the South China Sea disputes. There is some belated effort on the code of conduct but to always work from the technical and official position on these issues upwards without clear leadership at the top is disappointing to say the least. How many times have Asean leaders focused for more than half an hour on the South China Sea issues? There has to be deep concentrated effort.

The fear of failure cannot rule the day. If ASEAN states cannot take on at least one major foreign policy position in their region, how could they expect the US and China to negotiate on the more daunting evolving international order?

The states of Asia as a whole, of course, must also play the responsible part of grown-up countries to ensure their new found prosperity and outstanding economic prospect are not upset by stupid swagger and assertive expression. They must remember they still have some way to go. Future prospect is not current reality.

And, as the present global superpower, the US has a complex role quite unlike the situation in the past when its word was law. It is a different world. Therefore it cannot be the same America.

 

Congratulations, President Joko Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kala of Republik Indonesia


October 20, 2014

Congratulations, Republik Indonesia

MY COMMENT: Congratulations to my Indonesian friends, associates and the people of Indonesia, Malaysia’s good friend, on the occasion of the inauguration of your President and Vice President today.

Joko and JusufPresident Joko Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla of Republik Indonesia

Despite some controversies during the last Presidential election, Indonesia has shown that it is a viable democratic state and a worthy leader of the ASEAN community.

To new President and Vice President I extend my warm wishes and congratulations on their inauguration. Not to be forgotten, we must say a big thank you to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for ensuring that his country remains a democracy and for promoting excellent relations with my own country. The outgoing President worked well with our Prime Minister. The good relations we enjoy today with Indonesia under SBY will continue in strength with the Joko Widodo-Jusuf Kalla administration in Jakarta.

There will be occasional glitches and strains, no doubt, but none seriousZahrain_Mohamed_Hashim enough to strain bilateral relations severely. I am in touch with our Ambassador Dato’ Seri Zahrain Hashim who has been working hard to improve relations with the Indonesian media and civil society since he began his tour of duty. His efforts are already bearing fruit and may he continue in an activist fashion to promote mutual understanding via dialogue and constructive engagement with opinion makers, religious leaders, and civil society activists, and think tanks and academia.

We can look forward to a further strengthening of bilateral relations under President Joko Widodo. Together, and with Malaysia in the United Nations Security Council, Indonesia in partnership with Malaysia as the ASEAN Chair in 2015 can be a positive influence on the strategic direction of ASEAN. The new President’s choice of Foreign Minister is critical though, since Foreign Minister Dr. Marty Natalegawa did a yeoman’s job of putting Indonesia’s imprint on Southeast Asia’s politics and political economy.

There are many challenges ahead for the new President, of course but one can be optimistic (certainly I am) that the new President, ably assisted by the experienced and business friendly Vice President Kalla will bring promises of a better future for the Indonesian people. Our relations with the government and people of Indonesia cannot be taken for granted. It takes a lot of effort to nip those glitches and strains in the bud.–Din Merican

The new President of Indonesia faces many challenges

by Dr. Farish M. Noor@www.nst.com.my

farish-a-noorTHE inauguration of President-Elect Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, and his vice-presidential partner, Jusuf Kalla, today marks a turning point in Indonesia’s history, as a politician with a humble civilian background and with no connections to the established elite of the country assumes the most powerful office in that country. Much is at stake in this event, as are the expectations that have been laid before the Jokowi-Kalla establishment.

Having kept his cards close to his chest all along, Jokowi was reluctant to divulge the names of the members of the cabinet, said to comprise 18 technocrats and 16 seasoned politicians, though it is widely known that much political bargaining had gone into deciding the final line-up.

This new government will face a People’s Representatives Assembly (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, or DPR) that is dominated by the opposition, and it is widely expected that many of the reforms that the new government will try to push through will be stalled on the debating floor.

Sec Gen-PPPEven then, last-minute developments may turn the tide in favour of the Jokowi-Kalla pairing. Last week, the United Development Party (PPP) went through one of its internal convulsions when the party assembly decided to make Mohammad Romahurmuziy (left) its new chairman, replacing Suryadharma Ali.

The PPP, at present, happens to be one of the parties that is part of the dominant Prabowo Subianto-led Red and White coalition, which currently stands to dominate the DPR. But at the PPP assembly, the winning faction signaled that there was now the possibility that the party might abandon the opposition coalition and jump to the Jokowi-Kalla pact instead.

Even if this were to happen, it would still not be enough to tip the balance in the President’s favour, and it is likely that the stalemate will continue unless, and until, another bigger party jumps across the political divide as well.

asean (1)

As things stand, we are likely to see a beleaguered presidency that will have to fight for every step it takes towards the ambitious reform package that it wishes to push through on a range of issues that span the public domain, from maritime policy, border issues, Indonesia’s role in the ASEAN region to tackling the problem of logistics and communication in that vast archipelago of a country.

Should the impasse remain, there is the likelihood that Indonesia’s wider ambitions will be thwarted by domestic political scrapes and scuffles, instead, as the parties and coalitions battle it out to block each other’s initiatives, and in the process, delay the transformation that would be necessary for the country’s economic take-off, that is long expected.

Jokowi and Kalla

For the neighbouring countries in the ASEAN region, the prospect of an Indonesia caught in the grip of domestic political stalemate is not a positive one, what with ASEAN Economic Integration around the corner, with the ASEAN Economic Community scheduled for next year.

For all these reasons, Indonesia will remain the country to watch in our region, this year and the year to come. And the state of Indonesia’s domestic politics is bound to have a spillover effect on the polities and economies of the region.

Without Bureaucratic Cobwebs, ASEAN cooperation can now move forward


October 10, 2014

Without Bureaucratic Cobwebs, ASEAN cooperation can now move forward

by Tunku A. Aziz@www.nst.com.my

tunku-azizWHEN ASEAN came into being on August 8, 1967, it was largely driven by considerations of peace and security among neighbours in a troubled region. We Malaysians had just emerged, with scars to show, from Indonesia’s “Konfrontasi”. There were admittedly serious concerns about countries in Southeast Asia being drawn inexorably into the Communist orbit, but Malaysia refused to be stampeded into embracing the “Domino Theory”.

Although the Malayan Communist Party-inspired insurgency was far from over, we were confident that we were in effective control of our country’s security and with the right mix of poverty eradication and industrial development policies, we could manage our own affairs without unwelcome United States intervention.

Malaysians were with their elected government. Embracing the US would have been the kiss of death for us, an emerging nation in search of a role and an identity. We had to develop our own home- grown model for regional cooperation.

We created ASEAN, then made up of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, in the confident expectation that it offered the best hope for our vision of a conflict-free region. However, ASEAN’s founding fathers, in envisioning their grand design, had not given sufficient thought to the role that their civil servants would be playing in policy formulation and implementation. The passage towards some semblance of unity of purpose was excruciatingly slow. ASEAN official inertia had to be experienced to be believed.

The private sector in ASEAN wanted to move at a much faster rate and felt that the civil servants were not only dragging their feet but were being totally obstructive. The ASEAN Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CCI) were quick to see the business potential presented by a regional market of more than 250 million people, and took to the new opportunities like duck to water, only to find that the bureaucrats had forgotten to fill up the pond.

Several industry-based working groups were formed and important trade links were made with the US and European Union chambers of commerce and industry. I remember a trip to Washington DC in the ‘70s by the ASEAN CCI and being received in the White House where a meeting with US officials and senior business leaders was arranged in the Franklin Room.

US Vice-President Walter Mondale was to host the meeting but he had to be called away on urgent state business. We were going all out to promote ASEAN to the American business community, but soon realised that we were so far ahead of the ASEAN governments that we were put in an embarrassing position. We cajoled, huffing and puffing, but to no avail. We were stuck in a bureaucratic maze.

We were running out of patience and the inevitable clash was not long coming. On Dec 12, 1979, some 12 years after the formation of ASEAN, 250 top ASEAN business leaders from all the national chambers met in Singapore. This was the opportunity I needed as chairman of the ASEAN CCI Working Group on Industrial Complementation to read the riot act.

Let The Straits Times of Singapore of December 13 echo my disappointment. Under the headline, “ASEAN civil servants rapped — ‘Too rigid an attitude towards cooperation”, it reported:

“Malaysian business leader, Tunku Abdul Aziz, yesterday lashed out at civil servants of Asean for their rigid, uncompromising and hopelessly impractical attitude towards closer regional cooperation.

Tunku Abdul Aziz said: “I have detected of late evidence of disenchantment and disquiet within the private sector with the way in which the question of economic and industrial cooperation is being handled by the economic ministers through their Committee on Industry, Minerals and Energy (Coime).

“A measure of the general euphoria prevailing throughout the ASEAN private sector is that until a few months ago, most of us were satisfied that Coime understood its role and was prepared to exercise its power and authority in a way that would satisfy private sector aspirations.

“What we did not know, of course, was that this body of hardened bureaucrats, sitting collectively in splendid isolation and insulated from the reality of a real world, was no more ready to deal with its appointed task than the Ayatollah is ready to grant the Shah of Iran the freedom of the city of Teheran.”

Questioning the effectiveness of the guidelines laid down by ASEAN civil servants on industrial complementation of regional projects, Tunku Aziz said:

“In spite of the usual pious declarations of selfless devotion to economic cooperation, these guidelines must be seen for what they are. They are rigid and uncompromising and are so obviously intended to protect the national position at all costs.

“These guidelines are a blight on the concept of regional cooperation. It is not surprising that we are beginning to wonder whether our governments are intellectually ready to cope with the rather special demands of a concept that requires a high degree of political will.

“Let us hope the governments of ASEAN will recognise the importance of private sector participation and involvement at all levels of policy formulation so that what emerges is a concerted effort distilled from the best available talents from both the government and the private sector.”

The Business Times Malaysia in its editorial, “ASEAN — useful plain speaking”, said that: “It needed to be said, sooner rather than later. But no one did until Wednesday when Tunku Abdul Aziz, in his capacity as Chairman of the ASEAN CCI’s Working Group on Industrial Complementation, hit out at the official Committee on Industry, Minerals and Energy in which rests the responsibility for reviewing ideas for reviewing ideas in these fields.”

The Asian Wall Street Journal waded in to support my “blast”, reporting my attack on the official guidelines that “are intended to regulate and control rather than promote and encourage private sector participation in and contribution to economic cooperation. These guidelines are a blight on the concept of regional cooperation”.

The tenor of my speech took ASEAN ministers and their bureaucrats by complete surprise, but it had the desired effect. Governments understood our position better and helped to remove much of the cobweb that had befuddled their collective mind.

Today, ASEAN is jogging along nicely and thriving. Successive regional leaders, 4th PM of Malaysiaparticularly Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, can take pride in nurturing ASEAN to become a regional force for good.

ASEAN has been well-served by many distinguished secretaries-general, but in my considered opinion, the best ever was undoubtedly Dr Surin Pitsuwan of Thailand, the quiet and thoughtful man of diplomacy, the United Nations Secretary-General we never had because he was in the wrong party and the government of Thailand did not support his candidature for that high office — a great loss to the world.

The ASEAN bureaucrats of my time very nearly scuttled the vision and hopes of millions of Southeast Asians for their rightful place in the larger global scheme of things. Mercifully, in spite of them, ASEAN has arrived.

Southeast Asia: The Bright Spark


October 8, 2014

Southeast Asia: The Bright Spark in a Gloomy World

by W. Scott Thompson@www.nst.com.my

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Bright Spark in a Gloomy World

“AROUND the world in 80 days”, or even eight days, might not be a happy trip in 2014. Start with my country: the current issue of political journal Foreign Affairs has a cover saying “See America: Land Of Decay And Dysfunction”. Head south and it’s hard to find success stories. Argentina is in a financial mess, Venezuela is moving back into the hands of the Army and Mexico is all about drugs.

For Europe, the biggest joke is that only Belgium has escaped the financial crisis, mostly because it has no real government and no prime minister during the key years. You can’t blame Germany for being thrifty and resenting to pay for the high life in Greece, Italy and Spain over the last 20 years. A compromise has yet to be found between the northern proponents of austerity and those believing that more consumer spending will get the southern countries out of their doldrums. Unemployment rates at 25 per cent don’t make for easy governance.

Africa is a mixed bag. Even the leading stars in growth, like Ghana, are in financial trouble. Fighting continues in Congo, extremists continue to move south and even if overall, Africa has an average growth rate better than most of the world, it’s too small a part to change things — CNN attempts to show the bright side, notwithstanding.

Let’s just skip the Middle East; it’s a disaster zone and it’s too early to say whether the Islamic State can be stopped — though it has to be. Suffice to say that if IS takes control of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, the best scenario indicates it would take a year or two to evict them. As usual, Iran is a shadow player and in the end, will be the most important one to stabilise the region.

In South Asia, India’s new Prime Minister has made it big at the United Nations, but it’s an open question whether he can really can open up the Indian economy for the rapid growth on which success depends. Let’s not even mention Pakistan.

All the talk about China centres on Hong Kong and what the demonstrations portend. But I would pay more attention to western China, where the Islamic Uighurs are a far bigger headache for the Politburo.

Jokowi WidodoCome to Southeast Asia and you might start smiling. Discussion is dominated by the old forces of the Indonesian military under the leadership of General Prabowo Subianto, in voting out all the moves of decentralisation that have achieved so much since 1999. President-elect Widodo will be sworn into office on October 20; he does not command a majority in Parliament but he hasn’t even begun to use presidential patronage to block Probowo’s attempts to turn the clock back. I wouldn’t bet against the new President’s powers of persuasion and presidential suasion. On balance, we should be very optimistic about Indonesia.

Now, go around the region and just about everything is moving, if slowly, in the right Thailand Democracy Protestdirection. That is, if you see the Thai coup d’état as a necessary evil that will restart the political system without the cost of long-term death to democracy that former PM Thaksin Shinawatra represents. The political establishment has regained control and let’s not forget the 60 years of transformation that the coalition has provided. Next to China, no sizeable state has grown so fast.

Malaysia provides one of the world’s best examples of a tricky balanmalaysia-truly-asia-girls11cing act in providing stability in a multi-ethnic state. It is basically because it is a strong state; even its critics must admit the remarkable success of its leaders. It is gaining ground in the middle income division of the world’s states. The economic model says that countries well-endowed with natural resources are the first ones to fail, relying too heavily on what they can get out of the ground or grow on trees. But it secured independence with strong leaders who changed all that. This is quite an oversimplification, but the bottom line is a big success story.

The PhilippinesNow, welcome to the Philippines, home of, in my experience, the world’s happiest people. Its growth rate is closing the gap with China. Critics say the rich elite is getting more than its fair share, yet, studies of wealth division show the Philippines with not much different a Gini coefficient of wealth distribution than the other countries in the region.

And if nothing else, everybody is benefiting from investments in infrastructure. Bulldozers and backhoes are everywhere, widening roads to population centres, and providing jobs for the best of the young professionals in the all but ubiquitous call centres. President Benigno Aquino III has managed two thirds of his six-year term without an agenda, but he always says the right things and leaves no taint of corruption — leaving aside consideration of some of his associates whom he’s too nice to fire.

Everyone in the region is worried about China’s claim to much territorial waters of littoral states in the South China Sea. My guess is the new President of China is too smart to let its navy push too far. Anyway, if you came from Mars and could live anywhere, you certainly wouldn’t choose Russia or China, most of Africa, and so many other places with deeply rooted problems.

Well, this is a bit subjective for me, having chosen Southeast Asia 50 years ago as a research area that was on the go — and when the world was my oyster and I could live anywhere. I’m glad I chose Bali, the Philippines, and the capital cities of Thailand and Malaysia.

Malaysia Offers to Host U.S. Navy Aircraft


October 6, 2014

Malaysia Offers to Host U.S. Navy Aircraft

by Trefor Moss at trefor.moss@wsj.com

U.S. Says Malaysia’s Offer Covers Flights From Base on Edge of Waters Claimed by China

http://online.wsj.com/articles/malaysia-offers-to-host-u-s-navy-aircraft-military-official-says-1410524618

Malaysia has offered to host U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft at a base on the edge of a disputed part of the South China Sea, a move likely to heighten Chinese sensitivities about U.S. involvement in the region.

US Navy U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon

With the Philippines and Singapore having already agreed to host rotations of U.S. forces, Malaysian support marks a further boost to the Obama administration’s policy of rebalancing toward the Asian-Pacific region as anxiety persists in Southeast Asia about China’s assertiveness over its territorial claims.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the U.S. Navy’s chief of naval operations, said that “the Malaysians have offered us to fly detachments of P-8s out of East Malaysia” in a speech delivered Monday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank based in Washington.

The P-8 is capable of long-range surveillance and anti-submarine missions.Adm. Greenert emphasized the Malaysian base’s “closeness to the South China Sea” and identified Malaysia, along with Indonesia and Singapore, as “the key” to the U.S. Navy successfully increasing its regional presence.

The facility in question is likely to be the Royal Malaysian Air Force base on the island of Labuan, off the coast of Borneo, which U.S. forces have used for exercises in the past, according to a U.S. Navy officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter.

While the ownership of Labuan itself isn’t disputed by China, it lies close to the southern end of the Spratly Islands chain, which Malaysia and China both contest.

Lt. Rebekah Johnson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said that no formal agreement had yet been signed between Kuala Lumpur and Washington, but she confirmed that an offer was on the table for P-8 aircraft to use the air base “on a case-by-case basis.”

Malaysian officials didn’t respond to questions about the arrangement. China’s foreign and defense ministries didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

While other South China Sea claimants—notably the Philippines and Vietnam—have objected vociferously to what they regard as aggressive Chinese behavior, Malaysia has kept a lower profile in the disputes, generally refraining from openly criticizing China.

Malaysia’s view of how to handle China seemed to shift, however, during the bruising experience after the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March, said Tim Huxley, executive director of the IISS-Asia, a Singapore-based think tank. Mr. Huxley said the incident not only exposed serious weaknesses in Malaysia’s air defense system, which failed to track the lost airliner effectively, but also left the country feeling bullied by China. Beijing took a keen interest in the search operation because of the 153 Chinese passengers on board and at times disparaged Malaysia’s efforts.

That episode, combined with Chinese pressure in the South China Sea, may finally have led Kuala Lumpur to see “a confluence of interest” with the U.S. and “may have provided sufficient incentives for Malaysia to further intensify defense and security relations,” Mr. Huxley said.

President Barack Obama visited the country in April and agreed to upgrade bilateral relations with Malaysia to the level of “comprehensive partnership,” signaling a broad commitment to increase collaboration in a wide range of areas, including defense.

China has repeatedly opposed the U.S.’s monitoring of its activities in the South China Sea—especially with aircraft, like the P-8, capable of tracking submarines. On Tuesday, Gen. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, told U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice, who was visiting Beijing, that the U.S. should scale back or completely halt monitoring near the Chinese coast.

Last month, a Chinese fighter jet intercepted a U.S. Navy P-8 off the coast of Hainan. The incident sparked fears that there could be a repeat of the 2001 collision between a U.S. surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter, also near Hainan, due to what the Pentagon described as dangerous maneuvers on the part of the Chinese pilot. China denied this, saying its fighter kept a safe distance during the encounter.

Write to Trefor Moss at trefor.moss@wsj.com

Indonesia: Joko Widodo’s Cabinet of Technocrats


September 22, 2014

Indonesia: Joko Widodo’s Cabinet of Technocrats

source: http://www.nst.com.my

INDONESIA’S future President Joko Widodo has finally announced the likely composition and structure of his up-coming cabinet, and few seasoned Indonesia-watchers are surprised by the revelations thus far.

Jokowi-2

In what appears to be a compromise of sorts, the future president has stated that the upcoming government will consist of 34 ministries and departments, and that 18 of the future cabinet ministers will come from technocratic-professional backgrounds, while 16 will be politicians from parties that are part of the winning coalition.

That most of the future ministers and department heads will come from a professional, perhaps even non-political background, tells us something about the future president’s commitment to making the changes that are deemed necessary as part of his grand “mental revolution” plan.

And that 16 of the cabinet ministers come from political parties — including his own PDI-P — tells us about the need to forge a working compromise between the major political players in the country.

That Jokowi has taken this pragmatic approach and has appointed so many technocrats to his government is not a novel thing: those whose memories go back to the Suharto era will recall that the 32-year rule under President Suharto also witnessed the rise of the technocratic elite in the country, and that was a time when key non-party-political entities, such as research centres and think tanks, began to boom.

This was the period of the so-called “Berkeley elite”, where foreign-educated technocrats were invited back to the country to helm key industries, such as petroleum and gas mining, Indonesia’s tentative steps into higher-end industrial manufacturing.

It was also a period when the New Order under Suharto was keen to de-politicise Indonesian society and minimise the social friction that may arise from inter-party feuds and politicking. The net result was the emergence of a new Western-educated technocratic-professional class, who later planted the seeds of the rising middle classes that we see today.

But Jokowi’s decision to include so many technocrats and professionals in his cabinet may also be linked to new societal factors that were not prevalent in the past. Earlier this year, in the lead-up to the elections, numerous public polls and surveys were conducted by polling agencies in the country. Among the more startling results of these polls were the revelations that most Indonesians place more faith in the private sector and the media rather than political parties.

Political trust has eroded among many sections of Indonesian society, and it was interesting to note that the surveys found that many ordinary Indonesians felt that party politics was morally bereft, that corruption was normal, and public faith in political rhetoric was at an all-time low.

Having campaigned all year-long to bring about a radical change in the mindset and working culture among ordinary Indonesians across the country, the changes we see now are in keeping with the broad outlines of the “mental revolution” that Jokowi has been talking about: removing the post of deputy minister for all ministries is part and parcel of his effort to trim down unnecessary politicking, lobbying and paperwork, and may also go some way towards speeding up the process of policy making and implementation. Also note the focus on key departments and ministries such as education, which will be broken up into two entities: the Lower and Secondary School Education Ministry, and the Higher Education and Research Ministry.

Jokowi comes to power at a turning point in Indonesia’s history, and when external variable factors, ranging from the American “pivot” in Asia, to China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, the growing trade links and diplomacy between China and India, and all point to the rising importance of Southeast Asia in world affairs.

Many Indonesian politicians and policymakers are aware of this, and wish to capitalise on Indonesia’s obvious geostrategic importance, though this can only happen if and when Indonesia gets its act together and resolves its own internal domestic challenges that are equally complex, and which range from its crippling energy and logistics needs to the fear of rising religio-political violence as a result of citizens getting themselves involved in the violence in Syria and Iraq.

How all these issues are to be tackled at the same time, and in time to ensure that Indonesia continues to maintain healthy growth for the next two decades, is going to be the single biggest challenge for Jokowi and his government over the next five years. And the technocrats and professionals who will be part of that transformation process know that Indonesia’s challenges can only be met with pragmatic and realistic solutions, and not empty, though sweet, political rhetoric and promises.

In the weeks to come, the names of the future ministers will probably be released and the public will have a better idea of what this coming government is going to look like. In the meantime, Jokowi also has to ensure that by fore grounding professionals and technocrats as he is likely to do, he does not alienate the powerful politicians and kingmakers who may not be comfortable if their respective parties are marginalised and not given enough clout in the management of state affairs. Altogether, an interesting episode of Indonesian history is about to begin, and the challenge begins now.