Obama and Malaysia

April 16, 2014

Obama and Malaysia

US President must walk a delicate line in a country facing increasing international criticism.

Obama-for-BERSIH2Obama for Clean and Fair Elections in Malaysia?

US President Barack Obama is expected to visit Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Malaysia this month as part of his push to increase US diplomatic, economic and security engagement with countries in the Asia-Pacific region. But despite the relative size and strategic importance of the other countries, it is his April 27 trip to Malaysia that arguably gives the President his biggest problems.

Given the events of the past few months, Obama will visit a country that has earned some of the worst press in Asia, not only for its fumbling response to the loss of its jetliner, MH370, with 239 people aboard, but to revelations of growing racial and religious intolerance, blatant attempts to silence the Opposition through spurious legal action and bizarre charges by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s own newspaper that the Central Intelligence Agency kidnapped the plane to foment trouble with China, 152 of whose citizens were aboard the missing craft.

The same newspaper, Utusan Malaysia, repeated as a real possibility speculation by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad that the CIA brought down the World Trade Towers in 2001 as a plot to blame Muslims for the destruction.

anwar-ibrahim2In recent weeks, an appeals court has reversed a lower court decision against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, declaring him guilty of what were clearly trumped up charges of sodomy. The decision, apparently rushed forward, was designed to deny Anwar an almost certain win in a Kuala Lumpur suburban by-election that would have paved his way to becoming Chief Minister of the country’s most populous and prosperous state and would have given him a potent rhetorical platform to challenge the government.

In an equally dubious decision, Karpal Singh, chairman of the Democratic Party, the biggest in the troika of opposition parties, was declared guilty of sedition for saying a decision by the Sultan of Perak could be questioned in court.  The conviction, which is being appealed, bars him from politics. 

The international press that showed up in Kuala Lumpur after the disappearance of the airliner began asking questions that exposed a regime unaccustomed to facing independent scrutiny – questions that a kept mainstream media, all of which are owned by the political parties in power, have ignored for decades. While a vibrant opposition press exists on the Internet, the government simply ignores it or tries to neutralize its reports. Those questions include crony capitalism, gerrymandering and political repression. CNN, the major US and British newspapers and other media assailed the government as authoritarian, corrupt and befuddled.

The feeling in Washington, however, is that the cost of cancellation to the strategic relationship between the two countries would be too high. Obama reportedly is being urged to visit a Christian church while in the country to show US commitment to human and religious rights. Advocates say the President should make at least some gesture of recognition of the fact that a 50.87 percent majority of Malaysians voted against the ruling coalition in 2013 general elections at 47.38 percent but still hold only 89 of the 222 seats in parliament because of gerrymandering. It’s unsure if he will do so. There is speculation that he may just opt for a “meet and greet” and get out of town as quickly as possible to avoid international criticism for propping up a regime that is starting to assume Zimbabwean characteristics of repression and kleptocracy.

“I don’t have any problem with Obama visiting Malaysia, provided he reaches outmalott1 to Malaysians on both sides of the aisle and all sectors of society, including the Christian community, whose rights are being trampled on by their government,” said John Malott, a former career foreign service officer who served as Ambassador to Malaysia from 1996 to 1998 and who has emerged as Malaysian government’s severest western critic. “But this has to be a visit that is based on the reality of what kind of country Malaysia really is today – and not to believe the talking points that Malaysia is still a tolerant multi-racial, multi-religious, harmonious, moderate Islamic nation, an economic success story, and a role model for others. It no longer is.”

Najib visited the White House in 2011 and was given a wholehearted endorsement by the President, who said Najib has “showed great leadership, I think, not only in continuing to show great leadership not only in Malaysia’s economy but on showing leadership on a wide range of multilateral issues.”

Najib PMThe President is said to like Najib personally despite the fact that a wide range of issues have never been cleared up, going back to allegations of Najib’s personal involvement in the US$1 billion purchase of French submarines that according to French prosecutors was said to have netted US$114 million in bribes and kickbacks to the United Malays National Organization. The case is still making its way through French courts.

There is also the matter of the still controversial 2006 murder by two of Najib’s bodyguards of Mongolian translator and party girl Altantuya Shaariibuu, who according to a now-dead private detective had been Najib’s girlfriend before she was allegedly passed on to his best friend, Abdul Razak Baginda, a key figure in the purchase of the submarines. The bodyguards were acquitted on appeal despite overwhelming evidence of their guilt, raising questions about Malaysia’s legal system as well.

There have been some rude shocks. Six months ago, in the run-up to his previous delayed visit to the region, the US President hailed Malaysia as an “an example of a dynamic economy” and praised its multi-ethnic, moderate Muslim-dominated society only to see just three days later a court decision ordering Christians not to use the word “Allah” when referring to God, making it the only Islamic country in the world to do so.

After that, the government ordered the confiscation of Malay-language Bibles containing the word – but only in Peninsular Malaysia. Christians using Malay-language Bibles in East Malaysia were allowed to keep them. That is because most of the Christians are tribes indigenous to Borneo that are aligned with the ruling party. In Peninsular Malaysia, they form the bulk of the Opposition.

“So the issue is — how can you talk about establishing a ‘strategic partnership’ with such a government?” Malott asked. “Maybe that is what will have to be downplayed or even canned for this visit. To me, the idea of a declaring a strategic partnership with a government whose faults have now been revealed to the world, day after day, seems politically unwise.”

Malott also questioned what strategic benefits the US can obtain from Malaysia.“What strategic value does Malaysia have that it warrants America to hold its nose and ignore the trampling of democracy and political freedom, not to mention the corruption and cronyism that hurt American business interests there?” he asked. “And with Mahathir, the great anti-American, increasingly calling the political shots and Najib’s popularity the lowest of any Prime Minister in polling history, will a ‘strategic partnership’ with the US survive Najib’s departure?”

Obama in Malaysia: A Strategic Partnership?

by Joshua Kurlantzick via Council on Foreign Relations
April 8, 2014

During his upcoming late April trip to Asia, President Obama will visit two nations in Southeast Asia, Malaysia and the Philippines, in addition to stops in Northeast Asia. The White House already has been briefing reporters on the overall messaging of the trip, and the specific themes the president plans to hit in Malaysia and the Philippines. In Malaysia, it appears from several news reports and from speaking with several administration officials, President Obama will add to the Malaysian government’s self-promotion that Kuala Lumpur is a successful and democratic nation, an example of other Muslim-majority countries, and a force for moderation in the world. The president apparently plans to hit these themes despite the regional anger at Malaysia’s handling of the Malaysia Airlines vanished plane, which exposed to the world many of the problems with Malaysia’s governance.

No matter, say some Southeast Asia experts. Some of Obama’s advisors, and many Southeast Asia experts, are urging the president to use the trip to cement a strategic partnership with Malaysia and establishing a roadmap for the kind of higher-level strategic cooperation that the United States already enjoys with Singapore and Thailand, among other countries in the region.

This approach to the Malaysia visit would mean downplaying – or simply not even discussing – serious regression in Malaysia’s domestic politics, including the recent sentencing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to five years in jail for sodomy, the highly flawed 2013 national elections that barely kept Prime Minister Najib tun Razak in office, and the increasingly shrill, anti-Chinese and anti-Indian rhetoric and legislation of the Najib government, hardly the kind of sentiments a supposed leader of political moderation should be espousing. According to this logic, if President Obama were to bring up such unpleasant issues as the Malaysian government’s crackdown on opponents over the past year or its unwillingness to reform pro-Malay policies that have entrenched a culture of graft and self-dealing at many Malaysian companies, that would sink the visit.

Under Najib, Malaysia and the United States have, on a strategic level, moved beyond some of the acrimony of the Mahathir and Abdullah years, and have made progress on a wide range of military-military and diplomatic cooperation. Najib definitely deserves some credit for this rapprochement, though growing Malaysian fear about China’s South China Sea policies are probably the main driver behind closer strategic ties with Washington.

But simply ignoring the disastrous Najib policies on human rights, political freedoms, and economic liberalization would not be a wise move by Obama. For one, it would play into the narrative that Obama cares little about rights and democracy promotion, a narrative that has gained significant force not only in Washington but also among many Southeast Asian activists and young people in general. And ignoring Malaysia’s opposition politicians, who won the popular vote in the 2013 national elections and enjoy their strongest support among young Malaysians, would be alienating the biggest growing pool of Malaysian voters. As in other countries in the region, like Cambodia and Indonesia, these young voters are increasingly favoring opposition parties or new figures like Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, breaking from long-ruling, autocratic parties. The United States should be cultivating these young voters who will prove critical to the region’s democratization. This new generation will eventually power the Malaysian opposition, in some form, to the prime minister’s office. It would be a shame if the United States president had ignored them, and their party leaders, before then.

Utusan’s claims of US role in MH370 disappearance aren’t the paper’s first wild charges

April 9, 2014

Utusan’s claims of US role in MH370 disappearance aren’t the paper’s first wild charges

Written by Our Correspondent, TUE,08 APRIL 2014



Utusan Malaysia, the Kuala Lumpur-based Malay-language broadsheet newspaper that Sunday accused the CIA of having a hand in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, has a long history of heated invective as the attack dog for its owner, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the country’s biggest political party.

NAJIB_RAZAK_091213_TMINAJJUA_05_540_360_100It is a publication that could be simply dismissed because of its often-irresponsible diatribes. But presumably it is the mouthpiece for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, the Party President. And from his standpoint, the story had to be an utter disaster.  US President Barack Obama is due to visit Malaysia sometime over the next few weeks, a visit that Najib, whose popularity is fading, needs to prop him up.

There has been no public reaction in the United States. However, certainly Washington would be less than amused by the story, which accused the US of engineering the plane’s disappearance in order to disturb the growing relationship between Malaysia and China.  One source close to the government last week told Asia Sentinel the US has been instrumental in helping Malaysia behind the scenes, providing technological and forensic help from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other organizations in the search for the missing Boeing 777-200, which disappeared on March 8 into the Indian Ocean.

The paper targets a domestic audience and has traditionally felt it could indulge in any necessary rhetoric to help preserve loyalty to the party.  However, over the past three to four years, it has veered into strident invective. In 2011, the company drove senior journalist Hata Wahari, then the president of the National Union of Journalists, out of the paper after he complained about its agenda and urged it to go back to its traditional role of presenting unbiased news to the public. 

Now, it is reaping more unfavorable publicity and runs the danger of once again affecting international relations because of the perception that is has official standing.  But Najib, according to one senior source close to the party, has lost control of the Board of Directors and the editors and has been unable to rein them in despite the fact that his own press secretary sits on the board.

Earlier, the newspaper accused Indonesia of conspiring with the United States to hide the missing airliner after radar communication was lost over the gulf of Thailand.  The Indonesian online news portal Merdeka.com quoted the senior officer for foreign affairs at Indonesia’s Defense Ministry, Sumardi Brotodiningrat, as saying the allegation was “funny” and that his country was already doing its best to assist Kuala Lumpur in the search.

Najib already faces strained relations with the United States over the conviction on Anwar-Kajangappeal of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, a favorite of many US politicians and financier George Soros, among others, on what were obviously trumped up charges of sodomy. According to several sources including the purported victim’s father, the charges were cooked up in the prime minister’s office.  The country is also facing criticism over confiscation of Christian bibles that use the word “Allah” to denote God and other issues.

US officials have had a habit of publicly observing diplomatic niceties in dealing with Kuala Lumpur and it is uncertain what kind of conversation Obama is going to have with the Malaysian premier.  

Najib has repeatedly gone to the US – and the White House – and to the United Nations to characterize Malaysia as a moderate Muslim nation only to take no action against growing religious extremism on the part of Malay nationalists ‑ much to the distress of the country’s other races.

Utusan Malaysia has been at the forefront of racial attacks on ethnic Chinese and Indians. In 2012, a columnist called former Indonesian President B J Habibie a traitor and a “dog of imperialism” for meeting with Anwar. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the comments were unethical and overstepped the bounds of decorum, adding that they had jeopardized relations between the two countries.

However, Utusan’s vitriol is usually reserved for members of the opposition and for Christians. In 2011, for instance, the newspaper printed allegations that Christian pastors were seeking to install a Christian prime minister who would change the country’s official religion from Islam.

The story was ridiculous on its face. Muslims make up at least 60 percent of the population. Some Chinese are Christians, others are Buddhists.  Islam is the country’s official religion, enshrined in the constitution although other religions are guaranteed freedom to exist. Any attempt to change the status of Islam would result in a racial conflagration.

In the current flap, according to a translation by the website Malaysian Insider, assistant editor Ku Seman Ku Hussein said it was time “to think outside the box” about the tragedy to Malaysia and world aviation, repeating baseless allegations that the US had also engineered the 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda.

“If the CIA could arrange for the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, it is not improbable to link MH370 with the intelligence agency,” he wrote, referring to speculation on the involvement of American intelligence in the 9/11 attacks.

“What if the MH370 tragedy had been arranged by certain parties to put Malaysia’s relationship with China in jeopardy?” Ku Seman asked in an opinion piece in the paper’s weekend edition, Mingguan Malaysia.

“The September 11 conspiracy which had been previously treated as nonsense was now a fact, and Putrajaya must look at it from a different point of view.” Ku Seman wrote.

Utusan reaches new heights of absurdity

April 7, 2014

 Utusan reaches new heights of absurdity

By John Malott*

malott1It is shocking to see that an Assistant Editor of Utusan Malaysia has written that the 9-11 attacks were planned by the CIA, and that the agency could also be behind the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

It is yet another example that Utusan has become the laughing stock of Malaysian journalism, given to fabrication, conspiracy theories, paranoia, extremism, and racism. Just think of all the libel suits that it has lost in the past two years. Think of its declining circulation, as readers grow weary of propaganda that tries to pass as news.

But Utusan is not just any newspaper. It is owned by UMNO, Malaysia’s rulingnajib-razak1 party, whose President is Najib Abdul Razak. UMNO and its President traditionally have provided editorial guidance and supervision to Utusan.

So what say you, Najib? You will soon be welcoming President Barack Obama to Malaysia. Are you going to let this absurb statement in “your” newspaper stand? Or will you speak out – and denounce this nonsense – before Obama comes?

When Utusan had its screaming headline after the 13th GE, ‘Apa Lagi Cina Mahu’, Najib defended the paper. Then just a few months later, he told government-linked companies that they should buy more advertisements in Utusan in order to aid the newspaper financially.

Will Najib react differently this time? Washington certainly will take note of the editorial comment in this UMNO newspaper, and will be waiting to see if there is a reaction from Najib and his government.

* John Malott was former US Ambassador to Malaysia and friend of Malaysia



Malaysia in 2014–A Perspective from Singapore

February 22, 2014

Malaysia in 2014–A Perspective from Singapore

For Singapore, due to history, geography, demography, economy and recent political experiences, Malaysia has perpetually been its lynchpin concern and preoccupation. In the past, S Rajaratnam, the Republic’s first foreign minister, had described Singapore’s relations with Malaysia as ‘special’ and there is nothing to suggest that this has changed in anyway. If anything, the ‘specialness’ has been intensified and further reinforced due to a whole array of factors, not least being the imperatives of national, regional and international economics. A weakening United States, an assertive China, an unstable Thailand and a new nationalistic leader in Indonesia can change the political and security architecture in the region to the detriment of both states and hence, their bilateral ties.

MALAYSIA-SINGAPORE-DIPLOMACYIn the 1950s and 1960s, culminating in Singapore’s expulsion from Malaysia in August 1965, the emotive dimension of Singapore’s view of Malaysia was dominant. Even though this has largely dissipated, it is not totally absent. Still, the pragmatism with which both states have moved forward is definitely a milestone achievement in bilateral ties in Southeast Asia.

For Singapore, continuity rather than change remains its key perspective on Malaysia. This was especially true after the May 2013 general elections where the Barisan Nasional (BN: National Front) was returned to power albeit with a weaker majority. Still, Prime Minister Najib, the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) and the BN are in power and that is what matters even though the winds of change must also be disconcerting. The disquiet would be more, not so much from the economic aspect as it would be from the rising racial and religious polarisation of Malaysia in the last few years that was brought to the forefront during the last general elections.

The ‘Allah’ issue has not been helpful and the recent firebombing of a church in Penang has merely raised the ante of what this will mean for Malaysia and possibly, even multiracial and multi-religious Singapore. All that aside, the single most important development of late has been the rising warmth in Singapore-Malaysia bilateral ties under Lee Hsien Loong and Najib Tun Razak. While past imperatives of history, geography and demography remain relevant, most dominant in the new narrative has been the personal warmth of the two Prime Ministers (Lee and Najib) and the strategic nature of their bilateral ties.

Most of the past issues have been addressed or settled such as relocation of Customs and Immigration Complex, land reclamation and even water. Most importantly, has been the breakthroughs that both leaders have made vis-à-vis two issues, namely, the resolution of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the land exchange deal as well as Singapore’s support for the Iskandar Development Project in Johor. Other positive developments in ties include the holding of annual leader’s retreats, re-establishment of links between both countries’ stock exchanges, Malaysia’s agreement to sell electricity to Singapore, the agreement to build high speed train link from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, the amicable post-Pedra Branca technical talks to resolve legacy issues over the islands’ dispute and finally, the establishment of a Singapore consulate in Johor Baru.

If there is one key factor that has brought bilateral ties to a new height, it is the cooperation in the Iskandar Project. Not only is the Singapore Government supporting investments in the project through Government-linked companies such as Temasek Holding but also playing an important role in encouraging the private sector to invest in the project. Additionally, thousands of Singaporeans are expected to be permanently based in the Iskandar region and Johor as a whole, bringing interdependence to a level that was never seen before. To that extent, Iskandar has been the key game changer in Singapore-Malaysia bilateral ties of late.

The breakthrough in bilateral ties was a function of a number of factors. First, the decision by both sides to adopt a new approach to bilateral ties in order to garner win-win results. Second, the personal warmth of the top leaders was extremely helpful. Third, the calculation of the mutual benefits that would be gained by both sides in view of the increasing regional and global competition. Fourth, over the years, there has also been increasing economic interdependence with Singapore as one of the top investors in Malaysia over the last two decades or so. Two-way trade and investments are among the highest between the two states. Fifth, there is also the realisation of increasing security indivisibility of both states. Finally, the ideological pragmatism of both sides has also helped in boosting bilateral ties.

While Singapore expects Malaysia in 2014 to have a largely ‘normal’ year barring any unexpected events – all the more to be the case as the UMNO annual assembly has opted for status quo – the Republic is also mindful of the many uncertainties that can unexpectedly crop up to affect bilateral ties. While 2014 can expect the warming of ties to continue, this cannot be taken for granted. First, the warm ties of two Prime Minister, both of whom are sons of two former prime ministers  who were not close, may not survive personalities if a more nationalistic prime minister takes over in Singapore or Malaysia. Second, tensions could surface if the promised cooperation proves futile or produces one-sided benefits, say in Iskandar Project. Finally, growing domestic tensions in Malaysia, especially among the Malay and Chinese communities in Johor or in Malaysia could spill over into Singapore-Malaysia relations.

Hence, for Singapore, while Malaysia in 2014 is expected to continue ‘good business as normal’, there are also potential minefields that might explode, and hence, the need for caution. ‘Special relations’ are important but can never be taken for granted, and this also holds true of Singapore’s view of Malaysia in 2014.

Bilveer Singh is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore, adjunct senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies and President of the Political Science Association of Singapore.

China taking Malaysia’s friendship for granted

February 18, 2014

South China Sea: China testing Malaysia’s friendship and resolve

by  Dr. Tang Siew Mun@http://www.nst.com.my

FOR what is hyped to be a celebratory year to commemorate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Malaysia and China, the mood is more cautious in the wake of yet another highly visible show of force by China in James Shoal.


Just as the Chinese community across the world was set to welcome the Year of the Horse, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA Navy) sent a three-ship flotilla to patrol the waters around James Shoal in the South China Sea.

The official news agency, Xinhua, reported that “soldiers and officials aboard swore an oath of determination to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and maritime interests”.

This was not the first, nor would it be the last of such visits. A similar incident took place in March last year. Malaysia should well expect these visits to be a recurrent Chinese feature and stratagem to reinforce their claim over the Malaysian shoal.

The latest intrusion into James Shoal could be interpreted in two ways. It could be a low-key way for China to reaffirm its interests in the area, and keep alive its claims of sovereignty. If these visits are confined to political speech acts of declarations, there is no immediate threat to Malaysian interests and regional stability. However, if these visits are a prelude to the old Chinese game of “creeping assertiveness” by testing Malaysia’s resolve, then the effect may be more destabilising and worrisome.

Even in the best case scenario where the repeated visits to the vicinity of James Shoal are transient and absent of any plans of escalation, Malaysia needs to provide a credible response.

James Shoal has clearly demonstrated the limits of Malaysian goodwill and “understanding” of what is essentially provocative Chinese moves toward Malaysian interests. We have to seriously ask ourselves, what does China hope to gain from these visits?

Malaysia had avoided megaphone diplomacy to register our concerns. Instead, we continue to put trust on our “special relationship” to avoid and minimise damage to one of our most important bilateral relationships.

Unfortunately, Beijing plays by different rules and proudly displays these acts openly and widely through their media agencies. This puts Kuala Lumpur in a delicate position. By holding firm to the preferred modality of quiet diplomacy, Kuala Lumpur runs the risk of being criticised of appeasing China.

Indeed, the oft-asked question is, why is Kuala Lumpur deferential to Beijing? These views are a poor representation of Malaysian diplomacy. Malaysia is vigorous in protecting its interests in the South China Sea, but does so in a productive and non-confrontational manner.

Chinese Naval ShipsChina needs to show Malaysia the same courtesy and respect that we have shown to them. Playing out delicate political-strategic issues in the media would only serve to inflame nationalistic angst and harden positions in both countries, and potentially setting the stage for a confrontation that neither Malaysia nor China wants.

Looking ahead, Malaysia has to face up to some hard questions: FIRST, it should re-evaluate if the existing approach and its China policy is effective. If James Shoal is used as a barometer of China’s “friendliness” toward Malaysia, the future of Sino-Malaysian relations is not looking too bright;

SECOND, Malaysia should give more emphasis to political-strategic and security issues vis-à-vis China. As important as our trade and investment ties are with China, economics should not overwhelm strategic considerations. We need a balanced approach in our China policy;

THIRD, Malaysia should be more expressive and sharing with its views. As a democracy, the government has an obligation to inform and engage its citizens in its policy-making. More importantly, Malaysia needs to register its position openly but in a constructive manner. If Malaysia is hesitant to speak out for itself, how effective could Malaysia be when it assumes the chairmanship of Asean, and possibly serving as the Asia’s representative in the UN Security Council?;

FOURTH, Malaysia needs a Plan B. Our policy is premised on a benign and cooperative China. What if this worldview turns out differently? What if James Shoal is the harbinger of a nationalistic and expansionist great power in the making? Although we would want to believe (and hope) that the latter worldview will not become a reality, Malaysia needs to expand its strategic options. It would be irresponsible to base our China policy on the latter’s benevolence. There is no guarantee that this would be the case in the long term. In fact, James Shoal may just be the catalyst to nudge us toward contemplating the unthinkable; and,

FIFTH, we should not allow ourselves to be caught up in the euphoria and celebrations of the commemorative year, and avoid taking on hard and delicate issues. James Shoal (and the South China Sea dispute) is a tumour that if left untreated, could serve to damage the erstwhile good relations between Malaysia and China. Fundamentally, we should engage China to define the meaning of “friendship.” How would friends deal with problems and disputes? Certainly not by sending men-of-war to test the other’s

Friendships should not be taken for granted. Kuala Lumpur and Beijing need to work hard to maintain and to take the relationship to the next level. As we move toward paving new roads to deepening this friendship, we must also prioritise on repairing old ones.  At the same time, we must be careful not to put additional pressure on old roads to avoid reaching the critical point of collapse.

James Shoal is a test for China, as much as it is for Malaysia. If China is changing course, so too must Malaysia in crafting an appropriate response.

Anwar protests against deportation from Tokyo

January 20, 2014

19th JANUARY 2014

Anwar Protests Against Deportation from Tokyo


I arrived at Narita International Airport at 6.45 this morning from Kuala Lumpur but was barred from entry by the Japanese immigration authorities and was told to board the first flight back home or face deportation.

When I asked why I was not allowed to enter, they told me that it was because of my previous conviction in 1999. I told them this could not be a valid reason on account of the fact that prior to this I had already entered Tokyo without hindrance on three previous occasions in 2006, 2009, and 2012.

I told the immigration authorities there must be some mix-up in this matter and protested that it was not proper for them to bar me from entering the country without a bona fide and valid reason. As I persisted in asking for an explanation, they finally told me that they had to take this action “because of a latest report” possibly in 2013.

I then had no choice but to take the next flight home at 10.45 am.I had gone to Tokyo on a personal invitation by Mr Sasakawa, Chairman of the Nippon Foundation, to present a paper on Muslim Democrats. As a routine pre-travel procedure, my office had made inquiries with the Japanese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur last week and was informed that there would be no issues outstanding which would be an impediment to my entering the country.

I protest in the strongest terms this unwarranted action of the Japanese government in refusing me entry and denying my legitimate rights to travel freely without let or hindrance. It is indeed inconceivable for one of the world’s leading democracies to take this unprecedented action under such tenuous grounds and leaves me with the impression that hidden hands may be at work here.

In this regard, I demand an explanation from the Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs, in particular, as to what role Wisma Putra has played in this scandalous episode in respect of the so-called “latest report” that has purportedly led to my being forcibly evicted from Japan.


Wisma Putra responds

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com (01-20-14)

AnifahAmanWisma Putra has denied any involvement in Japan’s decision to bar opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from entering the country.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said today that according to the Japanese authorities, Anwar was denied entry as they found him “undesirable”. He said under the country’s Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, it is stated that they have every right to deny entry to anyone who has been convicted of a violation of any law of Japan or any other country.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference at the the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations in Kuala Lumpur, Anifah explained that the Malaysian consulate in Japan had made enquiries with the authorities there after Anwar had accused Wisma Putra of having a hand in this issue.

Turkey Needs Justice for All

January 13, 2014

Turkey Needs Justice for All

mustafa akyolby Mustafa Akyol (01-10-14)@http://www.nytimes.com

ISTANBUL — For the past month, Turkey has been plagued by an all-out political war between the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and certain elements within the judiciary and the police. No one knows how it will end, but its meaning for Turkey’s troubled democracy is already clear: There is little rule of law here, and “justice” easily falls victim to power.

This is a problem with deep historical roots. When Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern Turkish Republic in 1923, he devised the legal system as the protector of his “revolution” — rather than citizens’ rights. His politically motivated “Independence Courts” executed or imprisoned many dissidents. Soon, Turkey imported its penal code from Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, where the law simply served the state, not the citizens. (“Westernization” does not always do wonders.)

Turkey’s hawkish generals, the self-declared “guardians” of Ataturk’s revolution, passionately continued this bad tradition. When they overthrew Adnan Menderes, Turkey’s most popular leader ever, in a coup in 1960, he was subjected to a show trial. When Mr. Menderes asked at the court why he was not given a fair trial, the judge’s answer was telling: “Because that is how the power that put you here wishes.”

For decades, Turkey’s religious conservatives condemned this cynical “justice” and for good reason: They were often its victims. But when those same conservatives rose to power after 2000, with the ascendance of Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as the A.K.P., they did not abolish the old logic; they just adopted it for their advantage. Now justice was the handmaiden of counterrevolution.

This became most evident during the various “coup cases” of 2007-2011 that imprisoned hundreds of military officers and their alleged civilian allies. In these cases, there were certainly some military figures responsible for extrajudicial killings or possible coup attempts. Yet many other suspects were only “criminal” in the ideological sense. As Gareth Jenkins, the only Western journalist who read the colossal indictments in full, observed, the hunt on the coup-makers was blown out of proportion due to a “conspiratorial worldview” and through “creative interpretation and occasional apparent manipulation.”

Back then, these coup-hunting conservatives within the judiciary were wholeheartedlyrecep-tayyip-erdogan-41 supported by Mr. Erdogan, but many whispered that they belonged to a specific religious community: The followers of Fethullah Gulen, a moderate Islamic scholar who lives in Pennsylvania and whose teachings have inspired millions in Turkey and beyond.

This Erdogan-Gulen alliance, as many people called it, ultimately won the war against the military old guard, but they could not keep the peace between themselves. Their growing political tension turned into an open political war on December. 17, with an unexpected corruption probe that involved four ministers in Mr. Erdogan’s government. The Prime Minister soon accepted the resignation of those ministers, but also condemned the investigation as a “coup attempt.” He blamed a “secret organization” within the judiciary and the police, a conspiratorial cabal directed by the Gulen movement that serves “foreign powers” such as the United States and Israel.

Since then, in just a month, Mr. Erdogan has pursued a huge purge within the police force, reassigning a staggering 2,500 officers and taking steps to make the judiciary subservient to the executive (such as his new proposal to place the relatively autonomous High Council of Judges and Prosecutors fully under the Justice Minister), in a reversal of the European Union reforms that his own government had introduced.

Last Wednesday, the prosecutor who launched the corruption probe, Zekeriya Oz, once Mr. Erdogan’s favorite due to his leading role in prosecuting military leaders, declared that the prime minister had sent emissaries conveying threats. Mr. Erdogan denied this charge, while the pro-Erdogan media insisted that Mr. Oz himself is corrupt.

Objectively speaking, there are good reasons to believe that the corruption probe against the government is politically motivated. After all, it came immediately after the burst of the A.K.P.-Gulen conflict; it is passionately supported by the Gulen movement; and it may influence important local elections in March. But should the political motivations of a prosecutor devalue the evidence he finds? If yes, why was this not an issue during the “coup” cases against the military? And if those cases were really based on manipulated evidence, should we trust the findings of the same prosecutors now?

Such questions must be asked in Turkey, but few are asking all of them together. Rather, the warring political camps are focusing only on what benefits their own interests. Some within the secular opposition who once condemned prosecutors such as Mr. Oz as “the enemy of the Turkish military” now praise him for challenging Mr. Erdogan. Meanwhile, some supporters of Mr. Erdogan are arguing, surprisingly, that the Turkish military suffered from a similar judicial “plot,” debunking the very cases they once passionately defended.

Deep down, this crisis exposes the tragedy of Turkish justice. All political camps seem to believe that justice will only be served when the right people — their people — control the judiciary. Moreover, their similarly conspiratorial mind-sets demonize all political opponents as enemies within who need to be cornered and crushed. The result is an endless series of vendettas. Whoever manages to capture state power uses it aggressively, while the victims only grind their teeth and wait for their turn.

The only way out is to restructure the Turkish judiciary to make it both independent and nonpartisan, so that it protects the rights of all citizens and rule of law. The current crisis is unlikely to yield any good outcomes soon, but if it can convince more Turks that they really need such a structural, long-lasting solution instead of cosmetic reforms, that will be a significant step forward.

Mustafa Akyol is a columnist and the author of “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.”

Innovation, the “Third Arrow” and US-Japan Relations

January 11, 2014

east-west-center-asia-pacific-bulletinNumber 246 | January 10, 2014


Innovation, the “Third Arrow” and US-Japan Relations

By Sean Connell

Sean Connell, Japan Studies Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington, explains that “It is valuable to consider the potential impacts these strategies have not only for Japan, but also their interconnectivity with the US economy at a time when both countries face intensifying global competitive pressure.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic revitalization policies have energized Japan over the past year, boosting both corporate and public confidence and lifting the Nikkei stock index to heights unseen in recent years. The Abe government’s three-pronged strategy of aggressive monetary policy, fiscal policy, and structural reforms aims to eliminate deflationary mindsets after two “lost decades” of economic stagnation, stimulate consumption and investment, and spur new growth. As part of its growth strategy, the Abe government brought Japan into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, presenting significant opportunities to strengthen Japan’s economic relationship with the United States.

A growing, prosperous Japan benefits the United States. Japan is the fourth-largest US export market, and US subsidiaries of Japanese companies employed more than 680,000 US workers in 2011. The two economies are increasingly integrated through trade, investment, and global supply chains. A TPP agreement will accelerate and further deepen integration by removing significant market access, regulatory, and other barriers in Japan to US exports. Moreover, the recent approval of US shale gas exports to Japan will make energy an increasing area of the bilateral economic partnership. The Abe government’s growth agenda shares with US domestic economic strategies the goal of spurring innovation to generate new productivity and growth engines. It is valuable to consider the potential impacts these strategies have not only for Japan, but also their interconnectivity with the US economy at a time when both countries face intensifying global competitive pressure. One consideration for policymakers is the matter of where engagement supports Japan’s growth strategies, and presents opportunities for bilateral cooperation in creating new industries and advancing related goals globally.

First, governments play key roles in facilitating conducive environments and policy frameworks for innovation, and in coordinating among various actors–including businesses, universities, non-governmental organizations, and entrepreneurs–from whose interactions innovations emerge. The Japan Revitalization Strategy announced in June 2013 indicates an active role for the Japanese government in advancing these proposals. This is important for enhancing basic research for which government support is vital, such as the proposed establishment of a Japanese version of the National Institutes of Health, along with university reforms. It will be essential to implement deep structural reforms, such as those required for TPP, electricity deregulation, and in labor and agriculture policy in order to overcome long-recognized constraints to productivity and Japan’s innovation ecosystem. The Abe government should, however, be careful to avoid actions that could inadvertently distort markets, including picking industry and standards champions, and consider appropriate exit strategies for government stimulus in order to allow competitive businesses and entrepreneurs to fully unleash innovative capabilities. These are issues with which the US also grapples, and that present useful opportunities for continued engagement and dialogue around best practices and policy solutions.

Second, coordination around innovation policy is increasingly important within the US-Japan relationship. Center stage for this is TPP, given the role trade and investment play in fostering innovation by encouraging competition and bringing new products, technologies, and ideas across borders. TPP presents opportunities to enhance key elements of innovation frameworks, including stronger intellectual property protections, greater alignment of standards-setting processes, opening market sectors closed to investment, removing localization barriers, improving transparency and eliminating regulatory impediments. Some of these issues remain challenges to foreign businesses in Japan, but on others Japan has strong rules and shared goals with the United States. This makes TPP an important venue for cooperation to ensure a high-standard agreement that encourages innovation in Japan, and fosters a more competitive environment across the Asia-Pacific region for Japanese and US innovations. The two governments are additionally exploring common issues in clean energy, the Internet economy, and other innovation-driven industries. These dialogues have increasingly incorporated both small and large businesses from both countries, positive for pragmatic discussions on policy, commercial developments, and areas of potential collaboration. Expanding this inclusive approach, and exploring untapped synergies across existing initiatives and institutional lines on cross-cutting innovation topics, could present beneficial opportunities. This includes in new growth areas, such as smart grid systems, health care technologies including regenerative medicine, and services for aging societies.

Third, innovation is borderless and requires a global orientation. Japan is world-leading in its innovation capabilities, but Japanese companies have stumbled in recent years in bringing these assets to global markets. Contributing factors have included business and organizational models, and an inward, domestic focus. The Abe administration’s growth strategy includes a comprehensive set of actions to address these and related challenges in Japan’s innovation ecosystem. These range from incentives for corporate governance reform and business organization, and encouraging more women and high-skilled foreign professionals in the workforce, to attracting foreign direct investment through special economic zones featuring bold regulatory reforms. Increased engagement with US partners, at multiple levels of government, the private sector, and civil society can support Japan as it moves forward with this agenda. For example, the two governments are discussing opportunities to facilitate more mergers and acquisitions into Japan, which could help introduce more global perspectives and get innovative Japanese goods, services, and ideas out to global markets. Leveraging the diverse networks of people and institutions across both countries already collaborating bilaterally and active in these areas could also contribute positively. Examples include entrepreneurial business competitions and women’s leadership programs such as those under the TOMODACHI initiative.

Building on this, stakeholder-driven initiatives could be valuable as models for collaboration in achieving these goals. For example, the International Institute for Carbon-Neutral Energy Research (I2CNER), a joint Kyushu University/University of Illinois institute funded by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, is emerging as a unique venue for US-Japan basic research collaboration. Initiated by researchers from both universities, I2CNER is not only developing innovative technologies, but also emerging as a laboratory for new practices in a Japanese university environment, including through introducing a US-style tenure system for researchers. A joint US-Japan smart grid demonstration project in Maui, which came on line in December 2013, is intended to develop a functioning smart grid system and business model that could be exported to other island or isolated communities. Additionally, Okinawa Prefecture and the State of Hawai’i have each taken the lead in opening ocean thermal energy conversion demonstration facilities and exchanging information to study the potential of this energy resource. These represent just a few examples of evolving opportunities for US-Japan cooperation at multiple levels in both countries, and which can serve as laboratories to explore in practical ways the two countries can pursue mutually beneficial innovation and growth objectives.

About the Author

Sean Connell is a Japan Studies Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington. He can be contacted via email at spconnell@gmail.com.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Damien Tomkins, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.Honolulu, HI

East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995

Wisma Putra needs a Culture of Professional Excellence

December 20, 2013

Wisma Putra needs a Culture of Professional Excellence

by Ambassador Datuk Dr. Ananda Kumaraseri

Wisma PutraWisma Putra

IT was noted in one of my earlier articles outlining Wisma Putra’s conduct of the country’s international relations and diplomacy in recent years of perceived shortcomings and shortfalls in the performance of our diplomats.

Criticism has been particularly severe in the local dailies and in the Internet that implored urgent measures, even a revamp of Wisma Putra, in order to redress the situation.

A factor often pinpointed was the perceptible decline in leadership. The performance of secretary-generals of latter years came under severe treatment. The contention was that poor leadership had resulted in the lack of purpose, indifference to professional application and an absence of vision and direction among our diplomats.

Kimg GhazThis, in turn, had manifested in gross lapses in the processes entailed in conducting Malaysia’s international relations and diplomacy and incoherent responses towards safeguarding and promoting Malaysia’s national interests.

To drive home the dilemma confronting Wisma Putra, the present unsatisfactory scenario was pitted against the contrastingly robust and highly successful diplomacy under the leadership of Tun Ghazali Shafie that enjoyed striking visibility nationally as well as internationally.

The flak by blogger Din Merican was telling. It is worthy to note that he was one of our earlier generations of diplomats. He asserted, inter alia, that the consensus of his readers is that, “our diplomacy is ineffective because we lack diplomats who can represent our country on the world stage and command the respect of the rest of the international community for our consistency and clarity of purpose in projecting our national interest”.

In response to the harsh chastisement over Wisma Putra’s disappointing performance, Tan Sri Mohd Radzi Abdul Rahman, who was Secretary-General at the ministry at that point in time, apportioned blame to the dire lack of resources.

He pleaded that the rapid increase in the number of our overseas diplomatic missions and the vast expansion in the scope of responsibilities that Wisma Putra had to assume in the wake of the heightened pace of diplomacy in the contemporary international environment had exacerbated the ministry’s plight.

Significantly, a common thread that ran through the heap of criticism was AnifahAmancronyism that has fast become endemic of the management style of Wisma Putra. It must be recognised that in comparison with other public agencies, management in Wisma Putra is highly susceptible to cronyism. Inter-personal relations between superiors and subordinates as well as among officers of the same grade are not confined to the work cut-out for individual officers.

The nature of work is such that officers spend considerable time with their superiors outside the confines of the office environment thereby rendering socialisation an integral element of a diplomatic career.

The point to note here is that inter-personal relationships that are forged often are totally unrelated to an officer’s competency and commitment to giving his best effort in carrying out his duties and responsibilities.

For a variety of reasons and circumstances, when it comes to overseas diplomatic missions, the socialisation factor takes on a more dominant role.

Extra-curricular activities totally unrelated to an officer’s work can readily assume a paramount importance in the inter-personal equation between superiors and subordinates. Thus, the tendency for officers to aspire to worm themselves into the good books of their superiors by becoming golf buddies, drinking kakis and partners in nocturnal activities. Forging of such relationships with superiors prove highly rewarding, particularly in ensuring one’s promotion and for securing good diplomatic postings.

As a matter of fact, not only are officers caught in the competitive web of cultivating close inter-personal rapport with the superiors, almost invariably the socialisation factor among spouses and children becomes a significant determinant of tangible and intangible fringe benefits.

Officers are quick to recognise this Achilles’ heel in the management and leadership style in Wisma Putra. The average officer would rather invest time, energy and monies in currying favours with their superior officers and their spouses than opt to establish his or her professional excellence. As a consequence mediocrity comes to roost.

JJ and ObamaIn all fairness, it must be pointed out in summation that while there are sound grounds to berate the leadership of cronyism and mediocrity instead of promoting the more productive culture of meritocracy, this malaise is not one that is peculiar to Wisma Putra.

Many a critic has bemoaned that cronyism are embedded in the nation’s body politics and willy nilly has crept into all sectors of government and administration. The malady of cronyism is afflicting all sectors of national endeavour and not just the conduct of Malaysia’s international relations and management of its foreign affairs and diplomacy.

A culture of professional excellence has to replace cronyism and mediocrity if we are to envision a good breed of diplomats. This is to be reinforced, among other prerequisites, through meticulous selection and professional training.

The Revered Thai King and Politics

December 4, 2013

The Revered Thai King and Politics

by Dr Paridah Abdul Samad@http://www.nst.com.my

AS the political impasse in Thailand remains, very few countries attract the attention of the world with a mystical king — King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Thai King's BirthdayLong Live His Majesty King of Thailand

As the centre of the nation’s spiritual and moral authority, is the ailing King still in charge in the worsening political crisis?

The defiant Thai opposition is intensifying its fight to bring down Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. The protesters — a mix of royalists, southerners and the urban middle-class — are united in their loathing for former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup over allegations of corruption and disrespect for King Bhumibol.

Yingluck’s Pheu Thai-led government cleared a political hurdle after surviving a no-confidence vote in Parliament last week, but the relief was short-lived. The protesters are demanding the replacement of the government with an unelected “people’s council”. By creating chaos, they hope the military — at times a key player in the nation’s tumultuous political history — will intervene and take power from the government.

Coming up is the revered King Bhumibol’s birthday tomorrow. One of the wealthiest men of his time, King Bhumibol was at the top of the list of 20 great Asians in Asiaweek in 1995. He has enjoyed popular support, although his power is largely ceremonial.

The King has actively promoted development projects and has been a stabilising force in the country’s turbulent politics, intervening several times to resolve governmental crises or criticise government leaders.

His Majesty influences politics without being political. In doing so, he has made an ancient monarchy into a crucial component of a progressive and prosperous democracy.

When Bhumibol ascended to the throne in 1946, just 14 years after the absolute monarchy had been overthrown, the institution of the monarchy had nearly been eclipsed by new political forces. At that time, the nation’s problems largely stemmed from conflicts brewing in neighbouring Cambodia and Vietnam.

By the 1960s, during Sarit Dhanarajata’s dictatorship, pro-royalists allied with the Thai military and succeeded in revitalising the Royal institution. This was intricated by periods when secular voices became louder and pulled the kingdom into another direction, especially in the 1930s, the early 1970s and around 1990. The king also endorsed at least a half dozen coups between 1957 and 1991.

From 1992 to 2005, as military coups became less popular around the world, the network monarchy “refined” its approach, subtly undermining democratic institutions and prime ministers, and portraying the monarchy as “an alternative source of legitimacy to the electoral democracy”.

With a revitalised monarchy in 1973 and 1992, the King intervened to end military violence against anti-dictatorship protesters, establishing his role as the final arbiter in times of crisis.

However, some critics claimed that the King’s seemingly “few but necessary” interference in politics was not true and that the palace has meddled incessantly ever since the 1970s.For example, it was claimed that the monarchy was intimately involved in events leading up to the appalling massacre of students at Thammasat University.

In a highly charged and unstable atmosphere, it was the king who stepped in to restore order in an unprecedented move by nominating the widely-respected and non-partisan rector of Thammasat University, Professor Sanya Dharmasakdi, as interim Prime Minister.

In September 2006, the military staged a bloodless coup and declared martial law while Thaksin was at the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Many assumed that Bhumibol supported the coup as he remained silent the day following it.

However, it was said that due to his ailing health, if the King was opposed to the 2006 coup, he was unable to restrain others in the *alace who supported it.

There is no doubt that the King enjoys enormous popularity, but His Majesty’s personal popularity does not necessarily translate into legitimacy conferred to the institution. It may well be that for many Thais, “loyalty to the throne” extends no further than the present reign. The Palace succeeded in building up the image of the king’s personal connection to his people, playing up his sacred status and making the monarchy the spiritual centre of the nation.

Another factor that has transformed the political landscape in which the monarchy is situated has been the growing development of political consciousness amongst Thai citizens as a whole.

The active involvement of the Palace in the coup, the appearance of taking sides by members of the royalty in political conflict, the indiscriminate use of the lese majeste law and even the awareness of the immense wealth of the throne reflected a bigger role for Thailand’s monarch compared with any other constitutional monarchies around the world.

Another factor to the King’s prestige was his world record-breaking number of honorary degrees, patents for his inventions and his considerable skill in art, music and writing. The festivities surrounding the 60th anniversary of the king’s accession to the throne in June 2006 demonstrated that King Bhumibol seemed to have secured a legacy.

As a beloved King, he seems very much in charge, just from the massive devotion of his people and long-standing record of validity through both actions and words.

Crown-Prince-Maha-Vajiral-007However, this may change as the Crown Prince (above) lacks his father’s charisma and virtues. With the king’s prevailing health deteriorating, the country faces both unstable political democracy and royal uncertainties as well.

Wisma Putra: Singapore envoy says no plans to harm Malaysia

November 27, 2013

Wisma Putra: Singapore envoy says no plans to harm Malaysia

by Boo Su-Lyn (11-26-13)

After being summoned over espionage allegations, the Singapore High Commission has assured Malaysia that the neighbouring island republic does not intend to harm its allies, the Foreign Ministry said today.

Ong KYForeign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman also said that Singapore High Commissioner Ong Keng Yong (left) has promised to clarify such claims to Wisma Putra as soon as possible after conveying Putrajaya’s concerns to the Singaporean government.

“The High Commissioner also assured us that Singapore has no intention to do any harm to its partners,” Anifah said in a statement released by his office today.

“Singapore also values its excellent ties with Malaysia as evidenced by active collaboration between the two countries in many areas,” he added.

Anifah said that Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Datuk Othman Hashim had met Ong today in Wisma Putra and made it clear that surveillance on Malaysia infringes the country’s sovereignty, as well as individual privacy.

“Such activities are certainly not done amongst partners and closeAnifahAman neighbours like Malaysia and Singapore when both sides are cultivating mutually beneficial strategic and strong partnership. The reported spying activities have caused considerable anger and disappointment amongst Malaysians,” said Anifah.

Singapore daily, Straits Times, today reported Ong denying knowledge that his country’s government had helped facilitate American-Australian espionage in the region.

“We have no interest in doing anything that might harm our partners or the friendship between our two countries,” Ong was quoted saying.

Top secret documents leaked by US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden showed that Singapore, which was once a part of Malaysia before breaking off in 1965, is a key partner of the “5-Eyes” intelligence group led by the United States, which was revealed to have tapped telephones and monitored communications networks in Kuala Lumpur.

In a report by Australian media group Fairfax Media yesterday quoting Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad, it was revealed that Singapore, which is one of the US’ closest allies, is a key “third party” providing the ring – comprising the US, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – access to Malaysia’s communications channel.

In August, Fairfax had reported that the Singaporean intelligence is a partner of Australia’s electronic espionage agency, the Defence Signals Directorate, to tap the SEA-ME-WE-3 cable that runs from Japan, via Singapore, Djibouti, Suez and the Straits of Gibraltar to Northern Germany.

This access was allegedly facilitated by Singaporean telecommunication operator Singapore Telecommunications Limited (SingTel), which is owned by Singapore government’s investment arm Temasek Holdings.

According to Fairfax, Malaysia and Indonesia had been key targets for both Australian and Singaporean intelligence even since the 1970s, since most of Indonesia’s telecommunications and Internet traffic goes through the island city-state.

Australian newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald reported last month that Australia’s intelligence agency was using its diplomatic missions in several Asian countries, including Malaysia, to intercept phone calls and internet data.

The report cited information disclosed by Snowden, saying that signals intelligence collection occurs at Australia’s High Commissions in Kuala Lumpur and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, as well as at its embassies in Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Beijing and Dili in East Timor.

The former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor had previously revealed a top secret map showing 90 US electronic surveillance facilities worldwide, including in American embassies in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar, that bug phones and monitor communications networks.

No such facilities, however, are located in Singapore, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, according to the map dated August 13, 2010.–-The Malay Mail Online

Indonesia : A Emerging Regional Force in ASEAN

November 26, 2013

MY COMMENT: Indonesia’s political, economic and social transformation since 1998 following the collapse of the Suharto rule is impressive. It has a strong civil society, an independent media, and an effective parliamentary system with an elected Presidency. Indonesia is without doubt a thriving democracy. It has shown us what is possible in democratic politics.

I agree with Dr. Farish that the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014 is a landmark as the country forges ahead in terms of political maturity, and socio-economic development. It is a different and increasingly complex Indonesia of course, and yet we in ASEAN need to recognise that it is an emerging regional force for peace and stability in South East Asia. It is almost trite to say that Indonesia is good for ASEAN. –Din Merican

Indonesia : A Emerging Regional Force in ASEAN

by Dr. Farish M. Noor (11-25-13) @www.nst.com.my

STRUCTURAL CHANGES: ASEAN should take of heed of developments in Indonesia as the country heads to the polls next year

farish-m-noorNEXT year, the people of Indonesia will be going to the polls, both    parliamentary and presidential, an event that  has been touted as a  landmark  that will determine the country’s future in the short to medium term.

Depending on which parties form the ruling coalition, and which candidate eventually wins the mantle of the Presidency, it will also have a visible and tangible impact on Indonesia’s relations with its neighbours in ASEAN, and beyond.

For all these reasons, we, the neighbours of Indonesia, ought to be cognisant of developments there and to understand the complex, and at times confounding, internal dynamics of its politics and society.

However, before this can be done, there has to be a recognition of the fact that Indonesia today is a very different country compared to what it was one and a half decades ago.


It is a truism that all states and societies evolve over time and adapt to new socio-political realities, but in the Indonesian case this is not simply a cosmetic shift to new norms and visuals, but has also been accompanied by very real changes to the institutional structure and organisation of the state itself. The nation-state of Indonesia obviously bears the same name that it has always had, but in many vital respects it has evolved into a different kind of political entity altogether.

One of the most important changes that has taken place in Indonesia post-1998 is decentralisation, where more and more power has been dissolved at the centre and dispersed to the outer island provinces. Throughout the New Order era of Suharto, the Indonesian Republic has been a centrist one, with power concentrated in Jakarta.

Accompanied by the depoliticisation process, where political parties were forced to dilute themselves and merge into three party-political blocs, the Indonesian state between 1970 and 1998 was one where all roads led to Jakarta and Jakarta had a hand in many of the decisions made at the local level.

In some ways, this propensity to concentrate power at the centre was understandable, for Indonesia in the 1970s was still reeling from the shock of a succession of internal revolts in the 1950s and the clash with the Communist Party (PKI) in the 1960s.

For fear of the country falling apart again, a vast network of power relations and administrative chain of command was created, where those in power in Jakarta were able to keep an eye on the rest of the vast archipelago.

However, this also led to the perception that the whole of Indonesia  — a vast and exceedingly complete country, with hundreds of ethno-linguistic groups — was  dominated by a  handful of Javanese elites. Decentralisation took off in the early 2000, particularly during the short tenure of President Megawati Sukarnoputri, and has proceeded  since then.

This has led to another form of power dispersal,  in the form of the new local regulations (Peraturan Daerah, or Perda) where local authorities could  pass local laws  — some of which may go  against the spirit of  Indonesia’s republican Constitution. Over the past couple of years, some of these local regulations have been the cause of controversy as well, such as the ruling in Tasik Malaya where all women,  including tourists,  were obliged to don the headscarves.

Indonesia has moved towards a situation where one district may have laws that do not correspond to the laws of the neighbouring district, thus creating a complex mottled map of different local laws all over the country.

Accompanying this slow decentralisation of power has been the rise of  politics on a provincial level, sometimes accompanied by local ethno-nationalist sentiments, too. All across Indonesia today, local languages and cultures are being promoted as the basis of local identity vis-à-vis the centre; but this also means that the emphasis on differences may eventually supersede the emphasis on a common national identity.

This does not mean that Indonesia is fragmenting, but it does mean that Indonesia today is an exceedingly complex country, where local power at the provincial level is as important as central power in the capital. Indonesia has always been complex, but today the notion that there are many “Indonesias” is truer than ever before.

With all this happening right next door to us, we in ASEAN ought to be more aware of the  developments taking place in our important neighbour.

The election campaign next year promises to be a hot one, and the election a game-changer in many respects. What emerges out of that process is anyone’s guess at this stage, but Indonesia’s complexity will be laid bare and we need to recognise that it is a very different country to that which we once knew — or thought we knew.

North Korea and Mongolia: A New Partnership for Two Old Friends?

November 15, 2013
Number 240 | November 14, 2013

North Korea and Mongolia: A New Partnership for Two Old Friends

by Charles Krusekopf

Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj

In late October, Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj (above) became the first foreign head of state to make an official visit to North Korea since Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s young leader, assumed power in late 2011.

Why did Mongolia’s president go to Pyongyang and why was he selected as the first foreign leader to visit, especially given the very close political and economic relations between North Korea and China?

The answer is likely rooted in the long bilateral relationship and their shared position as small countries wishing to emphasize their independence in a region dominated by major political and economic powers. The visit highlights the growing relationship between the two; however, significant obstacles to a deeper partnership exist.

Political and cultural relations between Mongolia and North Korea have generally remained close since 1948, when Mongolia became only the second country in the world to recognize North Korea, after the Soviet Union. North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung visited Mongolia twice, and noted a special kinship between the two states based on a similar geopolitical position.

The relationship cooled in the 1990s after Mongolia shed its centralized political and economic systems and North Korea closed its embassy in Ulaanbaatar. Mongolia developed close economic and political relations with South Korea, the United States and Japan, and in contrast to China, allowed North Korean refugees who reached Mongolia to go to South Korea. The relationship was renewed after the signing of a Friendship Treaty in 2002, the reopening of the North Korean Embassy in 2004, and a series of high level diplomatic exchanges.

Mongolia’s primary benefit from its relationship with North Korea is the support this provides to Mongolia’s “third neighbor” partners, including the United States, Japan, and South Korea. Those relationships are much more important to Mongolia’s development goals than the relationship with North Korea. Mongolia’s loyalties are highlighted in documents released by WikiLeaks revealing that in 2009 Mongolian officials provided information to the US Embassy in Ulaanbaatar about meetings with visiting North Korean officials.

Mongolia has also used its North Korean ties to boost relations with Japan, offering to help mediate in the case of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea. Mongolia is the only democracy that maintains relatively close ties to Pyongyang, and while Western powers have generally sought to isolate North Korea, they have encouraged Mongolia to maintain its ties as a source of information and channel for communication.

Some observers, especially those in Mongolia, have suggested that Mongolia might be able to play an even greater role as a mediator between North Korea, the United States and other Western powers, but this is unlikely given the nuclear and military issues at stake and US policy to negotiate with North Korea only through bilateral or Six-Party Talks that exclude Mongolia. The United States and Japan support Mongolia’s relationship with North Korea because they trust Mongolia to not pass sensitive technology or allow North Korea to evade sanctions, but that confidence does not extend to offering Mongolia a direct role in negotiations over the fate of the Korean Peninsula.

Despite his background as a leader of the democratic revolution in Mongolia and a strong advocate of democracy and justice, President Elbegdorj did not address North Korea’s political system or human rights abuses during his four-day visit, and he did not have the opportunity to meet Kim Jong-un. Instead the visit focused almost exclusively on the potential for economic cooperation.

The primary interest of both countries is the potential connection between Mongolia’s need for port access and North Korea’s efforts to develop its Rajin port as a free trade zone.

Almost all of Mongolia’s exports currently go to China, but Mongolia fears that this heavy reliance leaves the country economically vulnerable. Mongolia has therefore explored shipping its coal to global buyers through the Russian Far East, and with the recent completion of a rail link between Rajin port in North Korea and Khassan in Russia, Mongolia could conceivably use Rajin for exports and imports. North Korea is likewise looking to find investors and freight that might utilize this relatively remote free trade zone.

While this option seems to fit the needs of both countries, in practice it is highly unlikely that Mongolian resource exports will find their way to North Korean ports. The railway infrastructure is lacking, and the Russian Far East is more than 4,000 km from the main Mongolian mines, which are predominantly located near the Chinese border.

Studies have shown that shipping costs and capacity constraints would make this routing economically unviable compared to sales to interior regions of China or export through Tianjin or other Chinese ports. A more direct route to Rajin from eastern Mongolia is possible across North East China, but the rail infrastructure within Mongolia to support this route does not currently exist.

In addition to interest in North Korea’s ports, President Elbegdorj emphasized several other areas of potential economic cooperation, including Mongolian support for the development of animal husbandry and tourism in North Korea. Mongolia’s experience with mining development has also been touted, although most major mines in Mongolia are foreign owned or operated. He curiously did not highlight the biggest economic deal to date between the two countries, the June 2013 deal by a Mongolian company, HBOil JSC, to buy a 20 percent share in a state-owned North Korean company that operates the Sungri oil refinery.

The deal was initially touted as a way for Mongolia, which lacks oil refining capacity and is dependent on Russia for petroleum imports, to refine its own crude oil for domestic use. However, that scenario is unlikely given the cost of shipping. Therefore the deal is more likely an attempt by a Mongolian company and its foreign investors to gain a foothold in the North Korean market, with hopes for future development.

Overall, given that neither Mongolia nor North Korea has the capital or technology necessary to support large scale development, and North Korean ports are too far from Mongolia to offer an economically viable export option, any business deals will likely be on a small scale. Mongolia does have some knowledge of how to transform a centralized economic and political system, but it will take a North Korean reformer in the mold of Mongolian President Elbegdorj before the two countries will find enough common ground to form a truly successful partnership.

About the Author

Dr. Charles Krusekopf is Executive Director of the American Center for Mongolian Studies and Associate Professor in the School of Business at Royal Roads University. He can be contacted via email at Charles.krusekopf@royalroads.ca.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Damien Tomkins, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.

East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111

East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995

Getting to Full Bloom in US-Malaysia Relations

November 8, 2013

east-west-center-asia-pacific-bulletinNumber 239 | November 7, 2013

Getting to Full Bloom in US-Malaysia Relations  

By Prashanth Parameswaran

Obama and NajibIn early October, three US cabinet secretaries–Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and US Trade Representative Michael Froman–paid their first visit to Malaysia in a bid to boost bilateral relations with the Southeast Asian state. Although their trips were tinged with disappointment due to the cancellation of US President Barack Obama’s much anticipated visit, the significance of the ever closer developing US-Malaysia relationship, as well as the challenges to advance ties even further in the future were highlighted.

While the United States and Malaysia have successfully cooperated on a number of issues since independence, the bilateral relationship was often turbulent amid disagreements on economic policy, human rights and American foreign policy in the Middle East. But ties have both warmed appreciably and become much more comprehensive under the tenures of President Obama and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, with Malaysia tightening its export control laws against non-proliferation, sending non-combat medical military personnel to Afghanistan and joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations in 2010. Indeed, at end of 2010, then-US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell was already describing the US-Malaysia relationship as the most improved in Southeast Asia.

The recent visit by the three cabinet secretaries offered a chance to once again reaffirm the importance of the burgeoning US-Malaysia relationship. Standing in for President Obama at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit on October 11, US Secretary of State John Kerry lauded Malaysia as an innovative and multi-faith model for the world. He also later attended a Fulbright Teaching Assistant Event, a program that sends English teachers from the United States to Malaysia and is lauded as one of the signature people-to-people bilateral achievements under the Obama administration. Meanwhile, Secretary Pritzker and US Trade Representative Froman met with Second Finance Minister Ahmad Husni Mohamad Hanadzlah, where they discussed Malaysia’s participation in the ongoing TPP trade negotiations.

However, if the visit was indicative of how far US-Malaysia relations have come, it also highlighted how much both sides still have left to do to overcome the challenges to forming an even stronger partnership. US diplomatic attention to Malaysia is only beginning to match the growing importance of the bilateral relationship. While the stream of US officials has increased noticeably under the Obama administration, including the three cabinet secretaries, the relationship would benefit from a further expansion and institutionalization of visits to enhance bilateral cooperation. It is also a glaring fact that no US president has visited the country since Lyndon Johnson in 1966, even though attempts were made under the Clinton and Obama administrations. It is highly anticipated that President Obama will follow through on his promise to visit at a later date.

Secondly, fierce domestic opposition is making Malaysia’s efforts to join the TPP a lot harder than both governments would like. Prime Minister Najib recognizes that signing onto the high-standard regional agreement would help Malaysia undertake key economic reforms and stimulate private investment, particularly with the United States which is Malaysia’s fourth largest trading partner and largest foreign investor. But the TPP has come under fire from a range of advocacy groups for multiple reasons, including its alleged lack of transparency and perceived threat to the interests of small and medium enterprises, as well as affirmative action privileges for the Malay-Muslim majority.

Protests were held during the latest visit by US officials, and both Prime Minister Najib and Second Finance Minister Ahmad Husni themselves raised lingering domestic concerns about the agreement to their American interlocutors in meetings. Concerns center on issues including state-owned enterprises and intellectual property rights. The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MITI) has also said in public statements that Malaysia is not wedded to the end of year deadline to complete the TPP negotiations and that the country’s entry may be contingent upon parliamentary approval.

Thirdly, the evolution of Malaysian domestic politics could reignite John+Kerry+Najib+Razakdifferences between Washington and Putrajaya–the federal administrative capital of Malaysia–on democracy, human rights, and sovereignty issues. While Secretary Kerry was full of praise for Malaysia as an innovative, multiracial democracy, in truth the country has seen some backsliding since elections in May where the ruling coalition retained power but lost the popular vote and suffered its worst performance in the nation’s history. As a result, Prime Minister Najib has had to backtrack on several of his reform-minded policies and appeal to the conservatives in his party and the Malay-Muslim majority as opposed to the broader electorate.

Just over the past month or so, the government has expanded affirmative action privileges for ethnic Malays instead of rolling them back, reintroduced detention without trial, and announced that it will appeal opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s acquittal on sodomy charges which many believe are politically-motivated. While the United States has thus far remained relatively silent on these events, the pressure for Washington to speak out may grow if democracy and human rights are seen to be in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, on the Malaysian side, allegations of US spying activities conducted in the country has stoked public opposition and pressured Putrajaya to act, with the Foreign Ministry lodging an official protest with the US embassy and politicians warning of further damage to bilateral ties due to Washington’s disregard for its partner’s sovereignty.

None of these challenges are insurmountable however. The United States and Malaysia can create annual or semi-annual institutionalized dialogues in key areas to foster cooperation and increase the number and depth of bilateral visits, including President Obama’s trip to the country which is expected to be announced in due course. Putrajaya can intensify its campaign to educate the Malaysian population and politicians about the benefits of the TPP and address their concerns head on, while Washington should give its partner the time and flexibility to work through domestic politics. Both sides should find a way to have a more open and honest conversation about human rights and democracy, as true partners should be able to discuss their differences in the context of a healthy and mature relationship.

Recent domestic “victories” for both leaders could also bode well for the relationship if Prime Minister Najib’s win over conservatives in internal party polls earlier this month allows him to restart a stalled reform process in Malaysia, or the end of the government shutdown in the United States gives President Obama a little more time to focus on foreign policy issues.

In an interview with a Malaysian newspaper earlier this year, former US Ambassador to Malaysia Paul Jones said that US-Malaysia relations “are blossoming and getting closer and closer to full bloom.” If both sides can overcome these current key challenges, they can move one step closer to making that statement a reality.

About the Author

Prashanth Parameswaran is a Ph.D Candidate in International Affairs at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. He can be contacted via email at pprashanth711@gmail.com.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Damien Tomkins, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.

East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111

East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995

Canberra Times slammed Tony Abbott for Apology to Najib

October 27, 2013

Canberra Times slammed Tony Abbott for Apology to Najib


Tony AbbottAustralian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (pic) has come under fire from the press in his country for his flawed version of diplomacy after issuing a groveling apology to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

The Canberra Times reported that Abbott had apologised to Najib at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Bali earlier this month for criticising the Malaysian government.

The Australian daily slammed Abbott for apologising when his criticisms about the Malaysian government happened to be spot on and correct.

“Najib leads a government that gained power through a gerrymander. The Malaysian government is one which is on par with Sri Lanka, corrupt and short on any notion of human rights.  Najib is well aware of what the ruling Umno party has done to hold on to power. It is ruthless, stubborn and acts outside its own laws,” the Canberra Times reported today.

The paper noted that Abbott’s groveling to Najib has only served to give the Malaysian government a degree of legitimacy which it does not deserve.

Earlier this month, Abbott apologised to Najib for putting Malaysia in a difficult situation regarding the failed refugee swap deal struck between both countries in May 2011.

Abbott reportedly told Najib that it was unfortunate that Malaysia had been caught up in a rather intense political party discussion in Australia. The 2011 bilateral agreement signed between Malaysia and then-Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard would have seen some 4,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia sent to Australia.

In return, some 800 refugees and asylum-seekers residing in Australia would have been repatriated back to Malaysia.But Gillard had been forced to abandon the plan a few months later because she could not get sufficient backing to amend the migration laws.

Abbott, who was then opposition leader, had staunchly resisted any attempts to revive the deal, questioning Malaysia’s human rights record.He later clarified to Najib at the APEC Summit that his party’s problem had been with Gillard’s Labour government, not Malaysia.

This has led to Australian media savaging Abbott for his about-turn on the issue and closing an eye to the human rights abuses in Sri Lanka as well.

The Canberra Times reported the government has taken the stance on Sri Lanka in order to secure the cooperation of authorities there to stop the flow of refugees heading Down Under.

The newspaper reported that Canada has taken a different view of the incidents unfolding in Sri Lanka, and has indicated it will not be attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting there. – October 26, 2013.

Suaram to Barack Obama: You have been misinformed on Malaysia

October 23, 2013

Suaram to Barack Obama: You have been misinformed on Malaysia

by FMT Staff@http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Human rights watchdog sends a letter to President Barack Obama to debunk his claim that Malaysia is a model of “diversity, tolerance and progress”.

Barack H ObamaHuman rights watchdog Suaram has told US President Barack Obama that his views on Malaysia being a global model for “diversity, tolerance and progress” was far off the reality.

In a letter sent to the American President today, Suaram listed Malaysia’s various defects and shortcomings under the leadership of  Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.

The purpose of the letter was to rebut Obama’s statement on October 11 that Malaysia was a global model for “diversity, tolerance and progress”, said Suaram’s Executive Director E Nalini today.

In the letter, Suaram told Obama that he had ignored the history of Najibracism, religious extremism, corruption, electoral fraud and various other criminal activities the nation had endured under the continuous Barisan Nasional rule for 56 years.

Suaram highlighted the spiralling violence, electoral fraud, corruption and serious human rights abuses that have taken place, and continued to be committed, under Najib’s leadership.

“PM Najib’s office has overseen the demonisation of Malaysia’s non-Malays, whose ‘crime’ was voting for the Opposition.The Malaysian government has also selectively deployed repressive legislation such as the Sedition Act 1948, the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 and the Penal Code to suppress protests against the election result by human rights defenders, opposition leaders and Malaysians from various religions and ethnicity,” said the letter.

Obama was also informed of the passing of the amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act (PCA) which allowed detention without trial.

Zahid HamidiX“Suaram said in the letter that there was no doubt Najib had publicly backtracked on a commitment made in 2011 to do away with detention without trial and that such a policy reversal represented anything but progress,” said Nalini.

Suaram’s letter also highlighted Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s recent announcement that the Police had the right to “shoot to kill” without question any person suspected of being a criminal.

The letter also recorded that, on the religious front, the Judiciary remains infamously compliant to the BN government, citing the October 14 Court of Appeal ruling which banned the word ‘Allah’ from being used by a Christian publication.

The watchdog then urged Obama to “revisit an ill-considered and dangerous complicity with PM Najib’s regime.” Suaram also expected Obama to formally reply to the letter, which it claimed was written on behalf of millions of long-suffering Malaysians.

Obama was supposed to visit Malaysia earlier this month but the visit was cancelled at the last minute due to the US’s government’s partial shut down.

Najib’s administration has been claiming that the Prime Minister enjoys a good relationship with Obama. The bilateral ties between the two countries are also said to be at all time high.