Malaysian Leader’s Standing Rises With Successful Cellphone Diplomacy


July 24, 2014

Asia Pacific |​NYT Now. http://www.nytimes.com

Malaysian Leader’s Standing Rises With Successful Cellphone Diplomacy

Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Intervention on Flight MH 17 Pays Off

by Keith Bradsher, Chris Buckley and David M. Herszenhorn, July 23, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — It wasn’t an aide or a diplomat on the phone with pro-Russian rebels, trying to get them to relinquish the bodies and the “black boxes” from the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 in eastern Ukraine — it was the leader of Malaysia himself.

najib and his deputyMalaysia’s Prime Minister and His Deputy. Muhiyuddin Yassin

Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia played an unusual personal role, holding a series of cellphone conversations with a rebel leader and then coaching a Malaysian colonel on what to say as he passed through nearly a dozen rebel checkpoints on his way to the crash scene, according to a person who was with the prime minister much of the time.

Mr. Najib’s success has at least temporarily restored his standing at home, where his government was battered by accusations of incompetence following the disappearance in March of another Malaysia Airlines jet, Flight MH 370. The arrival of most of the bodies and the flight data recorders from Flight MH 17 at a Ukrainian military base on Tuesday brought an outpouring of relief and praise in Malaysia.

But Mr. Najib’s willingness to negotiate directly with Alexander Borodai, the rebel leader, has prompted disquiet outside the country about whether the prime minister had lent unwarranted legitimacy to a man the Ukrainian government has condemned as a terrorist.

Malaysian officials say Mr. Najib established a rapport with Mr. Borodai over the weekend, and finally reached an agreement with him on Monday for handing over the remains and the recorders, which the rebels had taken from the crash site, in territory they control near the Russian border. The plane, a Boeing 777-200 with 298 aboard, was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was struck by an antiaircraft missile on July 17.

Opposition politicians in Malaysia who had excoriated Mr. Najib through the spring over Flight MH 370 endorsed his actions on Wednesday at a special session of Parliament and in a series of earlier statements. A senior opposition politician, Lim Kit Siang, wrote on his blog that the prime minister “is to be commended for the breakthrough with the handover of the two black boxes.” And Lim Guan Eng, the Secretary-Ggeneral of the Democratic Action Party, a major opposition bloc, said that his party was “willing to stand together with the federal government to support their efforts to bring back the bodies to their families.”

Officials in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, insisted that Mr. Najib’s arrangement with Mr. Borodai did not involve any promise of formal diplomatic recognition or payment to the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Political analysts said that Mr. Najib’s domestic political bonanza depended partly on that remaining true.

“If it emerges that there are issues behind this deal, then things will be seen in a slightly different way,” said Bridget Welsh, a senior Research Associate at National Taiwan University who specializes in Malaysian politics.

The Malaysian delegation in Ukraine incurred the anger of many Ukrainians by using the honorific “excellency” in referring to Mr. Borodai, who styles himself the leader of a breakaway republic. But, at least in public, Mr. Najib has not used the term, referring to the rebel leader only as “Mr. Borodai.”

Few Malaysians have followed the Ukrainian conflict in detail, so the question of legitimizing Mr. Borodai, who is a Russian citizen, has barely been raised here. The overwhelming priority has been recovering the bodies of the 43 Malaysians who were on Flight MH17, including two infants — an especially sensitive matter in a mainly Muslim country where prompt and proper burial of the dead is a strong religious imperative.

“Over here, people don’t care how the deal was done,” said James Chin, a Professor of Political Science at the Kuala Lumpur campus of Monash University. “All they care is that the bodies are coming back, so that the families have closure.”

But, Mr. Chin said, Mr. Najib’s political boost might not last long. When he announced the deal earlyTuesday morning, Mr. Najib predicted that the bodies of Malaysians would be in their families’ hands by the end of Ramadan, which in Malaysia will be Sunday. But Dutch and Australian officials now say that it could take weeks or months to identify the remains, which are first being flown to a laboratory in the Netherlands.

MH17 Crash Site2

“Now he’s smelling like roses, but I suspect it’ll end in tears,” Mr. Chin said of Mr. Najib.The Prime Minister sharpened his criticism of the initial difficulties in recovering the bodies and data recorders in a speech to Parliament on Wednesday, but he continued to refrain from assigning blame for the downing of the aircraft.

For Mr. Najib, the loss of a second Malaysia Airlines jet in less than five months is an ordeal that began when he received a call at his Kuala Lumpur home late last Thursday telling him that Flight MH 17 had disappeared from radar. The person who was with him for much of that night, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a ban on commenting publicly about the Prime Minister’s private activities, said that Mr. Najib immediately summoned officials to meet him at an emergency response center at the capital’s airport.

Airport guards outside the response center were not prepared for the appearance of the prime minister’s motorcade, with its escort of armed guards on motorcycles, and initially refused to let it pass, while they tried to check with superiors by telephone, the person said. The prime minister’s security detail cut the wait short by bodily lifting the guards and carrying them to the side of the road, and then pushing up the heavy gate blocking the entrance road.

Mr. Najib was given Mr. Borodai’s cellphone number by someone whom Mr. Borodai trusted and who vouched for Mr. Najib, according to Malaysian officials. They declined to say whether the intermediary who set up the initial call was Russian.

Malaysia has long sought to avoid conspicuously taking sides in the rivalries among the United States, Russia and China, and many of its citizens are wary of American influence. While the Netherlands is a member of NATO, which many pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine see as a threat, Malaysia is a distant Southeast Asian nation that has stayed largely silent on the turmoil there.

Russia has invested years of effort in building up its relations with Malaysia, in which aviation has played a major role for more than a decade. Malaysia agreed to buy 18 Sukhoi fighter jets from Russia in May 2003, in a deal worth nearly $1 billion. In exchange, Russia agreed to train and transport to space Malaysia’s first astronaut, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, an orthopedic surgeon by profession who traveled to the International Space Station in 2007 and became a celebrated national hero, not least because he observed the Ramadan fasts in space under the guidance of a large team of religious experts.

At a meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin in Vladivostok in 2012, Mr. Najib noted that he personally oversaw the deal for the Sukhoi jets, and added, “The time has come for us to broaden the relationship and to look into new areas of cooperative relationship with you.” The deal to recover the recorders and remains from Flight MH 17 may be the richest political dividend Mr. Najib has yet reaped from that relationship.

Keith Bradsher and Chris Buckley reported from Kuala Lumpur, and David M. Herszenhorn from Kiev, Ukraine

 

MH17: Prime Minister’s Soft Diplomacy and Decisive Action brought results


July 24, 2014

MH17: Prime Minister’s Soft Diplomacy and Decisive Action brought results

Speech at the Emergency Session of Parliament (July 23, 2014)

Prime Minister Najib in ParliamentPrime Minister Najib Addressing MPs on MH17

“No words can describe the grief. Nothing can replace the loss of a loved one. Thus, in facing these difficult times, regardless of our political and religious background, we must remain united as one nation, 1Malaysia…

Nevertheless, while we are enveloped by sorrow and profound grief, we have never forgotten the misfortune that has befallen our Palestinian brothers in Gaza who have lost many innocent lives as a result of cruelty and injustice. Therefore, we call for an immediate ceasefire”.–PM Najib Razak

MR Speaker Sir,

At about 11pm on Thursday, July 17, 2014, corresponding to 19 Ramadan, 1435, Hijrah, a date that will not be easily forgotten, I received a telephone call from the chairman of Malaysia Airlines, Tan Sri Md Nor Yusof, about MH17.

As it turned out, even before the MH370 tragedy had abated, the unwelcome MH17 tragedy had happened.With divine provision, a tragic event had taken place. The world, in general, and Malaysians, in particular, were shocked by the unexpected tragedy of the reported crash of a Boeing 777-200 commercial aircraft of Malaysia Airlines, flight MH17, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

In less than two hours, I arrived at the MAS operations rooms at KLIA (KL International Airport), along with several ministers. We were briefed by the MAS management on what had happened. Without wasting any time, I was in touch with several world leaders, among them President Obama of the United States, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine.

At about 2am, I decided to send a special team to the crash site. Then, at about 5am, I called a special press conference to inform Malaysians and the rest of the world about what was happening at that time.

For the information of this august house, the flight had left (Amsterdam) at about 12.15pm local time and was scheduled to arrive at KLIA at 6.10am Malaysian time. The flight had on board 298 people, comprising 283 passengers and 15 crew (members). Forty-three of them, including two infants, were Malaysians.  Malaysia Airlines confirmed having been informed by the Ukraine Air Traffic Control that it lost contact with flight MH17 at 10.15pm local time, about 50km from the Russia-Ukraine border.

Message of Condolence

On behalf of the government and people of Malaysia, I expressed profound sadness over the tragedy that had befallen the passengers and crew of flight MH17.

 I also extended condolences and profound sympathy as well, especially to all the family members, friends and acquaintances of the victims. It is hoped that all of them will remain steadfast and resolute in facing this most challenging moment of grief.

The government also declared that from 18 to 21 July, 2014, the national flag will be flown at half mast nationwide.Let us Muslims say the Al-Fatihah and the non-Muslims, observe a moment’s silence.

Important Facts

Some important facts for the scrutiny of this august house.

 Fact No. 1: The total number of deaths. For your information, Malaysia Airlines listed the passengers and crew based on nationality. The updated list as at July 18, 2014, based on nationality is as follows:

Netherlands — 192

Malaysia — 43 (including 15 crew and two infants)

Australia — 27

Indonesia — 12 (including one infant)

United Kingdom — 10 (including one dual national from UK/South Africa)

Germany — four

Belgium — four

The Philippines — three

The United States — one (dual national United States/Netherlands)

Canada — one

New Zealand — one

This brings the number of people killed to 298, comprising 283 passengers and 15 crew. The number includes 83 innocent children and three infants.

Fact No. 2: The MAS flight path was certified safe. As for the flight path used by MAS, I have to explain that the flight path of MH17 was one that was certified safe and approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, or ICAO, as well as Ukraine, the air space of which it traversed. Furthermore, the International Air Transport Association, or IATA, had also stated that the air space traversed by the flight was safe.

For example, 15 of the 16 airlines in the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines used this route to get to Ukraine. European airlines also used the same flight path and traversed the same air space. In fact, several hours before the tragic incident, several commercial aircraft of several Asian nations also used the same flight path.

For your information, according to the Wall Street Journal, which quoted a report from Eurocontrol, 400 commercial flights, among them 150 international flights, traverse the air space over eastern Ukraine daily. In fact, two days before the tragedy, 75 flights of various airlines used the flight path that was used by flight MH17. Even on that day, flight MH17 did not receive any instruction to alter the flight path.

Fact No. 3: MAS flight in good physical and technical condition. As for the physical and technical condition of the flight, MAS issued a statement on July 18, 2014, verifying that flight MH17 was in good condition. MAS also confirmed that all systems of the flight were in good working order, particularly the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) and the transponder.

Fact No. 4: International Law. The shooting down of the aircraft was not only a cruel act, but one that violated the principles of international law by way of the Convention on International Civil Aviation or better known as the Chicago Convention and which is recognised by the United Nations as per Resolution 1067 (1996).

In this matter, the UN had unanimously approved a resolution to urge the separatists to provide unrestricted access to the MH17 crash site in Ukraine. It also called for all military activity, including by the armed groups, to be stopped immediately in the vicinity of the site to enable the international investigation to be conducted in safety.

I have instructed the Attorney-General to look into this matter thoroughly to ensure that any action to be taken by Malaysia is in accordance with the international law applied in matters of such a nature.

Malaysia’s Demands and Call

For the information of honourable MPs (Members of Parliament), on July 17, 2014, several hours after the crash of MH17, officials in the United States and Ukraine claimed that the flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine.

If these claims are true, we strongly condemn this inhuman, uncivilised, barbaric, savage and irresponsible act by those who are believed to have shot down the ill-fated flight MH17.Nevertheless, for the moment, we are not pointing fingers at anyone until the facts have been obtained.

I am made to understand that the region where the tragedy occurred is under the control of a separatist group. Nevertheless, I felt angry and disappointed over two matters:

Firstly, when I was informed that they did not regard the crash site as a prohibited area and did not adhere to the international standard practice of ensuring that evidence is not removed or impaired.

Secondly, the delay in attending to the tragedy, which resulted in the failure to accord the bodies of the victims the honour and dignity they rightly deserve.

In addition, Malaysia called on the ICAO, as the guardian of civil aviation security worldwide, to issue a resolution strongly condemning the attack on flight MH17, as had been done in cases of a similar nature. Furthermore, the shooting down of the flight MH17 commercial aircraft is a most cruel act and a brutal and violent crime.

As stated in Annex 13 of the ICAO Convention, the government of Ukraine has to assume responsibility to undertake an investigation as to the cause of the crash. A report on the investigation has to be given to the next of kin of the victims as provided for in the ICAO guidelines.

Of course, Malaysia would offer unwavering support to participate in this investigation. For the record, the Malaysian Minister of Transport, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, and Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, were among those who had gone to Kiev, Ukraine.

Malaysia also welcomes the call for an investigation by an independent international team on the crash and urges all quarters to cooperate to ensure that the probe can be completed. We demand and support an independent international investigation into the tragedy. Those responsible for this tragedy have to be brought to justice.

Last Friday, we sent a plane with a special team of 133 people, comprising a SMART (Special Malaysian Disaster Assistance and Rescue) team, technical officers, a medical team and Jakim officers to the crash site. A special investigation team was also set up, comprising representatives from Malaysia, the Netherlands, Britain and the United States.

MAS sent 40 staff to Amsterdam to provide assistance and moral support to the families of the victims.Furthermore, I received many telephone calls from world leaders who expressed their support and sympathy and promised to extend aid in whatever form that they can. On behalf of the government and people of Malaysia, I expressed thanks for the support they and the world community have extended to Malaysia.

MH17 Crash Site 3The Crash Site

Three Successful Deals

In principle, the treatment accorded to the bodies of the victims was wrong, but following consultation with the head of the separatist group, we managed to avert further damage. It is unnecessary for us to announce every action taken. Sometimes we must work quietly in the service of a better outcome, especially when negotiating with the head of a separatist group, with the desire to ensure that the bodies of the victims can be retrieved and given a decent burial, even though time has passed.

On Monday, July 21, 2014, under difficult circumstances, I was forced to make a risky decision in the best interests of the bodies of the victims of the tragedy and to be certain of the reality of what had happened.In this matter, I consulted Alexander Borodai, the head of the pro-Russia separatist group, because the region is under their control. The consultation yielded three deals:

First, all the recovered bodies of the MH17 tragedy victims, estimated to be 282, were taken from Torev to Kharkiv in Ukraine by train before being flown to Amsterdam, along with six members of the Malaysian recovery team at 1am on Tuesday, July 22, 2014, and arriving there at 11am local time. Following forensic work in Amsterdam, the bodies of all Malaysians will be brought back to our country as soon as possible. I undertook to do this and will do everything I can because I had promised the families of the victims when I met them that, as far as possible, the victims can be laid to rest before Syawal. Only then will the families of the victims have peace of mind.

Second, the two black boxes of flight MH17 were handed over to the Malaysian team in Donetsk at 9pm Ukraine time on Monday, July 21, 2014. Without the black boxes, it will be difficult for us to carry on with the investigation. The black boxes have been handed over to the investigation team led by the Netherlands and will be sent to London for further investigation.

Third, all the members of the independent international team of investigators are to be given access to the crash site and a guarantee of safety to undertake a comprehensive probe into the MH17 tragedy. However, this has yet to be fully realised.

Solidarity and Unity

MH17We Malaysians Mourn the Loss of Lives on MH17 and MH370

In fact, this has been a very tragic calendar (year) for us. Nevertheless, in this difficult period in the month of Ramadan, we must strengthen our solidarity and unity in facing this situation. God willing.  No words can describe the grief. Nothing can replace the loss of a loved one. Thus, in facing these difficult times, regardless of our political and religious background, we must remain united as one nation, 1Malaysia.

Therefore, do not engage in any speculation that can cause embarrassment to the victims of the tragedy and their families. This is not the time to splash on the social media stories which can be factually wrong or false.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Opposition leader (Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim) and the Gelang Patah MP (Lim Kit Siang) and the leaders of other political parties for having likened the MH17 tragedy to genocide and for calling for the murderers to be brought to justice.

Nevertheless, while we are enveloped by sorrow and profound grief, we have never forgotten the misfortune that has befallen our Palestinian brothers in Gaza who have lost many innocent lives as a result of cruelty and injustice. Therefore, we call for an immediate ceasefire.

Conclusion

Although we have done a lot, much more remains to be done. We may be up against challenges and various obstacles, but we will never give up halfway.

As such, we urge that the investigation must be conducted by an independent team to ascertain the cause of the crash of flight MH17. Some questions demand immediate answers, such as to whether the aircraft was fired upon with a guided missile, who was the perpetrator of the crime and what was the motive for the attack.

Furthermore, was the shooting premeditated, with the intention to shoot down a commercial flight, or a mistake? All of these require clear and authentic proof.

No matter what we do, we cannot bring back the dead. Imagine how a 1-year-old child will grow up without the love of its father, namely Ahmad Hakimi Hanapi, the co-pilot who perished in the tragedy. More saddening is that the mother has lost her husband.

What about the fate and future of Amarpal Singh? How depressed will this medical student be whose cost of study had been borne by his father who was a victim of the tragedy?Just imagine what grandmother Jamillah Noriah Abang Anuar of Kuching, Sarawak, would be feeling, having lost six members of her beloved family.

Personally, I am able to feel what they are going through. My step-grandmother was one of the victims. More saddening is the fact the world has lost a group of scientists who were involved in AIDS and HIV research. These people were on their way to attend the International AIDS Conference in Australia.In fact, there are many more stories that I cannot mention here. For example, the Netherlands lost 192 of its people in the tragedy. The number is very large when taken as a ratio of the population of that country.

I am of the opinion that geopolitical upheavals do not benefit anyone. They just make people suffer when they lose their loved ones and the world stands to lose competent human beings.

As for the families of the victims of the MH17 tragedy, I wish to tell them not to be worried because, so long as we do not have the answers, we will not stop seeking the truth. No matter how difficult it may be, we will demand justice for the sake of the families of the victims.

Let us walk through this difficult time together, united in grief. Hopefully, God will give us assistance and enlightenment for a solution in the end.Above all, during this blessed final days of Ramadan, let us indulge in more prayers and hope that God will guide us to a solution through our efforts. We must believe that any period of hardship that we pass through will be followed closely by a period of ease, as set by God.

 http://www.nst.com.my/node/16916 –BERNAMA

dm-1205Our Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has shown that when he takes charge, matters can be resolved expeditiously. As in all things, leadership with decisive action matters. I congratulate him for a task well done. He must now know that he has to take charge in times of crisis. More of the same, Sir, when crisis and tragedy beckons. Take charge and Malaysians will stand with you. Together, we shall overcome as we Malaysians are a strong people in body and spirit.–Din Merican

 

Malaysians demonstrate to seek Justice for MH17


July 22, 2014

Malaysians demonstrate to seek Justice for MH17

Close to 500 people flooded the roads near the embassies of Russia, Ukraine and also the United Nations office in Kuala Lumpur today in a BN-organised demonstration to seek justice for the victims of the MH17 tragedy. Clad in black t-shirts which read “Justice 4 MH17″, the protestors also included members of several NGOs including right-wing NGO Perkasa, reports Malaysiakini.

Lest we forget about the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza who are victims of Israeli aggression. There must be justice for them too. We criticize Russia but we forget that the United States is supporting Israel and US weapons are being deployed in Gaza. Russia in turn supports the Bashir Al–Assad regime. What is the difference? It is the big power game of using proxies to fight their wars. Please listen to Chris Hedges in this video (below).–Din Merican

MH17: Options available for Malaysia


July 22, 2014

MH17: Options available for Malaysia

Munir Majidby Tan Sri Dr. Munir Majid@www.thestar.com.my

Malaysia should work in this alliance of states to bring this crime against humanity to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Malaysia has not signed the Rome Statute of the ICC, but has ex­­press­­ed interest to do so since March 2011. Malaysia should sign it now.

MH17 Crash Site 3

MOUNTING evidence points to Ukrainian separatist and Russian responsibility in the shooting down of MH17. And, in­­deed, video shots as clear as daylight show the Russian-supported rebels stealing and looting at the wreckage, tampering with and era­sing eviden­ce of the grisly deed, carrying away the black box – and unconscionably carting away and refusing to hand over the dead bo­dies for identification and decent burial.

Given our inability to strike back hard, the options Malaysia has in response to the downing of MH17 are limited to diplomatic and legal measures. To make these measures effective, the plan of action must be well prepared: form an alliance of victim nations and pursue the perpetrators vigorously.

The options Malaysia has, given limited power and influence, will be subjected to international geopolitical considerations and the vagaries of international legal process. How­ever, it does not mean we are po­wer­less to do anything except to confine ourselves to big, loud statements.

We can seek the support of kindred spirits to bring to justice the perpetrators who downed MH17 with the BUK (SA-11) surface-to-air missile. An alliance of victim na­­­-tions, comprising countries such as the Netherlands and Australia, should be formed. States willing to support the investigation into the horrible act of terror, even if it was a mistake, should be engaged.

This alliance should be collecting its own evidence from now. It actions should not wait for an international investigation which looks unlikely to be unimpeded. The United Nations can condemn and call for an international investigation. These resolutions, as we know, are more often than not disregarded.

MH17 Crash Site 4

Free access to the area where the wreckage and mutilated bodies are strewn has been denied. Evidence from the crashed plane has been re­­moved. Even if the black box would only register the explosion when the aircraft was struck and even if the BUK missile self-destructs on impact, there are voice and communications recordings which would be relevant. So why has the black box been taken away?

At the same time, people in the rebel-held territory of the Ukraine have looted the wreckage, the common crime of thievery following a heinous crime against humanity.

All these acts – from the firing of the missile to the removal of evidence to the denial of access to the looting – violate clear rules of international law. Even if it cannot be positively identified who fired the missile and rebels who have trespassed the law will not be released, the available evidence points the finger at Russia.

Russia provides the arms. Russia protects the rebels. Russia helps them violate international law and the sanctity of the victims. Russia calls the shots.The intercepted conversations, first on the firing of the missile and its aftermath and next on the remo­val of evidence and bodies at Russian behest should be tested for their authenticity.

When confirmed, it is good evidence to go by in the process of bringing the perpetrators to justice. American intelligence reports now show the trajectory of the missile and, subsequently, the transportation of remaining missiles back into Russian territory.

The Chicago convention of the International Civil Aviation Organi­sation (ICAO) provides clear rules on the conduct of investigation, on the safety of civil air flight and against the tampering of evidence.

The Ukrainian government, although it does not control the expanse of territory where the aircraft came down, has been making numerous statements about the removal of evidence and rebel use with Russian aid of the BUK missiles, which had downed at least two of its military aircraft. It should hand over what evidence it has.

In the case where Korean Airlines Flight KAL007 was shot down on September 1, 1983 by a Soviet SU-15 interceptor jet, the ICAO condemned the attack. The United States Federal Avia­­­tion Authority revoked the li­cence of the Soviet airliner Aeroflot to fly to and from the US, a denial that was not lifted until April 29, 1986.

Similar sanctions should be considered by ICAO, the US and other countries in the case of MH17 amidst the mounting evidence pointing at Russia and the consequences of its actions. There should be no fear to act against a country in the horrible wrong, which might otherwise not just get away with it but would conspire to violate further international norms of behaviour.

Vladimir Putin has brought Russia back to the Soviet Union days of lies and deceit, threat and bluster, coupled with his own megalomania. Putin is a bully, a thug world leaders find extremely difficult to deal with. At a meeting with Angela Merkel in 2007, his Labrador Koni was allowed in to unnerve the German Chancel­lor, who was bitten by a dog in the early years of her life.

The black arts operate at the Kremlin. It is little wonder that thuggish behaviour at the centre sends signals for drunken gangsterism among rebels Putin supports.

With KAL007, the Soviet Union suppressed evidence which was not released until eight years later, following the collapse of the communist regime. Now there is another re­gime seeking to resurrect that control of people, territories and information with no regard for the rights and lives of others. This is unacceptable.

Whatever evidence is available should be examined for the pursuit of civil damages for the acts of violation and denial. A group led by the Dutch, who suffered the most number of deaths in this act of terror, should be set up to pursue this line of action. Malaysia Airlines, whose reputation in the industry has been severely but unjustly damaged, should join in this effort to extract some measure of recompense.

More importantly, Malaysia should work in this alliance of states to bring this crime against humanity to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Malaysia has not signed the Rome Statute of the ICC, but has ex­­press­­ed interest to do so since March 2011. Malaysia should sign it now.

It can then join forces with states such as the Netherlands and Austra­lia, who are signatories, to institute legal action against individuals and agencies in the Ukraine and Russia, who are also signatories.

Let’s be realistic. After the initial shock-horror reactions, states will return to tending to their own affairs to serve their own national interests and, in time, will not be so incensed by murderous violation of international safety, violation of laws, and acts of brazen and drunken thuggery.

Even now, despite his most welcome strong support and call for ASEAN solidarity with Malaysia, Pre­sident Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono cannot be expected to put Indonesian interests second. Indeed his spokesman said Indonesian relations with Russia were excellent and there was no reason to disturb them.

The Chinese ambassador at the UN advised caution and not jumping to conclusions, as the Security Coun­cil issued a statement last Friday con­­­­demning the attack on MH17 and called, in hope more than expectation, for full, thorough and independent investiga­tion.

It would have been a diffe­rent statement if most of the passengers had been Chinese, or Chinese inte­rests were damaged and at risk. This is the way of the world. Malaysia must look after its own interests.

When it is stated we want to bring the perpetrators to justice, we must be clear on how we might get there. We should be clear about the avenues open to us and about states sharing a common interest who can be persuaded to act with us. We should determine our options and how we might realise them.

We owe it (how often this is said) to the victims and to our national airline which has suffered so much, maybe fatally this time, to bring the perpetrators to justice. We must show these are not mere words that are uttered lightly. We have the duty to protect our citizens and to ensure safe passage of our vessels in accordance with international law and practices.

The downing of MH17 is a tragedy of horrific proportions. We grieve. But we must also do something about it to get at the evil perpetrators. It is a matter of national interest and honour.

Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid is Visiting Senior Fellow with LSE IDEAS, a centre for the study of international affairs, diplomacy and grand strategy. He is also chairman of CARI and Bank Muamalat. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

 

Why was MH17 flying through a war zone, asks Tony Gosling


July 20, 2014

Why was MH17 flying through a war zone where 10 aircraft have been shot down?

by Tony Gosling

Beginning his working life in the aviation industry and trained by the BBC, Tony Gosling is a British land rights activist, historian & investigative radio journalist.

Published time: July 18, 2014 10:06
A journalist takes photographs at the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo, in the Donetsk region July 18, 2014 (Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev)

A journalist takes photographs at the site of Thursday’s Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo, in the Donetsk region July 18, 2014 (Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev)

Put yourself in the position of a certain passenger boarding the Malaysian Airlines flight at Amsterdam for the twelve hour trip to Kuala Lumpur on Thursday morning.

Given a previous Malaysian flight’s mysterious disappearance it’s likely he was not the only boarding passenger who was a little nervous when he joked on social media, “If we disappear, this is what the plane looks like.”

Settling down on the flight then watching the moving map display on the seat in front, you might perhaps see the word ‘Ukraine’ edge its way across from the right of the screen. Would you not be a little uneasy in the knowledge that quite a lot of planes have been blown out of the skies there recently? That there’s a war on?

Check out David Cenciotti’s ‘Aviationist’ blog and you’ll see that 10 aircraft have been shot down in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks. Five MI-24 Hind and two MI-8 Hip helicopters, as well as military transport planes, one AN-2 and an AN-30. On July 8, the latest transporter, an Il-76 was shot down at Lugansk when the State Aviation Administration of Ukraine closed their airspace indefinitely to civilian aircraft. But why did the air traffic control regulators keep directing planes over eastern Ukrainian territory at higher altitudes?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but on any of hundreds of flights over Ukraine in the past month I might even have been tempted to tug the sleeve of one of the cabin staff. Asking them brusquely to get reassurance from the captain straight away that we would not be passing through the very airspace where so many planes had so recently been brought down.

So what was the plane doing there?

Malaysian Airlines was quick to point out that the Ukraine war zone had been declared ‘safe’ for them to fly over by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Was this the same authority that was party to closing Europe and the North Atlantic for almost a week for Eyjafjallajökull’s ‘volcanic ash cloud’ drifting out of Iceland? Canceling the flights of around 10 million passengers? Yet they fail to close a war zone where they know ground-to-air missiles are flying around?

I do hope ICAO Regional Director Luis Fonseca de Almeida will apologize in person to all the victims’ families before he resigns and hands himself in for questioning. Of course, this is not the only arm of the UN and other parts of global governance to be failing, crippled, and where the people appointed to run it seem to be pliable stooges rather than independent-minded enough to be up to the job? Let’s hope too that the Malaysian authorities will heed the voices in their professions warning against relying too much on help from international bodies which may be used against them.

As for who’s responsible, it’s unlikely the shooting down was a random ‘pot shot’ by Ukrainian separatists who would have nothing to gain and only further isolate themselves by such an act. There are also doubts as to whether they have access to this sort of weapon system, more advanced than any that appears to have been used so far. Which is presumably why ICAO and Malaysian Airlines thought 30,000-foot high airliners were safe from shoulder-launched missiles.

Appearing on BBC TV’s Newsnight, weapon systems expert Doug Richardson said the relatively high altitude airliners fly at offers “no protection” from what he believes was probably a former Soviet ‘Buk’ missile, developed in the 1970s, that did the dirty deed.

Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev

Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev

Shot across bows of Russian presidential jet?

Then there is the proximity of the MH17 shoot-down to Russian President Vladimir Putin himself, who happened to be flying home, west to east, from Brazil. Russia’s equivalent to Air Force One, the Ilyushin-96 ‘Board One’ was roughly half-an-hour’s flying time, about 200 miles (320km), behind the Malaysian plane as it passed near Warsaw just before the doomed jet entered Ukrainian airspace, which the presidential jet avoided.

As the Western powers’ anti-Russian sanctions are failing to bite and the Kiev government they back is losing on the ground, this may indicate a NATO motive for the attack. If so this sort of audacious act may also be an early test of loyalties by the West’s power elite of Britain’s new Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Defense Secretary Michael Fallon. The message being, “Watch that you don’t get any troublesome ideas of making your own minds up on the matter.”

The timing of the attack is intriguing too, being the day after a historic agreement Putin signed, along with Chinese president Xi Jinping, in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza to create a BRICS World Development Bank.  Quite possibly the greatest challenge since Bretton Woods in 1944, to the dubious monopoly of the World Bank, was indeed signed on Wednesday by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

For those that muse on the obsessive nature of those that spend their lives pursuing ever more money until the day they die, there is a shocking recent history of nations and their leaders coming to a sticky end that dare to oppose the global monopoly of the petrodollar, and that of the enforcers at the World Bank and IMF.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein didn’t know what fate lay ahead when he announced in November 2000 that he was taking the first steps toward setting up a bourse, or oil exchange, which traded in euro rather than dollars. Two-and-a-half years later, weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist had been ‘found’ in his country and the bombs were raining down, Saddam and his fellow countrymen was illegally invaded under orders from Messrs. Bush and Blair and the nation plunged into the sort of chaotic hell which is now spreading like a plague around the Middle East and from which one wonders if it will ever emerge.

Similarly when debt-free Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi and his shuttle diplomacy had secured agreement from enough African leaders to announce the creation of an African reserve currency, the African gold dinar, he found his country up in front of the United Nations Security Council on a fabricated charge of ‘bombing his own people’. On May 1, 2011, the weekend of William & Kate’s royal wedding in London, one of Gaddafi’s sons and three of his grandsons were blown to pieces in an airstrike and NATO began to bomb the country – blessed with the lowest infant mortality rate on the African continent – back to the Stone Age.

Although no ground troops were allowed by the UN, mercenaries were sent in, and on October 21, Gaddafi was finally executed with a bayonet up his backside. National governments in the West these days really do seem to have become an irrelevant side show when the power of the military dances to the tune of the unrestrained mega-resourced muscle of the IMF and its friends.

Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev

Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev

Why Malaysian Airlines?

‘To lose one plane may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.’ Though it might seem trite to borrow from Oscar Wilde’s ‘Importance of Being Earnest’, is it really pure coincidence that both this and the March ‘disappearance’ of MH370 have been with unfortunate Malaysian jets? Neither appears to have been an ‘accident’, so could both be acts of aggression, acts of war against Malaysia? If so why, and by whom?

Malaysia is a genuinely independent nation torn between East and West. Like Ukraine and so many other medium-sized independent countries, Malaysia is finding it very difficult to stay independent. As the world inches towards what many believe may become an enormous world war, brought on by the collapse of capitalism, it is becoming increasingly impossible for small and medium-sized nations to remain independent. So yes, there is likely to be pressure on the Malaysian leadership to make alliances and this, perhaps, could simply be an attempt to intimidate, to force their hand.

It’s comforting to repeat that nobody wants an economic collapse and nobody wants a world war, but it wouldn’t be the first time that ruling elites have deployed these two chestnuts as a ‘double whammy’. Making a fortune out of a crash is easy when you can see it coming and, as well as being an archaic ‘human sacrifice’ to the old gods, war is the best way to distract everybody who might be thinking of locking you up. For anyone who dares to look, the evidence is there that the US decided to step up the projection of their already ruinous military power at the time of the 9/11 attacks, probably as a reaction to the waning power of the dollar.

As Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey, part of Iraq Veterans Against the War and of the US chapter of Veterans For Peace, said when interviewed for Venezuelan State Television, “There are no rules, this is World War III. The rule book went out the window on September 11th.[2001].”

As a regular attendee at US Marine Corps intelligence briefings Jimmy was in a position to know rather more than the West’s public, media or politicians do about how far down the mission line covert policies of the White House and Pentagon have crept.

And here’s the rub. Malaysia are one of the world’s feircest opponents of the phoney ‘war on terror’, former Malaysian Federal Court judge Abdul Kadir Sulaiman even convening a tribunal in 2011 to try Bush and Blair for war crimes. Endorsed by former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad the tribunal found: “Unlawful use of force threatens the world to return to a state of lawlessness. The acts of the accused were unlawful.” Malaysia has done what the UN and The Hague’s International Criminal Court dare not.

European and North American countries have realized too late in the day that only by keeping stiff exchange controls can they stay sovereign nations. Without them international finance capital will move in with infinite resources to destroy everything that stands in its way, from media to parliaments, nothing can withstand them. Even the courts now are finally about to be co-opted into the service of the tax evading transnational corporations should the secretly-negotiated Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) be signed later this year.

The courts will then be theirs to overturn any parliamentary decision the corporations don’t like, and they have been saving up lots and lots of cash to pay the very best lawyers in the world, to make sure they win.

The site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash is seen in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. (Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev)

The site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash is seen in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. (Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev)

No shortage of people who’ll shoot down an airliner for you

With the privatization of war in the West, points out UK charity War On Want, “repeated human rights abuses” are being “perpetrated by mercenaries, including the indiscriminate killing of civilians and torture. Unaccountable and unregulated, these companies are complicit in human rights abuses across the world, putting profit before people and fanning the flames of war.”

So if you want somebody to fight a nuclear war, conduct a massacre, or shoot down an airliner for you nowadays you can buy those services on the free market. The proliferation of private military companies since 9/11 suits the military industrial complex very nicely, thank you.

But how has the world come to the point where such companies have state protection and business is, quite literally, booming?

The problem again, is the global banking giants who have been shown in court, time and time again, to be hand in glove with the intelligence services and international drug cartels. Whether it’s Iran Contra with drugs flying one way and guns the other, or HSBC’s piffling $2 billion fine in 2012 for money laundering, they are not just criminals who are above the law, they are now shaping it in their own private interest.

It is not just the Asian, Pacific and South American power blocs they seek to control who will be watching them, but their own people, those they depend on to survive. With every evil act they think they’ve got away with, they are painting themselves into a corner as the Trans-Atlantic edifice they are trying to control crumbles beneath them.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

MH 17 and the Failure of Soft Diplomacy


July 20, 2014

MH 17 and the Failure of Soft Diplomacy

 

MH17

 
COMMENT: by John Ling@www.malaysiakini.com

“In this time of grief, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. With the failure of soft diplomacy, who will now bring Putin’s Russia to account? Who will choose to look at the crime instead of averting their eyes?”–John Ling

When Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States, he had done so on the back of a campaign that promised hope and change. Among other things, he urged a ‘reset’ in relations with Russia.

This would be the cornerstone of his new administration – a radical approach in ‘soft diplomacy’. One designed to defuse tensions with America’s former adversary and pave the way for warmer ties. This was a monumental undertaking, but with a young and vibrant president now in the White House, it looked like it might actually have a chance of succeeding.

In Geneva in March 2009, we witnessed what appeared to be an initial thawing in relations between America and Russia. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and with the cameras of the world looking on, she presented him with a big red button made out of plastic.

The word ‘reset’ was prominently stenciled on it, accompanied by a Russian translation. However, in an unfortunate gaffe – perhaps an omen of things to come – Clinton’s aides had messed up the Cyrillic words on the button.

Instead of ‘perezagruzka’, which would have been the correct translation, the one that was used instead was ‘peregruzka’, which meant ‘overcharged’. It was an embarrassing mistake, but Lavrov appeared to be a good sport, laughing off the error.

Good start short-lived

Around the same time, President Obama noted that Vladimir Putin (below) had recently stepped down as President of Russia, and in his place, Dmitri Medvedev had ascended to the highest office in the land. Like Obama, Medvedev was a former academic and of a similar age.

Naturally enough, Obama perceived the new Russian President to be a transformational figure, and it was in that spirit that he wrote a secret letter and instructed a trusted aide to hand‑deliver it to Moscow. In the letter, Obama expressed a willingness to make American concessions in return for Russian goodwill.

In an age of wireless communication, this unorthodox approach was a throwback to simpler times. Nothing short of remarkable. In Malaysian culture, we might call this ‘giving face’.

In July 2009, Obama, encouraged by Medvedev’s optimistic reply, flew into Moscow for his first official visit to the nation. The two leaders met in congenial fashion. They seemed like a natural fit for each other. And a grinning Obama took the opportunity to solidify America’s commitment to a reset in relations with Russia. All in all, it looked like an unqualified triumph for hope and change. Not bad for a president who had been in office for barely six months.

Russian reset in tatters

Five years on, however, Obama’s Russian reset is in tatters, and the world we find ourselves in now is a far cry from that buoyant period. Since 2012, Vladimir Putin has regained presidential power, and he is currently pursuing an agenda of ultra-nationalist expansion. A former KGB officer in his youth, he has spent a lifetime perfecting the black arts of murder and intimidation.

As a result, Russia today has become a nightmarish country. It’s a place where free speech is crushed,MH17 Crash site 2 political dissidents are assassinated, and government‑sanctioned thugs roam the streets, attacking everyone from homosexuals to foreign students.

Putin has placed the whole of Russia under his iron will, and he is now driven to expand its influence abroad. Soft diplomacy is not what runs in this man’s veins. Rather, he craves the aggressive projection of power, Soviet‑style. The invasion by proxy of Eastern Ukraine and the senseless shoot‑down of Flight MH17 serves as a testament to his vision.

While the world mourns this horrific tragedy, President Obama, for his part, is looking increasingly haggard. Right‑wing critics have savaged his attempt at soft diplomacy with Russia, calling it naive and idealistic. They claim it never should have been attempted in the first place. The Russians, it would seem, have perceived Obama’s overtures as a sign of weakness, and they have since exploited it to the fullest.

Malaysia blissfully ignorant

In Malaysia, most of us have remained blissfully ignorant of the storm that’s been brewing for the past couple of years. Even as Putin’s brand of ultra-nationalist fervour has taken hold, we have chosen to invest in the Russian aerospace, oil and gas industries. We have sent our children to study the Russian health sciences. And even after the crisis in Ukraine erupted, our political leaders did not respond with a note of protest. No one had the gumption to call a spade a spade.

But now, like it or not, we have been drawn into Vladimir Putin’s dysfunctional world order. It’s not what we asked for. It’s certainly not what we wanted. But innocent blood has been spilled; hundreds of civilians have been murdered with no warning.

And to make the atrocity worse, Putin loyalists have interfered with the site of the crash, making a fair and transparent investigation all but impossible. In this time of grief, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. With the failure of soft diplomacy, who will now bring Putin’s Russia to account? Who will choose to look at the crime instead of averting their eyes?

JOHN LING is a Malaysian‑born author based in New Zealand. You can find out more about him and his work at johnling.net

 

Malaysia can’t afford a botched handling of MH17


July 20, 2014

MY COMMENTWe have been hit by two tragedies, MH 370 and MH 17 a few days ago,Din Merican both within a space of four months. MH370 is still shrouded in secrecy and  it is a public relations disaster; our leaders and public and security officials handled the foreign media poorly. MH17 was brought down by Russian made missiles in the hands of Ukrainian rebels backed by  Prime Minister Putin’s government. Our political leaders and officials are again in the eyes of media. Let them handle the situation better this time.

Those who are behind this dastardly violence must be brought to account. Our diplomats and those of countries which lost their citizens and the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon must act in concert to ascertain the facts about the downing of this ill-fated 777 aircraft. At home, the new Transport Minister has to ensure that there are no cover-ups, blame games, excuses, and conflicting or contradictory statements. Please provide facts as they come to light, and do it well and ensure that there are no fumbles.

I am glad that our Prime Minister has allowed debate in our Parliament on MH37. I hope Parliamentarians on both sides of Dewan Rakyat can be rational and constructive in their deliberations so that we can achieve consensus on what we should do to restore national self confidence and pride in our national flag carrier, Malaysian Airlines.

No shouting matches please. Bung Mokhtar types must not be allowed to disrupt the debate or make fools of themselves. In this time of national crisis, UMNO-BN and Pakatan Rakyat must stand together. The debate should result in a plan of action for the government. To nudge the debate along orderly lines, there should be a White Paper to Parliament on MH17 in which the government can present its views on what it has its mind to deal with the aftermath of MH 17.Din Merican

http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-07-18/malaysia-can-t-botch-another-air-tragedy

Malaysia can’t afford a botched handling of MH17

by William Pesek (07-18-14)

There’s nothing funny about Malaysia Airlines losing two Boeing 777s and more than 500 lives in the space of four months. That hasn’t kept the humor mills from churning out dark humor and lighting up cyberspace.

Liow_Tiong_Lai-MH17_PC

Actor Jason Biggs, for example, got in trouble for tweeting: “Anyone wanna buy my Malaysia Airlines frequent flier miles?” A passenger supposedly among the 298 people aboard Flight 17 that was shot down over eastern Ukraine yesterday uploaded a photo of the doomed plane on Facebook just before takeoff in Amsterdam, captioning it: “Should it disappear, this is what it looks like.”

That reference, by a man reportedly named Cor Pan, was to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, whose disappearance in March continues to provide fodder for satirists, conspiracy theorists and average airplane passengers with a taste for the absurd. On my own Malaysia Air flight last month, I was struck by all the fatalistic quips around me — conversations I overheard and in those with my fellow passengers. One guy deadpanned: “First time I ever bought flight insurance.”

MH17 CrashThere is, of course, no room for humor after this disaster or the prospect that the money-losing airline might not survive — at least not without a government rescue. This company had already become a macabre punch line, something no business can afford in the Internet and social-media age. It’s one thing to have a perception problem; it’s quite another to have folks around the world swearing never to fly Malaysia Air.

Nor is no margin for mistakes by Malaysia or the airline this time, even though all signs indicate that there is no fault on the part of the carrier. The same can’t be said for the bumbling and opacity that surrounded the unexplained loss of Flight 370. Even if there was no negligence on the part of Malaysia Air this week, the credibility of the probe and the willingness of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government to cooperate with outside investigators — tests it failed with Flight 370 — will be enormously important.

As I have written before, the botched response to Flight 370 was a case study in government incompetence and insularity. After six decades in power, Najib’s party isn’t used to being held accountable by voters, never mind foreign reporters demanding answers. Rather than understand that transparency would enhance its credibility, Malaysia’s government chose to blame the international press for impugning the country’s good name.

The world needs to be patient, of course. If Flight 370′s loss was puzzling, even surreal, Flight 17 is just MH 17plain tragic. It’s doubtful Najib ever expected to be thrown into the middle of Russian-Ukraine-European politics. Although there are still so many unanswered questions — who exactly did the shooting and why? — it’s depressing to feel like we’re revisiting the Cold War of the early 1980s, when Korean Air Flight 007 was shot down by a Soviet fighter jet.

More frightening is how vulnerable civilian aviation has become. Even if this is the work of pro-Russian rebels, yesterday’s attack comes a month after a deadly assault on a commercial jetliner in Pakistan. One passenger was killed and two flight attendants were injured as at least 12 gunshots hit Pakistan International Airlines Flight PK-756 as it landed in the northwestern city of Peshawar. It was the first known attack of its kind and raises the risk of copycats. The low-tech nature of such assaults — available to anyone with a gripe, a high-powered rifle and decent marksmanship — is reason for the entire world to worry.

The days ahead will be filled with post-mortems and assigning blame. That includes aviation experts questioning why Malaysia Air took a route over a war zone being avoided by Qantas, Cathay Pacific and several other carriers. The key is for Malaysian authorities to be open, competent and expeditious as the investigation gains momentum. Anything less probably won’t pass muster.

ASEAN political-security community challenges


July 13, 2014

ASEAN political-security community challenges

Munir Majidby Tan Sri Dr. Munir Majid@www.thestar.com.my (07-12-14)

 THE People’s ASEAN would not be a reality if the politics is not right – both the domestic political systems in which the people live and the wider regional order that underpins the peace, stability and prosperity of their lives.

Economic Growth and Political Rights

As ASEAN member states are increasingly discovering, the previous contention that economic growth andASEAN_logo_1 benefit will satisfy citizens without need to be over-excited about political rights, is wearing thin. That model does not work any more, if it ever did. Certainly, if nothing else, the ICT revolution and social media have provided a shared marketplace of experiences in political societies across the globe. It is no longer possible to pull the wool over people’s eyes. So state authorities have to get smart to it, whatever political system they profess.

In this connection, the notion of an ASEAN political-security community (APSC) is apposite. The APSC blueprint actually is hard to be faulted. Whoever writes these things, and those who adopt them, must really know what’s happening around them, even if they do not quite come along in action against their profession in words.

Read this: The APSC… ”will ensure that the peoples and member states of ASEAN live in peace with one another and with the world at large in a just, democratic and harmonious environment.” Some more: “The ASEAN states will offer democracy, rule of law and good governance, and will ensure respect for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedom”.

All good intention. However, even if this is all aspiration, it stretches credulity when it is observed how some states in ASEAN have stagnated as communist regimes, others have regressed into persecution and murder of minorities and workers, and yet another has introduced draconian religious laws.

APSC and Human Rights

Little wonder then that there is so much cynicism about, for example, the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) set up in 2009 under the auspices of the APSC “to promote and protect human rights.” Where in ASEAN, through the AICHR, are human rights being protected on their violation?

It is in their promotion that refuge is taken. Even so, the promotion is gentle. Go to the AICHR web-site and you will see many pictures celebrating numerous workshops to promote human rights. More ASEAN meetings while religious minorities are being persecuted and put to the sword in enough ASEAN member states.

These are all difficult situations to handle no doubt. ASEAN Foreign Ministers try to discuss the Rohingyas issue but Myanmar would not have it, and will only do so on a bilateral basis with states facing refugee problems as a consequence of its human rights violations. And it comes to pass.

Well, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, and where has the world been? Rwanda-Burundi, Bosnia, Syria, Palestine… the list is endless and the suffering never-ending. So why pick on ASEAN? But, shall we say, ASEAN is talking about community-building and higher standards of commitments to good governance? Therefore, there is every reason to hold ASEAN to a better protection on human rights and treatment of citizens.

The laudable objectives of the APSC, and in the setting up of the AICHR, should not be left on the shelf as we approach the end of 2014. The blueprint itself provides for biennial review. This review process should be reported and be held in a more open fashion, with the participation of representatives of civil society, who must however appreciate the issues of state sovereignty and ASEAN cohesion.

The hard question is not how to put aspiration down in words but how to implement it in difficult situations and circumstances. That review process should come up with creative ideas of making the words turn into at least some action, at least in respect of protection of human rights, and not just kick the matter to long grass by having more workshops and meetings to study it.

ASEAN, China and South China Sea

South China Sea

When it comes to international relations and the wider regional order, the gap between verbal exhortation and actual action is just as wide. For the longest time, ASEAN behaved as if there was no serious situation arising from the South China Sea disputes. And when ASEAN got real about it, emboldened China would suggest, it was only after US intercession. This was not good for relations with China or for the resolution of the dispute.

While no doubt there is a grave threat of the outbreak of conflict, especially from various stand-offs between China and Vietnam, China with the Philippines, the damage already done is to China-ASEAN relations. These have been extremely beneficial economically for the region. Their further development could be retarded by this “spoiler”, not to mention the threat it poses to existing economic links.

Of course, if there was actual conflict, it is something else again. We will be in new territory of uncertainty, suspicion and fear which, as we know, are bad bedfellows for investment and economic activity.

Against these near existential threats, ASEAN has been reticent and not united in addressing the South China Sea disputes. Whereas, in the APSC blueprint, it is clearly stated ASEAN will seek full implementation of the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of States of 2002 and the establishment of a binding code of conduct under the declaration in the South China Sea.

Has there been any urgency to achieve all this before matters came to a head, before America got more involved again in regional affairs and, yes, before China got more assertive with its claims? It could be charged that ASEAN’s desultory approach has carried a cost to the stability of the regional order.

ASEAN is, of course, not one unit, it is only inter-governmental, but it makes claims for itself and gives false hope of its effectiveness by proclaiming all sorts of things in so many words, including this blessed thing about ASEAN centrality in the regional architecture. These last six exact words are to be found word for word in the blueprint and, indeed, have been repeated countless times at diplomatic convocations where those who know very well this is not the case repeat it for ASEAN’s happiness.

The APSC blueprint has been too extravagant, especially measured against ASEAN inaction. Not just on the South China Sea, but also in other pronounced areas such as conflict resolution mechanisms and the pacific settlement of disputes in the broader context.

ASEAN-a great economic prospect but...

ASEAN is a great prospect, especially its economies. But the market does not buy on prospective earnings indefinitely. If that was the case, it would be buying Latin America which, in terms of total economic size (against ASEAN’s combined much touted 7th largest in the world) is three times the Indian or Russian economy, and almost as large as China or Japan.

The point is ASEAN does have great prospect, but it will not come of itself. There has to be a more realistic mission statement, better structure and management – and better managers. Then the prospective earnings ratio might even rise.

So there has to be a reset and a rethink about how ASEAN can improve performance against all its limitations. But not just among government leaders and officials. And not to be assigned to some council of elders who would come back some years later with a document even older. It has to be fresh and dynamic involving people with ideas from all levels of society.

Yes, ultimately the political leaders of the region would decide – based however on a good and realistic plan for the future of the People’s ASEAN.

 Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

 

America Broke Iraq: Three Lessons for Washington


July 7, 2014

America Broke Iraq: Three Lessons for Washington

http://nationalinterest.org/feature/america-broke-iraq-three-lessons-washington-10785?page=show

“Americans should absorb one painful lesson: because Americans are full of good intentions, they are incapable of occupying other countries. America should get out of this business completely.

Even the UN does a better job of managing countries in transitionAmerica should get out of the business of invasion and occupation.”

Mahbubani2By Kishore Mahbubani*, The National Interest (July 1, 2014)

Colin Powell put it clearly and succinctly:”If you break it, you own it.” America broke Iraq. America owns Iraq. This is how the rest of the world sees it. This is also why the world is mystified by the current Obama-Cheney debate. Both these camps are saying, “You did it.” Actually both the camps should say, “We did it.”

The tragedy about this divisive debate is that America is missing a great opportunity to reflect on a big and fundamental question: why is America so bad at the simple task of invading and occupying countries? Surely, the American invasion and occupation of Iraq will go down in history as one of the most botched operations of its kind. America spent $4 trillion, lost thousands of American lives and millions of Iraqi lives, and at the end of the day, achieved nothing. Since the failure was so catastrophic, why not at least try to learn some valuable lessons from it? There are at least three lessons that scream for attention.

Dick-Cheney-and-Barack-Ob-001Cheney-Obama Debate a Lost Cause–Iraq in a Mess

The first lesson is the folly of good intentions. Let’s be clear about one thing: >Americans are not evil people.They do not conquer countries to rape, pillage and loot. Instead, they conquer countries to help the people. President George W. Bush’s goal was to set up a stable, functioning Iraqi democracy, not to set up an American colony in perpetuity. The British colonial rulers of Iraq in the early twentieth century would have been totally mystified by these good intentions. And they would have been even more flummoxed by the methods used to achieve these good intentions. For example, the British would preserve local institutions, not destroy them.

The last successful American occupation was the occupation of Japan. MacArthur wisely preserved Japanese institutions-including Emperor Hirohito, despite his role in the war. By contrast, America destroyed both Saddam’s army and his Ba’ath party at the beginning, thereby condemning the occupation to failure. Some Americans believed they could manage Iraq because American governance was inherently superior.

Bremer with bootsPaul Bremer (wearing his big boots) assumed he could rule Iraq effortlessly with his big boots, without ever being aware that his big boots were culturally offensive. This American trait of supreme self-confidence in running other societies is not new. When I lived in Phnom Penh in 1973-74 forty years ago, I witnessed firsthand how a young, inexperienced American diplomat would walk into the offices of the Cambodian Economic Minister and give him daily instructions from Washington, DC on how to run the Cambodian economy.

What was the result of this? The Cambodian leaders felt powerless to govern their own society. There is a paradox here. One strength of American culture is that it empowers people. But when America takes over another society, it disempowers it. This happened in Iraq, too. So after the disastrous management of Cambodia and South Vietnam and of Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans should absorb one painful lesson: because Americans are full of good intentions, they are incapable of occupying other countries. America should get out of this business completely. Even the UN does a better job of managing countries in transition.

The second lesson is to avoid over reliance on the American military.Obama said it well:”Just because we have the best hammer, does not mean that every problem is a nail.” Future historians of the American century will spend a lot of time scratching their leads over a difficult conundrum: how did the relatively peaceful people of America become so trigger-happy in their external adventures?

The simple lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan and of Cambodia and South Vietnam is that guns alone do not work. This is why the recent American debate about Syria is so bewildering. Both sides were debating one question-to bomb or not to bomb Syria? But bombing would have solved nothing. And it was equally unwise for America to make a unilateral announcement on August 18, 2011 that “Assad must go”. Almost three years later, he is still in office.

All debates in America inevitably become black and white. Assad is black. His opponents must be white. Therefore, kill the bad guys-this appears to be the only solution. In many parts of the Middle East the choice is between black and black (or, more accurately, between various shades of grey). To bring “peace”, America will have to learn to deal with and shake hands with people who are not American boy scouts.

All this leads to the obvious third lesson: strengthen American diplomacy. Let me start with one painful fact obvious to many in the rest of the world: American diplomacy has deteriorated. In my thirty-three-year career with the Singapore Foreign Service from 1971-2004, I witnessed this firsthand. The reasons for deterioration are obvious. Organizations attract young talent when they can promise the best jobs at the end of their hardworking and dedicated careers. But if all that a young American diplomat can aspire to after three decades of service is to be the Ambassador to Ouagadougou or Kabul (with London and Paris being completely out of the equation), why stay on?

One counterargument I have heard is that the strong American private sector makes up for the weak public sector. A weak State Department, for example, is compensated by strong think tanks. This is true, but it creates a deeper mystery: how can America have the best strategic think tanks and strategic thinkers and yet have the worst strategic thinking in invading and occupying other countries? So this is the time for Americans to have the obvious epiphany: America should get out of the business of invasion and occupation. Four decades of failure have provided enough evidence to prove that the American people are far too good to do this job.

*Kishore Mahbubani is Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS, and author of The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World, which was listed by the Financial Times in its ‘Books of the Year’ list, 2013.

China’s James Shoal Claim: Malaysia the Undisputed Owner


July 4, 2014

RSIS Commentaries

RSIS presents the following commentary China’s James Shoal Claim: Malaysia the Undisputed Owner by B.A.Hamzah.  Kindly forward any comments or feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentaries, at RSIS Publication@ntu.edu.sg.

No. 122/2014 dated 1 July 2014

China’s James Shoal Claim: Malaysia the Undisputed Owner

By B.A.Hamzah

Synopsis

Malaysia owns James Shoal, a submerged feature that is within its continental shelf. Being one thousand nautical miles from Hainan, James Shoal is outside the continental shelf of China; it is also outside the continental shelf of Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia.

Commentary

James Shoal

JAMES SHOAL, a feature that is permanently 22 metres (66 feet) under water in the South China Sea, should not have attracted public attention regionally but for geopolitics and ignorance of international law. Malaysians have been alarmed by recent reports of vessels of the People’s Republic of China Liberation Army (Navy), gathering and celebrating above the feature on more than one occasion.

China cannot appropriate any submerged features that are not part of its continental shelf and in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). James Shoal is more than 1,000 nautical miles (nm) from Hainan, well outside China’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and not part of its continental shelf.

James Shoal and International Law

The whole affair could have been quietly resolved if the PLA Navy commanders acknowledged the international law governing a permanently submerged feature, embedded to the continental shelf of a coastal state. Unlike islands, rocks and low-tide elevations, permanently submerged features, cannot generate any maritime zone under international law.

Islands are entitled to a belt of territorial sea, continental shelf and EEZ. Low-tide Elevations (LTEs), on the other hand, belong to the state in whose territorial sea they are located. LTEs can be used to draw the state’s baseline if they are located within its 12 nm territorial sea.

Map 2--James ShoalMap showing the limit of proposed extended continental shelf of Vietnam and Malaysia jointly submitted to the United Nations Commission on Limits of Continental Shelf (CLCS) in May 2009.

International law defines continental shelf as a natural extension of a country’s landmass to a distance of 200 nm (maximum 350 nm). Drawn from the mainland or any of its islands in the South China Sea, the continental shelf of China is well short of James Shoal. Similarly, contrary to some suggestions, James Shoal is also not part of the extended continental shelf of Vietnam, the Philippines or Taiwan.

In May 2009, Vietnam and Malaysia put up a Joint submission on the Extended Continental Shelf to the UN Committee on the Limit of Continental Shelf (CLCS) whereby Vietnam acknowledged that James Shoal is not part of its extended continental shelf.

James Shoal is 500 nm from Pagasa Island in the Spratlys that the Philippines has occupied since 1971. The Shoal is more than 400 nm from Itu Aba, an island that Taiwan has occupied since 1956. James Shoal is also outside Brunei’s extended maritime zone which the 2009 Letter of Exchange Brunei had with Malaysia attested to. In 1969, Malaysia and Indonesia signed a Treaty on the continental shelf, off Tanjung Datu, Sarawak, which has placed James Shoal on the Malaysian side.

Contiguity not an issue

Map--James Shoal2Map showing limits of EEZ in the Spratlys

James Shoal, located 63 nm from the nearest base point (Batuan Likau) on Sarawak coast, is embedded in the continental shelf of Malaysia and within its EEZ. Although the feature is nearer to Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur’s ownership of James Shoal is not premised on geographical contiguity but on customary international law. In the Island of Palmas (or Miangas) (United States v. The Netherlands), Arbitral Award, 1928 Judge Huber stated, “it is impossible to show the existence of a rule of positive international law” on contiguity to “the effect that islands situated outside territorial waters should belong to the state”.

China claims James Shoal is within the disputed nine-dash line boundary which China has drawn, incorporating close to ninety percent of the South China Sea, and overlapping with the maritime domains of five other states (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam) as well as Taiwan.

Some experts believe China did not even know of the existence of James Shoal as a submerged feature when it drew the controversial nine-dash line maritime boundary over it in 1947/1948. After all, China was not the first state to conduct any physical survey of the maritime area. Besides, there is no evidence that China discovered and administered the feature.

The British discovered James Shoal

The British discovered the Shoal and its two nearby features (Parsons’ Shoal and Lydie Shoal) in the early 19th Century via many of its surveys. James Shoal first appeared on the British Admiralty Chart in the 1870s; China renamed the feature (as Tseng Mu Reef) circa 1947/1948 (1912 in some documents), when it published the nine-dash line.

The only possibility for China to “acquire” the feature, according to some experts, is via cut- and-paste method. While the international law recognises five traditional methods of territorial acquisition, the cut- and- paste method is not one of them.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and 1958 Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf (Malaysia and China subscribe to both Treaties) stipulate, “The rights of a costal state over the continental shelf do not depend on occupation, effective or notional, or in any express proclamation”. In other words, Malaysia does not have to do anything under UNCLOS to own the submerged feature that is embedded on its continental shelf.

Malaysia’s extensive activities on James Shoal

This notwithstanding, Malaysia has effectively asserted its jurisdiction over its continental shelf including the areas in and around James Shoal, Parson’s Shoal and the Lydie Shoal. As in nearby Laconia shoals, where currently a large chunk of Malaysia’s hydrocarbon resources comes from, the entire area has been explored for gas and oil.

The activities of the Malaysian authorities, which are extensive, peaceful, continuous and public in nature, include the construction and maintenance of a light-buoy on nearby Parsons Shoal on a 24/7 basis; daily patrolling and policing of the area by the Royal Malaysian Navy and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency; and undertaking economic activities like exploration for and production of hydrocarbon resources on a sustained basis.

Under international law, such display of peaceful and continuous activities over a long period is tantamount to establishing a titre de souverain (acts of the sovereign). This legal principle is critical in determining ownership of disputed islands, rocks and low tide elevations and by inference, submerged features on continental shelf.

Map 3-James Shoal Enlarged Map showing the location of James Shoal (Beting Serupai), Lydie Shoal (Beting Tugau) and Parson’s Shoal (Beting Mukah) (drawn by Vivian Forbes, 2014).

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) and International Arbitration have applied this principle on numerous occasions. Two recent ICJ Cases on territorial disputes, decided on this principle, involved Malaysia with Indonesia (Case concerning sovereignty over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan) and Indonesia (2002) and Malaysia with Singapore (Case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca and Pulau Batu Putih (2008).

In sum, the activities of the Malaysian authorities (effectivité to some) are by themselves sufficient to demonstrate that Malaysia is the bona fide owner of James Shoal.

BA Hamzah is a lecturer at the Department of Strategic Studies, National Defence University, Malaysia. He contributed this specially to RSIS Commentaries.

Well done,Foreign Minister Anifah for Doing the Right Thing


July 2, 2014

Well done,Foreign Minister Anifah for Doing the Right Thing: Rizalman is to be Extradited

–The Malaysian Insider

Putrajaya’s decision to extradite Muhammad Rizalman Ismail was conveyed today by Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman to his counterpart Murray McCully.

AnifahAman2Well done, Foreign Minister Anifah

Former Malaysian defence staff assistant, who is wanted for sexual assault and burglary in New Zealand, will be sent there to assist in the investigation. Wisma Putra said today. Second Warrant officer Muhammad Rizalman Ismail will be accompanied by a senior military officer from the Ministry of Defence. Putrajaya’s decision to extradite Rizalman was conveyed by Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman to his counterpart Murray McCully.

Japan’s Cabinet Seeks Changes to Its Peace Constitution


July 2, 2014
Asia Pacific Bulletin
Number 270 | July 1, 2014
ANALYSIS

Japan’s Cabinet Seeks Changes to Its Peace Constitution – Issues New “Interpretation” of Article Nine

By Andrew L. Oros

AbeJapan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed his nation at a 6pm press conference on July 1 to announce a much-anticipated Cabinet decision to reinterpret a constitutional prohibition related to Japan’s military forces working together with other states, setting the stage for a series of changes to Japanese law when its parliament reconvenes in the fall.

Protestors opposing this effective change to Japan’s constitution–which has never been formally revised since its implementation in 1947–have gathered in front of the Prime Minister’s official residence all week. An estimated 5,000 protestors gathered outside the prime-time press conference where the prime minister argued that the reinterpretation did not represent a fundamental departure in nearly 70 years of Japanese security policy, but rather was a modest update to current policy in response to a changing international security environment.

He repeatedly touted Japan’s postwar identity as a “peace state” (heiwakoku), arguing that now is the time for Japan to make a greater international contribution to international peace–in line with the national security strategy released by his government in December 2013 that called for Japan to make “proactive contributions to peace” internationally.

The issue of “collective self-defense”–engaging in military action with allied states even if your state itself is not directly threatened–has been a topic of debate in Japan all year. Japanese government policy for over half a century has been that although all states have an inherent right to engage in collective self-defense, as rooted in long-standing practice of international law, Japan would refrain from exercising that right in deference to Article Nine of its postwar constitution, which forbids the use of force to settle international disputes.

Prime Minister Abe has long argued that Japan should engage in collective self-defense activities with like-minded states, both together with its alliance partner the United States as well as with other states and through United Nations peacekeeping operations. Abe’s coalition partner in government, the New Komei Party, has been opposed, however. As a result, the issue was set aside during the first year of Abe’s return to power in December 2012.

Critics of the Abe government argue that this decision is rushed, is taking place without debate in Japan’s parliament, and that no elected leader has the right to reinterpret the constitution. There is widespread misunderstanding about the power of this cabinet statement, however: it does not have the force of law.

Only legislation passed by Japan’s parliament has the force of law–and, indeed, this was one of the subjects of Abe’s 10-minute prepared statement to the nation: that his government would be creating a team to draft bills to establish the necessary legislation to submit to the Diet for its deliberation. Still, the cabinet statement does reflect unanimity among the cabinet, which includes one member from the New Komei Party. It took months of negotiation and substantial compromises by Abe to achieve this support, leading to a much watered-down mandate to exercise the right of collective self-defense only in highly constrained circumstances and even then only using the minimum necessary force to restore the peace.

The Abe government prepared 15 examples to share with the nation illustrating situations where it saw Japanese security at risk due to Japan’s decision not to exercise its right of collective self-defense, which Abe debuted in an earlier televised prime-time press conference in May. Famously pointing to a sketch of a mother holding a small child while fleeing hostilities, Abe explained cases such as the challenges of evacuating Japanese nationals from a war zone, or Japan’s need to cooperate in de-mining critical sea trade routes in the event an enemy were to lay such mines (as happened in the 1991 Gulf War). In fact, the most likely cases where Japan would exercise collective self-defense are together with its only formal military ally, the United States.

It was announced last October that the two states seek to formally revise their 17-year-old guidelines for defense cooperation by the end of 2014, making a decision on the issue of collective self-defense time sensitive. The two states’ goals of cooperating to combat cyber threats and to improve defenses against ballistic missiles both require a pre-commitment from Japan to work together with the militaries of other states, even in cases where it is not clear that Japan itself is being attacked. In addition, the long-standing fear of a new outbreak of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula would also put great pressure on Japan to offer assistance to US and South Korean military forces–even if Japan itself was not directly attacked, something prohibited under the prior cabinet interpretation of the Japanese constitution.

This new policy on collective self-defense should thus be seen, in part, as a way to show Japan’s commitment to the US-Japan military alliance–and to seek to secure US commitment to the alliance in the wake of growing Japanese concerns about China’s designs on the remote and uninhabited Senkaku Islands that Japan administers but China claims (and which China calls Diaoyu), and that Japan would need the United States military to help protect in the event of hostilities.

The new policy should also been seen as part of a set of initiatives of the Abe government to re-craft Japanese military activities as the sort of conduct any “normal” state engages in without suspicion. In this sense, it is part and parcel of his broader efforts to move beyond the criticism of Japan’s militarist past and to a new status quo where Japan’s “proactive contributions to peace” are welcomed on the contemporary international stage. The policy also should be understood at face value: as a way to address potential security contingencies Japan may face in the future.

The Abe government is correct about international law: that all states inherently possess the right of collective self-defense. But his public statements belie the substantial change in policy that Japan choosing to exercise this right would represent. Critics over-state the significance of the cabinet statement, however. Nothing has yet been changed in Japanese law, and even if new laws are passed in the fall based on this cabinet statement, the agreement within the ruling coalition places substantial barriers on Japan exercising this right in the years to come. Abe has thus not yet realized his dream of Japan becoming a “normal” state–and based on the scale of criticism both at home and abroad about this policy push, it will take many more years of policy evolution to achieve this goal.
About the Author

Dr. Andrew L. Oros is an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland and Adjunct Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington. He is author of Normalizing Japan: Politics, Identity, and the Evolution of Security Practice and can be contacted via email at aoros2@washcoll.edu.

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.

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Growing Up With A Nation That Isn’t


July 2, 2014

BOOK REVIEW

Growing Up With A Nation That Isn’t

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa,Morgan-Hill, California

Ahmad Kamil Jaafar’s Growing Up With The Nation

Marshall Cavendish, Singapore, 2013. 256 pp. RM135

The life of a diplomat, as the laity sees it, is one of glittering cocktails parties, spacious residences in leafy exclusive neighborhoods, and being pampered in MAS first-class cabins, all paid for by taxpayers.

Ahmad Kamil JaafarSo it was a surprise to read this opening line in Growing Up With The Nation, the memoir of Ahmad Kamil Jaafar, Malaysia’s former top diplomat, “The life of a diplomat and foreign policy maker can be pretty much routine and humdrum during the best of times.” Then as if to underscore this point, midway through the book, in the chapter “China – A Transformational Journey,” he writes, “Finding myself with ample free time I tried my hand at learning Chinese … and Chinese brush painting.”

This was the mid-1980s when China was undergoing, as per the chapter title, transformational changes under Deng Xiaoping. To be bored or have ample free time at such a period reflected more on the caliber of our diplomats generally rather than on Kamil Jaafar’s talent, ability, or diligence.

It was commendable for Kamil to learn Mandarin. It would have been even more impressive had he done it before being posted there. There was (and is) no lack of opportunities for learning that language in Malaysia. Granted, the Malaysian Chinese accent may be way off the Beijing variety, nonetheless the basics remain the same.

Kamil Jaafar is privileged to have been given the great opportunity and responsibility to guide the young nation. There are many others, but most are content to spend their retirement collecting lucrative GLC directorship fees and hitting golf balls. Malaysians owe Kamil a huge debt of gratitude for having taken time and effort to recollect his experiences so others could benefit.

Maximal Recollection, Minimal Reflection

Kamil’s memoir, competently written, spans a career of over three decades. He retired in 1996 as the top civil servant in the Foreign Ministry, and then continued on as Special Envoy. He covers vast expanse of water. However, as any scuba diver would tell you, the world underneath is even more rich, challenging and fascinating. Skimming the surface may get you far but at the price of missing this wonderful universe below. Stating it diplomatically, Kamil’s memoir has maximal recollection but at the expense of thoughtful reflection.

On the rare occasions when he does pause, Kamil is astute and penetrating, revealing much. Recalling a meeting between Prime Minister Mahathir and Chairman Deng, Kamil noted the large spittoon which Deng used only three times during the entire encounter. Kamil congratulated Mahathir, deeming the meeting a success, at least by that criterion. Deng may be a transformational leader of the biggest country, but in mannerisms he was just another coolie. Diplomatically spun, Deng remained faithful to his plebian origin.

During Abdullah Badawi’s tenure as Foreign Minister, Kamil felt like his ministry was under the Prime Minister’s Department. That reveals volumes as to Abdullah’s capability and contribution. Apparently Abdullah was satisfied if not reveled in being sidelined.

Abdullah was a special guest at the book’s launching. He obviously had not read the book, or if he did, missed that subtle but devastating jab. Or I could be over reading that passage.

In a post-publication interview Kamil related how tough he was with his subordinates. I wish he had been equally frank and tough on his political superiors. Did he see any parallel between Abdullah’s performance as Foreign Minister and Prime Minister? As for the other dozen or so foreign ministers Kamil served under, none merited more than just a few bland lines penned in passing. Most were skipped entirely. Perhaps that said it all.

Of all the Prime Ministers, only Mahathir did not serve concurrently as foreign minister. Yet Kamil devotes more ink to Mahathir at IDFRhim than to anyone else. His adoration for Mahathir is unbridled, and evident throughout the book. Yet when Kamil lamented on the poor English of our young diplomats and how that handicaps them professionally, he fails to make the connection. Mahathir is most responsible for this sorry state, first as Minister of Education and later as Prime Minister.

Mahathir appointed Kamil Secretary-General of the Foreign Ministry; I reckon that has much to do with this uncritical appraisal. As for that promotion, Kamil recalled his colleagues urging him to decline it, in deference to the incumbent who had been at it for only six months. That reveals the destructive culture of the civil service, this tunggu geleran (patiently waiting your turn), like landing planes at a busy airport. That, more than anything else, is responsible for the anti-meritocratic norms of the civil service. There is no such thing as “fast tracking.”

Kamil rationalized his acceptance thus:  “I dare not go against the Prime Minister’s decision.” I would have preferred had he asserted that he could do a better job. False modesty is hard to conceal while the genuine form is overrated. Besides, a senior civil servant should never fear of going against his political superior if that is the wise thing to do.

Kamil had a brief and less-than-laudatory paragraph on Prime Minister Hussein Onn, recalling a meeting involving a sensitive issue related to a neighboring country. Kamil and his counterparts in the Home Ministry including its Minister, Ghazali Shafie, had concocted a nefarious scheme the nature of which was not revealed. When they finished briefing Hussein, he became visibly angry and reprimanded them.

“What you are doing is a bottomless pit. You cannot do to others what you do not want others to do to you,” Kamil quoted Hussein, who ordered an immediate halt. Kamil did not describe his or Ghazali’s reaction to this dressing down.

Hussein was not known to be a decisive leader but on that occasion when he most needed to be, he was. That brief anecdote epitomized Hussein’s integrity and fair-mindedness. I remind readers that the odious phrase “cronyism, corruption and nepotism” entered the popular Malaysian lexicon only after Hussein left office. As an aside, he was not cited in the index, perhaps an honest slip.

John Kenneth Galbraith, Kennedy’s political-appointee Ambassador to India, wrote in his Ambassador’s Journal that Kennedy read his (Galbraith’s) dispatches because they were a joy. I assume that most diplomatic communications are not, consumed as they are with being detached and laced with bureaucratese as well as bewildering acronyms. They are also written so as not to offend anyone.

Kamil no longer needs to be deferential to his former superiors. He should have been critical of their performances. He should go beyond lamenting the current sorry state of Malaysia and analyze the “who, what, where, when, why and how.” Which leaders were most culpable for our nation not growing up? If luminaries like Kamil shy away from this crucial responsibility, then by default it would fall on the tin kosong jaguh kampong (empty tin-can village champions). And the nation would be the poorer for that.

Proposed Diplomat’s Assignment

Kamil recalled how as a young diplomat he was clueless as there was no one to guide him. Now having reached the pinnacle of his career, he put forth few ideas to guide his young successors, except for them to improve their English. That in itself reveals volumes on the state of our foreign service.

To fill this void, I share with our diplomats, young and old, this advice, the one my late father gave me before I left for Canada back in 1963. Observe the country and its people, he counseled me, be perceptive of and receptive to your new environment. Heed the wisdom of our culture, Alam terkembang di jadikan guru (Let the expanding universe be your teacher), echoing Wordsworth’s “Let nature be your teacher.”

In particular my father asked me to ponder this question:  Why was it that Canada was offering those generous scholarships to young Malaysians and not Malaysia to Canadians?

Tailoring it to our diplomats, I would advise them thus. Study one feature of your host country that is worthy of our emulation, or conversely, the one to avoid falling into. Our Third Secretary in Venezuela could learn how that country successfully used music to empower poor children and produce superb youth orchestras as well as many accomplished young conductors. Our High Commissioner to Nigeria would warn us of the fate that awaits Malaysia if it does not get a handle on corruption, while that to Pakistan, the dangers if religious extremists were to get the upper hand.

With that assignment tagged onto their regular duties our diplomats, novice and seasoned, would never again complain of their posting “being routine and humdrum,” or having “ample free time.” Thus occupied, they would not likely get themselves into mischief or otherwise embarrass the nation.

bakri-musaDr. M.Bakri Musa’s own memoir, Cast From The Herd. Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia, is due out in 2015. 

NZ rebuts Anifah, reveals M’sia wanted charges dropped


July 1, 2014

NZ rebuts Anifah, reveals M’sia wanted charges dropped

Let us be clear that Rizalman Ismail is a warrant officer in the Ministry of Defence, not a Wisma Putra man. That said he is a disgrace, if the charges of sexual assault can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. He must now face the consequences of his indiscretion. We have had enough of bad news, and this one has the effect of tarnishing the image of Foreign Service, requiring the intervention of our Foreign Minister. I think this is another jinx on our Defence Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein of the MH370 and Lahad Datu fame.–Din Merican

http://www.malaysiakini.com

AnifahAmanHours after Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman played down accusations the country was out to protect a Malaysian diplomat accused of sexual assault, the New Zealand government has turned the tables on him. New Zealand released documents rebutting Anifah’s claim that Wellington had offered to allow Muhmmad Rizalman Ismail to return home despite the alleged offence.

The documents also show that the Malaysian side asked for the charges of burglary and assault with the intent to rape against Rizalman to be dropped.One of the two documents released is the Malaysian High Commission’s letter to New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).

“The High Commission of Malaysia would like to also seek the cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of New Zealand and the New Zealand police to kindly consider sealing all documentation pertaining to the above mentioned matter and withdrawing all charges against Muhammad Rizalman Ismail,” reads the May 21 letter, sighted by Malaysiakini.

The letter was in response to another letter from MFAT, dated May 10 to the Malaysian High Commission requesting that Rizalman’s diplomatic immunity be waived for him to face legal action in New Zealand.

“The High Commission of Malaysia has the honour to inform that the government of Malaysia will not waive the personal immunity granted to Muhammad Rizalman Ismail and has decided that he should be repatriated to Malaysia as soon as possible.

“Should the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of New Zealand accept this arrangement, the High Commission proposes to send him and his family back home on Thursday, May 22, 2014, at 1.15pm by MH130,” says the letter from the Malaysian mission.

At a press conference at Wisma Putra (right) in Putrajaya earlier today, Anifah claimed Malaysia had met with New Zealand officials on May 12 and offered to waive Rizalman’s immunity but their counterparts had offered an “alternative” to allow him to return home.

Anifah also said Rizalman who is a warrant officer, will face the Military Court in Malaysia. The documents were released in Wellington today, upon a request by Fairfax Media, under New Zealand’s freedom of information law.

‘NZ says it’s a misunderstanding’

Another document released by Wellington is the May 10 letter by MFAT to the Malaysian High Commission. No other document pertaining to the events between May 10 and May 21 were released. However, New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully this evening sought to defuse the tension, describing this as a “misunderstanding”.

McCully clarified that the formal letter may have clearly stated New Zealand’s intention of wanting Rizalman’s immunity lifted but matters were less clear in informal discussions.

“MFAT has this evening provided me with the correspondence between New Zealand and Malaysian officials on this matter. While the formal request is absolutely unambiguous in seeking the lifting of immunity, it is now clear to me that officials engaged in informal communications over what is a complex case, in a manner that would have been ambiguous to the Malaysian government,” he was quoted as saying by stuff.co.nz.

His remarks came shortly after speaking to Anifah this evening to clarify the “misunderstanding”. McCully added he believed Malaysia acted in good faith and its refusal to lift the immunity was out of a desire to allow Malaysia’s defence chief to deal with Rizalman, but this would still be an outcome acceptable to New Zealand.

NZ Police want offences prosecuted

MFAT’s May 10 letter reads: “The New Zealand Police believes that it is in the public interest to prosecute these offences due to the serious nature of the offending by Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail and has accordingly requested the Ministry to pursue appropriate avenues to enable a prosecution against Mr Rizalman to proceed.

“In order for the New Zealand Police to proceed with the prosecution of Mr Rizalman, the Ministry therefore wishes to seek from the Malaysian authorities a waiver of the personal immunity granted to Mr Ismail under Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and of the personal inviolability granted under Article 29.”

Rizalman, who is a defence staff assistant, was arrested by New Zealand Police on May 9, after he followed a 21-year-old woman home and allegedly assaulted her, purportedly with the intention to commit rape. He was charged on May 10 for burglary and assault with intent to commit rape, both of which carry a maximum jail sentence of 10 years.

The high-profile case was only made public in New Zealand last Saturday. The New Zealand press was only allowed to name Rizalman today, after a High Court judge in the country’s judge lifted a suppression order on his details, which were obtained a day after the case went public.

When contacted, Anifah told Malaysiakini to refer to McCully’s statement claiming “misunderstanding” in formal communications.

Letters released by Wellington

May 10 – Letter from High Commission of Malaysia

May 21 – Letter from NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Malaysia in 2014–a perspective from Singapore


June 30, 2014

Malaysia in 2014–a perspective from Singapore

MALAYSIA-SINGAPORE-DIPLOMACYFor 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.

In 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 Malays 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 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.

ST-Iskandar

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. 

Calculated Risks: Hillary Rodham Clinton’s ‘Hard Choices’


June 25, 2014

NY TIMES SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW

Calculated Risks: Hillary Rodham Clinton’s ‘Hard Choices’

In 1969, the night before a Wellesley College senior named Hillary Rodham gave a commencement address that would draw national attention, she was introduced to Dean Acheson, the legendary former secretary of state who had come to campus for his granddaughter’s graduation. “I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say,” Acheson told Rodham. At the time, many in the country were looking forward to hearing what Acheson had to say. He had just put the finishing touches on “Present at the Creation,” his landmark memoir that would come out a few months after his encounter with the young Rodham, providing a seminal portrait of his role in helping Harry S. Truman forge a new national security architecture at the outset of the Cold War.

Forty-five years later, Hillary Rodham Clinton has delivered a memoir about her own time in the job Acheson once occupied. But “Hard Choices” is no “Present at the Creation.” Where Acheson offered a bracing, at times blunt, account of his four years as secretary of state — he eviscerated his wartime predecessor, Cordell Hull, and titled one chapter about Congress “The Attack of the Primitives Begins” — Clinton has opted for a safe and unchallenging volume, full of bromides and talking points.

To its credit, Clinton’s memoir is serious, sober and substantive. What it is not is revealing. Taking the reader along on her journey representing the United States as President Obama’s top diplomat, she provides a sophisticated analysis of many of the world’s most complicated hot spots, but no analysis of one of the world’s most complicated political figures. We learn about the progress of Botswana and the challenges facing the Democratic Republic of Congo, but we learn little about Hillary Clinton.

To compare “Hard Choices” with “Present at the Creation” may be unrealistic. Acheson was done with his career and wrote for history. Clinton is not and has not. Much as we may yearn for her to pull back the mask after more than two decades on the national stage, that’s hardly a practical expectation for someone with the Oval Office still on her to-do list. So perhaps it’s more fitting to compare her memoir not with the diplomatic histories of other secretaries of state but with the pre-campaign books of other would-be presidents. In that context, “Hard Choices” stands a cut above. It certainly demonstrates a greater mastery of the world than, say, “The Audacity of Hope,” by Barack Obama, or “A Charge to Keep,” by George W. Bush.

No fair-minded reader could finish this book and doubt Clinton’s essential command of the issues, whatever one might think of her solutions for them. She roams widely and delves into war and peace, terrorism and Russia, economic development and women’s rights. She knows the players and the history. If nothing else, she implicitly makes the case that if she were to occupy the Oval Office there would be no need for the kind of on-the-job training in foreign policy required by the last three presidents, including one she happens to know well.

Hers is a cold-eyed view of international affairs. “Our relationship with Pakistan was strictly transactional,” she writes, “based on mutual interest, not trust.” The administration’s demand that Israel stop building settlements “didn’t work.” And the desire to abandon autocrats like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was unwise: “Were we really ready to walk away from that relationship after 30 years of cooperation?”

In some ways, we do learn about one side of Clinton, the earnest wonk genuinely absorbed by the environmental and health implications of cookstoves in the developing world. When she devotes three pages to Mongolia, it’s because she finds each of the places she visits fascinating in its own way, as anyone who has traveled with her knows. Indeed, she devoted three pages to Mongolia in her last book, “Living History,” about her time as first lady. But she gives little sense of the other side of the Clinton story, of the politics and the ambition that drove her to the verge of the presidency. She discusses how her husband ordered missile strikes on Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in 1998 without mentioning that it happened just after he admitted his affair with Monica Lewinsky and she was making him sleep on the couch. She gives little sense of the darker corners of Hillaryland, as her aides took to calling her world — a world characterized at times by feuding courtiers who vie with opponents, reporters and one another.

Even when she flavors the narrative with a little revelation, the portions are stingy. She got into “a shouting match” with Leon Panetta, then the C.I.A. director, over a proposed drone strike, but doesn’t say which one, who prevailed or why she dissented. She supported the military operation in Libya over the objections of Vice President Biden and Robert Gates, then the defense secretary, but doesn’t take us into the Situation Room to hear the debate. Indeed, much to the relief of the White House, she stays resolutely away from the sort of candor that marked Gates’s own recent memoir. In his book, for instance, Gates reported that he and Clinton tried unsuccessfully to get rid of Karl Eikenberry, the ambassador to Afghanistan, and Douglas Lute, the White House coordinator for Afghanistan. “I’ve had it,” he quoted her saying. Clinton makes no mention of that. When she discusses internal debates, her adversaries are often vaguely described as “some of the president’s advisers.” There’s no score-settling here.

While Gates entitled his memoir “Duty,” Clinton might have called hers “Dutiful.” Every box that needs checking has been filled. Latin America? Check. Benghazi? Check. The book demonstrates that in at least one way she’s ready to be president — it amounts to a 600-page State of the Union address, in which every constituency and every issue receives due mention.

Clinton traveled to 112 countries as secretary of state, more than any of her predecessors, and she seemshillary-clinton-hard-choices determined to cite each one of them. (The index lists 105, but missed some she mentions, like Belarus, Brunei and Nepal.) At times, “Hard Choices” feels like the book you might have gotten by picking up your iPhone and asking Siri to write a politically safe memoir. “All the set-piece speeches and procedural mumbo-jumbo can often be deadly boring,” she concedes at one point.

If “Living History” left readers wanting to know more about the author’s relationship with the 42nd president, this new book leaves us wanting to know more about her relationship with the 44th. Unlike Acheson, Clinton had the challenge of forging a partnership with the man who beat her for the presidential nomination and then asked her to serve in his cabinet. By all accounts, she did a remarkable job of overcoming that history, and yet she doesn’t tell us how she did it or dwell on whatever personal or political trade-offs must have been involved.

Barack Obama is a peripheral figure in “Hard Choices.” Meeting with him just after their nomination battle was “like two teenagers on an awkward first date,” she allows, without much elaboration. He “took me to the woodshed” over impolitic comments by her special envoy to Egypt after he left office, she writes, without letting us hear Obama’s voice. They disagreed at pivotal moments — on cutting Mubarak loose, on arming Syrian rebels — but she mentions them only gently.

Clinton’s overarching philosophy as secretary of state seems primarily to involve engagement and hard work, the idea that showing up is as important as any treaty or ideology. Perseverance matters. Sometimes this pays off, as with the pressure campaign that eventually forced Iran to slow its nuclear program, temporarily at least. At times, though, this approach seems maddeningly inconclusive, as when Clinton works two mobile phones in the back of a car to hold together a peace deal between Armenia and Turkey, only to have it fall apart again later. She finds solace in the hope that someday the groundwork she laid will yield the breakthroughs that eluded her.

Rather than putting in place a new foreign policy, as Acheson did, Clinton portrays her tenure as a transition period and herself as just one runner in a relay race, passing along the baton. Acheson won a Pulitzer Prize for his memoir. Clinton seems to have a bigger prize in mind.

Book Review: Hillary Clinton’s Book ‘Hard Choices’


June 9, 2014