Series of Errrors by MALAYSIA mounts complicating th task of Finding MH370

March, 15, 2014

READ: Series of Errrors by MALAYSIA mounts complicating th task of Finding MH370

SEPANG, Malaysia — The radar blip that was Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 did a wide U-turn over the Gulf of Thailand and then began moving inexorably past at least three military radar arrays as it traversed northern Malaysia, even flying high over one of the country’s biggest cities before heading out over the Strait of Malacca.

Yet inside a Malaysian Air Force control room on the country’s west coast, where American-made F-18s and F-5 fighters stood at a high level of readiness for emergencies exactly like the one unfolding in the early morning of March 8, a four-person air defense radar crew did nothing about the unauthorized flight. “The watch team never noticed the blip,” said a person with detailed knowledge of the investigation into Flight 370. “It was as though the airspace was his.”

It was not the first and certainly not the last in a long series of errors by the Malaysian government that has made the geographically vast and technologically complex task of finding the $50 million Malaysia Airlines jet far more difficult.

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Reconstructing the Plane’s Path

The main communications systems of the Malaysia Airlines plane were turned off about 40 minutes into the flight, forcing investigators to try to piece together the plane’s location from other systems.


Secondary Radar and Text Updates

Air traffic controllers typically know a plane’s location based on what is called secondary radar, which requests information from the plane’s transponder. A plane also uses radio or satellite signals to send regular updates through ACARS, the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System. Both of those systems were turned off.

Primary Radar

Two Malaysian military radar stations tracked a plane using primary radar, which sends out radio signals and listens for echoes that bounce off objects in the sky. Primary radar does not require a plane to have a working transponder.


Satellite Communications

If ACARS updates are turned off, the plane still sends a “keep-alive” signal, that can be received by satellites. The signal does not indicate location, but it can help to narrow down the plane’s position. A satellite picked up four or five signals from the airliner, about one per hour, after it left the range of military radar.

A week after the plane disappeared, the trail is even colder as the search now sprawls from the snowy peaks of the Himalayas to the empty expanses of the southern Indian Ocean. Nobody knows yet whether the delays cost the lives of any of the 239 people who boarded the flight to Beijing at Kuala Lumpur’s ultramodern airport here. But the mistakes have accumulated at a remarkable pace.

“The fact that it flew straight over Malaysia, without the Malaysian military identifying it, is just plain weird — not just weird, but also very damning and tragic,” said David Learmount, the operations and safety editor for Flightglobal, a news and data service for the aviation sector.

Senior Malaysian military officers became aware within hours of the radar data once word spread that a civilian airliner had vanished. The Malaysian government nonetheless organized and oversaw an expensive and complex international search effort in the Gulf of Thailand that lasted for a full week. Only on Saturday morning did Prime Minister Najib Razak finally shut it down after admitting what had already been widely reported in the news media: Satellite data showed that the engines on the missing plane had continued to run for nearly six more hours after it left Malaysian airspace.

Finding the plane and figuring out what happened to it is now a far more daunting task than if the plane had been intercepted. If the aircraft ended up in the southern Indian Ocean, as some aviation experts now suggest, then floating debris could have subsequently drifted hundreds of miles, making it extremely hard to figure out where the cockpit voice and data recorders sank.

And because the recorders keep only the last two hours of cockpit conversation, even the aircraft’s recorders may hold few secrets.

With so much uncertainty about the flight, it is not yet possible to know whether any actions by the Malaysian government or military could have altered its fate. Responding to a storm of criticism, particularly from China, whose citizens made up two-thirds of the passengers, Mr. Najib took pains in a statement early Saturday afternoon to say that Malaysia had not concealed information, including military data.

“We have shared information in real time with authorities who have the necessary experience to interpret the data,” he said, reading aloud a statement in English at a news conference. “We have been working nonstop to assist the investigation, and we have put our national security second to the search for the missing plane.”

Malaysia Airlines issued a similarly defensive statement late Saturday afternoon. “Given the nature of the situation and its extreme sensitivity, it was critical that the raw satellite signals were verified and analyzed by the relevant authorities so that their significance could be properly understood,” the airline said. “This naturally took some time, during which we were unable to publicly confirm their existence.”

Aviation experts said that a trained pilot would be the most obvious person to have carried out a complicated scheme involving the plane. Yet for a week after the plane’s disappearance, Malaysian law enforcement authorities said that their investigation did not include searching the home of the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

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Estimated range of plane with its remaining fuel if it was flying at the plane’s maximum speed:






60 min. of fuel

20 min.


Approx. area within the top and bottom 20-min. ranges:

2 million square miles








Approx. time
after takeoff



+40 min. Last contact with civilian radar.

First week

search area


Kuala Lumpur airport

+1 hour 34 min. Last contact with military radar.


Position of satellite that received last known signal

from plane.

+7.5 hours Red arcs represent possible positions of plane when it transmitted last signal to satellite.


Plane may have flown up to another hour after its last satellite transmission.


On Saturday afternoon, the police were seen entering the gated community where Mr. Zaharie was said to have lived, and Malaysian news media reported that they had searched his home. The police declined to comment, and it is not known whether the authorities made any effort to secure Mr. Zaharie’s home and prevent any destruction of evidence over the past week.

Mr. Najib said on Saturday that “the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board,” but Mr. Zaharie has not been accused of any wrongdoing. No information has been released yet on whether the homes of the co-pilot or flight attendants might be searched.

Even before the plane took off, Malaysian immigration officials had already allowed onto the plane at least two people using passports that had been logged into a global database as stolen, although there is no evidence that either person carrying a stolen passport was involved in diverting the plane.

A British Royal Air Force base in the colonial era, the Malaysian air force base at Butterworth sits on the mainland across from the island of Penang at the northern reaches of the Strait of Malacca. There, in the early morning hours of March 8, the four-person crew watching for intrusions into the country’s airspace either did not notice or failed to report a blip on their defensive radar and air traffic radar that was moving steadily across the country from east to west, heading right toward them, said the person with knowledge of the matter.

Neither that team nor the crews at two other radar installations at Kota Bharu, closer to where the airliner last had contact with the ground, designated the blip as an unknown intruder warranting attention, the person said. The aircraft proceeded to fly across the country and out to sea without anyone on watch telling a superior and alerting the national defense command near Kuala Lumpur, even though the radar contact’s flight path did not correspond to any filed flight plan.

As a result, combat aircraft never scrambled to investigate. The plane, identified at the time by Mr. Najib as Flight 370, passed directly over Penang, a largely urban state with more than 1.6 million people, then turned and headed out over the Strait of Malacca.

The existence of the radar contact was discovered only when military officials began reviewing tapes later in the morning on March 8, after the passenger jet failed to arrive in Beijing. It was already becoming clear that morning, only hours after the unauthorized flyover, that something had gone very wrong. Tapes from both the Butterworth and Kota Bharu bases showed the radar contact arriving from the area of the last known position of Flight 370, the person familiar with the investigation said.

Gen. Rodzali Daud, the commander of Malaysia’s Air Force, publicly acknowledged the existence of the radar signals for the first time on Wednesday, well into the fifth day after the plane’s disappearance. He emphasized that further analysis was necessary because the radar plots of the aircraft’s location were stripped of the identifying information given by the plane’s onboard transponders, which someone aboard the aircraft appeared to have turned off.

The failure to identify Flight 370’s errant course meant that a chance to send military aircraft to identify and redirect the jet, a Boeing 777, was lost. And for five days the crews on an armada of search vessels, including two American warships, focused the bulk of their attention in the waters off Malaysia’s east coast, far from the plane’s actual path.

General Rodzali went to the Butterworth air force base the day that the plane disappeared and was told of the radar blips, the person familiar with the investigation said. The Malaysian government nonetheless assigned most of its search and rescue resources, as well as ships and aircraft offered by other nations, to a search of the Gulf of Thailand where the aircraft’s satellite transponder was turned off, while allocating minimal attention to the Strait of Malacca on the other, western side of Peninsular Malaysia.

Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Sepang, Nicola Clark from Paris, and Matthew L. Wald from Washington.

A version of this article appears in print on March 16, 2014, on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Series of Missteps by Malaysia Mounts, Complicating the Task of Finding Flight 370.

Amid Search for Plane, Malaysian Leaders Face Rare Scrutiny

Asia Pacific

Amid Search for Plane, Malaysian Leaders Face Rare Scrutiny


SEPANG, Malaysia — Malaysia’s governing elite has clung to power without interruption since independence from Britain almost six decades ago through a combination of tight control of information, intimidation of the opposition and, until recently, robust economic growth.

But worldwide bafflement at the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has challenged the country’s paternalistic political culture and exposed its coddled leaders to the withering judgments of critics from around the world.

Civilian and military leaders on Wednesday revealed that they had known for the past four days, but did not publicly disclose, that military radar had picked up signals of what may have been the missing aircraft. It appeared to be flying on a westerly course sharply off its intended flight path to Beijing.

If the radar readings were from the missing plane, it could mean a radical reinterpretation of where it ended up. And it was only under a barrage of intense questioning on Wednesday from a room packed with reporters who had arrived from many countries that officials acknowledged that the last recorded radar plot point showed the jet flying in the direction of the Indian Ocean — and at a cruising altitude, suggesting it could have flown much farther.

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Detecting a Plane

Two kinds of radar are used to keep track of air traffic from the ground.

Primary radar

Sends out radio signals and listens for echoes that bounce back from objects in the sky.


Secondary radar

Sends signals that request information from the plane’s transponder. The plane sends back information including its identification and altitude. The radar repeatedly sweeps the sky and interrogates the transponder. Other planes in flight can also receive the transponder signals.

That raised the question of why the information had not been released earlier.

“The world is finally feeling the frustration that we’ve been experiencing for years,” said Lee Ee May, a management consultant and a former aide to a Malaysian opposition politician.

Ms. Lee said she was embarrassed when the country’s Defense Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, the scion of a powerful political family, rejected a reporter’s assertion on Wednesday that the search for the airplane had been disordered.

“It’s only confusion if you want it to be seen to be confusion,” Mr. Hishammuddin said at a news conference that unfolded before an international audience.

Relatively free from natural disasters and other calamities, Malaysia has had little experience with handling a crisis on this scale. It is also an ethnically polarized society where talent often does not rise to the top of government because of patronage politics within the ruling party and a system of ethnic preferences that discourages or blocks the country’s minorities, mainly ethnic Chinese and Indians, from government service.

Ethnic Malays, who make up about half of the population, hold nearly all top government positions and receive a host of government preferences because of their status as “sons of the soil.”

Authoritarian laws have helped keep the governing party, the United Malays National Organization, in power — and an ascendant opposition in check.

The day before Flight 370 disappeared, the leader of the opposition, Anwar Ibrahim, was sentenced to five years under a sodomy law that is almost never enforced. Critics called the case an effort to block the opposition’s rise at a time when the governing party’s popularity is waning.

Then on Tuesday, a court convicted Karpal Singh, another opposition politician, of sedition, a law enacted in colonial times.

“We call it persecution, not prosecution,” said Ambiga Sreenevasan, a lawyer and the former head of the Malaysian Bar Council.

The government is accustomed to getting its way, and the crisis surrounding the missing plane is holding officials accountable in ways unfamiliar to them, Ms. Ambiga said.

“Malaysians have come to accept that their leaders don’t answer questions,” she said. “When you are not seriously challenged in any meaningful way, of course you get complacent and comfortable.”

For a relatively prosperous country of 30 million people that is less well known internationally than neighboring countries like Thailand and Singapore, the government’s confused efforts at finding the missing jetliner are an awkward and undesired appearance on the world stage.

The crisis has led to introspection about why the government has appeared uncoordinated and unable to pin down seemingly basic facts about the missing flight.

Officials insisted for three days that baggage was removed from the flight before takeoff when five passengers did not board. But the country’s chief of police on Tuesday said that was false: Everyone who checked in boarded the plane, he said. No explanation was given for the conflicting accounts.

Ibrahim Suffian, the Director of the Merdeka Center, an independent polling company, said the response to the crisis had underlined a lack of precision both in government and in the society over all.

“There’s a tolerance for a lack of attentiveness to detail,” he said. “You have a tendency of not asking so much and not expecting so much.”

The crisis also highlighted a lack of competence in government that Mr. Ibrahim said was related to a deference to authority and reluctance to take initiative. “There’s always been a kind of wait-for-instructions-from-the-top attitude,” he said.

Yet amid the criticism of the rescue efforts there was also an acknowledgment that the plane’s disappearance was so unusual that perhaps no government would be fully prepared for it.

“This is almost a unique situation,” said Ramon Navaratnam, a Harvard-trained economist and a former Malaysian senior civil servant. “Anyone would be caught off guard.”

For now, the Malaysian authorities are stuck in the unenviable position of hearing many questions but having few answers.

“They have never faced pressure to perform like this,” said Ms. Lee, the management consultant. “But now international eyes are on them, and they have nowhere to hide.”

A version of this article appears in print on March 13, 2014, on page A11 of the New York edition with the headline: Leaders in Malaysia Face Unusual Scrutiny.

Mishaps Mar Malaysia’s Handling of Flight Tragedy

Mishaps Mar Malaysia’s Handling of Flight Tragedy

Critics furious over crossed signals from government officials as search grows more confused

MH370 rescueMiscues and media gaffes are turning Malaysia into an object of anger and criticism in the aftermath of the disappearance early Saturday morning of a Malaysian Airlines jetliner carrying 239 passengers and crew. 

No trace of the craft has been found despite a search encompassing thousands of square kilometers.  On Wednesday, the day was dominated by confusion over reports that the aircraft might have attempted to head back toward Malaysia before it disappeared.

Malaysia’s air force chief told reporters very early Wednesday that the plane had veered off course. Later in the morning, the same officer denied the report sharply. By Wednesday afternoon, the government seemed to reverse itself again, requesting assistance from India in searching the Andaman Sea, north of the Malacca Strait, where the plane may have gone down far from the current search area off the coast of Vietnam.

Officials finally said the plane “may” have been heading toward the Strait of Malacca when it disappeared and that the search was now also concentrated in that area.

Hishamuddin HusseinOther countries have grown frustrated.  The Chinese, with 152 passengers on board, have complained about a lack of transparency over details. They have also complained that Malaysian Airlines staff handling relatives of the victims in Beijing have been short of information and in many cases don’t speak Mandarin.

From the start, according to critics, the Malaysians have treated the disappearance and ensuing inconsistencies as a local problem instead of one that has focused the attention of the entire world’s media on the tragedy. In a semi-democratic country with a largely supine domestic media, the government insists it has the situation in hand but that hardly seems the case.

Often, those giving press briefings about the affair communicate badly in English to an international press whose lingua franca is English.  Because of widely differing reports of where the aircraft actually disappeared, the picture being delivered is one of incompetence. Networks like the BBC and CNN are openly declaring that the post-accident situation is a mess.

Some of it isn’t Malaysia’s fault.  An initial report that two possible hijackers using fake passports somehow got through the country’s passport control because of lax surveillance turned out to be false.  While the two were traveling on false passports, apparently the stolen documents had never been reported to Interpol, which tracks such incidents.  The pair turned out to be Iranians seeking asylum in Europe.  

But that wasn’t helped by the fact that Malaysian authorities originally said erroneously that as many as four to five people could have been traveling with suspect passports, raising the possibility of a fully-fledged hijack gang aboard.

But five days into the loss of the aircraft and with no idea of where it could have disappeared, there is growing concern over who is in charge, coupled with the fact that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has largely removed himself from the picture, allowing his cousin, Hishammuddin Hussein, the defense minister and acting transport minister, to deal with the affair. 

International treaties that allow for Malaysia to greatly expand the probe by calling in experts from foreign governments to help were not invoked until Wednesday, it seems, when it was reported that US and other foreign experts had finally been invited to take part in the formal investigation. It seemed again that valuable time had been lost.

Much of the problem is due to the fact that the Malaysian government has habitually handled information as a problem rather than as a means of communication. The mainstream news media are all owned by the ruling political parties and are used to being fed information the government wants them to hear.  Government-owned MAS at one point issued a press release only to recall it twice because of misspellings and misinformation.

In a deeply divided political culture, especially in the last year as the opposition has grown more effective, the government is finding it difficult to manage the flow of information on a disaster. In addition, in the midst of this flight crisis the government is seeming preoccupied by court actions to drive two opposition leaders, Anwar Ibrahim of  Parti Keadilan Rakyat, and Karpal Singh of the Democratic Action Party, out of Parliament.

At the start, the plane was characterized as having simply gone off the radar – until Wednesday, when a report carried in Berita Harian, a government-controlled Malay-language newspaper, quoted Air Force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud as saying Malaysian radar had tracked the missing Boeing 777-200 turning left from its last known location on radar. It then supposedly crossed Malaysia itself and disappeared over the Strait of Malacca.

The report set off a frenzy. CNN and the BBC carried maps of the new possible crash site as it was reported that the massive search for the wreckage had shifted to the waters between Malaysia and Indonesia instead of the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam.

Then the report was emphatically denied by Daud, who told a press conference that “I wish to state that I did not make any such statements as above.”

CNN, however,  quoted an unnamed “senior air force source” as saying the plane indeed had shown up on radar for more than an hour after contact was lost at around 1:30 a.m. Saturday. The craft was last detected, according to the official, near Pulau Perak, a small island in the Strait of Malacca.  

Has four days been wasted by a huge flotilla of airplanes and ships that have been scouring the South China Sea for wreckage while the plane might actually be somewhere 900 km. to the west?  The Vietnamese announced they were suspending their participation in the search. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang on Tuesday complained about the lack of progress in finding the plane, saying “We once again request and urge the Malaysia side to enhance and strengthen rescue and searching efforts.”  The Chinese government itself is starting to feel the heat, offering to deploy 10 satellites in the effort to find the plane.

The crisis wasn’t helped any by a sensational revelation from Australia by a young South African woman that she and a friend had once ridden in the cockpit of an MAS flight from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur at the invitation of the missing co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, and had pictures of themselves flirting with the pilots, who were even smoking in the cockpit, to prove it.

Since 9/11 in the United States, airline regulations forbid anyone not part of the crew from gaining access to the cockpit. If nothing else, the story and the pictures are an indication of lax flight deck discipline and raise questions if someone could have got into the pilots’ cabin aboard MH370. 


Hishamuddin, RMH370:Resign and Spare US International Embarassment

March 14, 2014

Hishamuddin, Resign and Spare US International Embarassment

by Reuters@

One of the world’s most perplexing aviation mysteries is casting a harsh spotlight on Malaysia’s government, as a leadership unused to heavy scrutiny comes under intense international criticism for a litany of confusing messages and a perceived lack of transparency.

Hishamuddin HusseinFive days after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared from civilian radar screens, a huge international search operation has failed to turn up a trace of the Boeing jetliner that was carrying 239 passengers and crew.

Frustration over the fruitless search has increasingly been directed at Malaysian officials after a series of fumbling news conferences, incorrect details given by the national airline and civil aviation authority, and a long delay in divulging details of the military’s tracking of what could have been the plane hundreds of miles off course.

The missteps have ranged from conflicting information about the last time of contact with the jet to the sharing of photos of two passengers in which they had the same pair of legs.

“The Malaysians deserve to be criticised – their handling of this has been atrocious,” said Ernest Bower, a Southeast Asia specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.Government officials say they are coping as best they can with an exceptional, highly complex crisis.

Confusion, false leads, and misinformation are common in the initial hours of air disasters in any country.

But China, whose citizens made up around two-thirds of the passengers on board the flight, has barely hidden its impatience with Malaysia, urging it several times to step up the search and investigation efforts.

The head of the Civil Aviation Authority of China, Li Jiaxiang, told reporters today that the message had been repeated to Malaysia’s special envoy in the Chinese capital.

“Yesterday, Malaysia’s special envoy arrived in Beijing, and the CAAC asked of him that Malaysia step up search efforts and increase their scope, and that we hope that Malaysia’s information release and communication can be smoother,” he said.

Families angry

Some families of the up to 154 missing Chinese have voiced fury at what they said was the slow release of information. Verbal abuse and water bottles were hurled at representatives of the government-owned airline in Beijing.

“The core of Malaysia’s information hasn’t been consistent from start to finish,” said China’s widely read and influential Global Times tabloid, published by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily.

“It certainly hits at the confidence that the rest of the world has in Malaysia’s ability to be the nucleus of the rescue mission,” the paper added.

Other governments have praised the Malaysian effort, but some officials have complained of a lack of communication and information sharing that has slowed initial fact-finding.

US officials said Malaysia’s failure to disclose the military’s radar tracking data until days after the plane’s disappearance meant important evidence may have disappeared.

“The lack of communication about what is going on is catastrophic,” said one Western regulatory source, asking not to be identified. “We are in the fourth dimension here.”

Communication deficit

Malaysia’s government, one of the longest-serving in the democratic world with the same coalition in power for the 57 years since independence, has struggled to cope with the harsh glare of international scrutiny.

The rulingUMNO has long been criticised, including by some of its own members, for cronyism, an authoritarian streak and breeding a political culture in which loyalty is prized over talent.

Majority ethnic Malays have benefited from a system of economic and social privileges that has steadily alienated ethnic Chinese and Indians, who make up large minorities in the nation of 29 million people.

Just a day before the plane vanished, a court convicted opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy and sentenced him to five years in prison, overturning his acquittal two years ago in a ruling that supporters and international human rights groups say was politically influenced.

Ministries often meet requests for information or interviews with silence.

“There was a lot of confusion on the first and second days of this incident,” a senior Malaysian Defence Official with knowledge of the operations told Reuters.

“A lot of permissioning, especially when you start sharing information with other ministries in government. I admit there is a lot of bureaucracy and we were slow.”

Malaysia’s response has been overseen personally by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who put his cousin – the defence and acting transport minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein – in charge of day-to-day operations and interaction with the media.

“This is unique what we are going through,” Hishamuddin told reporters at a Wednesday news conference, batting away their complaints over a lack of transparency. “Coordinating with so many countries is not easy.”

The frequency of news conferences given to hundreds of reporters now massed at a hotel next to the international airport has dwindled sharply since the first day. The delayed briefing on Wednesday evening was the first to give details on the search operation in two days.

Confusion from start

The confusion began hours after the flight vanished from air traffic control radar early on Saturday morning. Malaysian Airlines initially said the plane lost contact at 2.40am, two hours after its departure. Hours later, it corrected the time to 1.30am.

As details emerged that some passengers had boarded the flight using stolen passports, Malaysia’s Home Minister was quoted by state news agency Bernama as saying that two men travelling on Italian and Austrian documents had “Asian faces”.

That was denied by Hishamuddin, and the muddle deepened when Malaysia’s aviation chief attempted a confusing analogy with the black Italian footballer Mario Balotelli.

The men turned out to be Iranians who were not suspected of being connected with the disappearance of the plane.

On Tuesday, police displayed pictures of the two in which their legs appeared exactly the same, sparking speculation of a cover-up. Police later said this was a photocopying error, according to local media.

The Arrogant IGPInspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar flatly denied a statement by the Civil Aviation hief that there were five passengers who checked-in for the flight and did not board. Malaysia Airlines later clarified there had been four passengers who did not show up at the airport for the flight.

Perhaps the greatest confusion was generated by the Malaysian military’s revelation on Sunday that the plane may have turned back from its scheduled path off Malaysia’s east coast before disappearing.

Officials did not give more details on the suspected “turnback” until Wednesday, leaving a gap that was filled by speculation the government was hiding something and doubts over whether the search was being conducted in the right place.

On Wednesday, officials confirmed they tracked an unidentified aircraft into the Malacca Strait, hundreds of miles and off the opposite coast from where the jet went missing.

Bowers, the Southeast Asia specialist, said Malaysia’s apparent mishandling of the situation could have long-term strategic consequences in a region where China’s economic and military might is growing rapidly.

“They have no maritime domain awareness and it doesn’t look like they have a strong command and control structure and they’re not well coordinated with friends. Sadly, that’s what the MH370 situation demonstrates,” he said of Malaysia.

“It’s not good and it fits in with the narrative I believe is forming in Beijing that China should and needs to take control.” – Reuters, March 13, 2014.

Stand Up for Democracy And Stand By Anwar Against Kelptocracy

March 7, 2014

Stand Up for Democracy,Freedom, Justice And Stand By Anwar Against Kleptocracy 

Stand Up for each other, Pakatan Rakyat.  Fight for freedom, democracy and justice. We have no option. Today’s Court of A Appeal decision makes Anwar the driving force for change in our country.  Let us not feel dejected. Our fight goes on against the dark forces of repression, arrogance, oppression; and like Badwawi’s supression, Najib will fall on the count of three.–Din Merican

by Josh

TDMBaruFor nearly 16 years now, Malaysian politics has been stuck in skullduggery just because one influential and popular individual by the name of Anwar Ibrahim was – and is – determined to challenge UMNO’s hegemony embodied by Mahathir Mohamad’s autocracy.

The sodomy issue is like a sword of Damocles that hangs forever over Anwar’s head. When he was acquitted for the first time over Sodomy II back in January 2012, some were quick to attribute the verdict to a restoration of judicial integrity. How premature the conclusion was, I would say.

Although there have been cases where justice was seen to be done, including a series of decisions against UMNO mouthpieces such as Utusan Malaysia and TV3, it would seem that the Judiciary remains very much beholden to the powers-that-be whenever the latter’s ultimate authority is severely challenged.

In other words, as long as the opposition adhered to the rules of the game laid down by UMNO and played its role within the permitted boundaries, it was allowed to survive but not to thrive.

Until, of course, the power of reformasi was unleashed by Anwar and turned the UMNO game upside down. Since then, the party that claims to represent the Malays has been fighting tooth and nail to stay relevant.

Still, neither Mahathir nor Najib Abdul Razak ever doubts the sodomy trump card that they have, alongside the advantages that UMNO holds as the ruling party. While Najib grudgingly accepted the not-so-splendid outcome of the 13th general election, he was privately relieved that more than sufficient time had been secured for him to say in power.

But Najib’s fortunes started to dwindle in no time as the costs of living were rising as a result of his hastily implemented economic measures.

At the same time, Mahathir and his cohorts cashed in on the increasingly discontents at the grassroots level by attacking Najib’s lacklustre performance, although the ex-dictator is never under the illusion that every act of defiance on his part is meant to soothe his immense grievances over his son’s failure to make it to UMNO’s top leadership.

So Najib was on the verge of repeating what Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had gone through – an ignominious exit that was.

Anwar-KajangAt this juncture, Anwar pre-empted Najib with the Kajang Offensive, seeking to regain the momentum that was clearly lost post-GE13.

All at a sudden, the public’s zeal for a regime change was aroused, posing a serious threat to UMNO’s legitimacy once again.

Should Anwar win big in Kajang, it would deal further blow to Najib’s diminishing authority within the party and nationwide.

Talk of reconciliation

Prior to this, there had been talk of reconciliation, with both sides of the political divides seemingly warming up to the idea.

I had chastised Anwar in no uncertain terms over the overtures that he had been making towards UMNO for the simple reason that the party that has ruined each and every public institution over the last 30 years and trampled on our national dignity time and again can never be trusted as a partner.

Then Anwar appeared to have changed his mind and decided to go on the offensive. But his Kajang strategy was interpreted by Najib as a betrayal on the consensus between them, which explains the rush to move the Sodomy II appeal forward to stop Anwar from getting closer to assuming a greater role in politics.

A calculative politician, Najib most probably decided to finish Anwar off by sending him to jail so that he gets to keep Putrajaya, while simultaneously appeasing Mahathir.

Yes, the Kajang Move has clearly backfired and one can go on arguing whether it was ethnical or justifiable from the very beginning. However, the very cruel reality remains that Umno is so arrogant and powerful that judges must disregard all the evidence and convict its opponents on the shakiest grounds.

Mahathir is the happiest man for now, but the country and the people will eventually pay for his and Umno’s perfidy unless a new generation of Malaysians are prepared to rise up against all the injustices.

What’s Gone wrong with Democracy And how to revive it

March 5, 2014

What’s Gone wrong with Democracy And how to revive it

THE protesters who have overturned the politics of Ukraine have many aspirations for their country. Their placards called for closer relations with the European Union (EU), an end to Russian intervention in Ukraine’s politics and the establishment of a clean government to replace the kleptocracy of President Viktor Yanukovych. But their fundamental demand is one that has motivated people over many decades to take a stand against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments. They want a rules-based democracy.--The The Economist

THE protesters who have overturned the politics of Ukraine have many aspirations for their country. Their placards called for closer relations with the European Union (EU), an end to Russian intervention in Ukraine’s politics and the establishment of a clean government to replace the kleptocracy of President Viktor Yanukovych. But their fundamental demand is one that has motivated people over many decades to take a stand against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments. They want a rules-based democracy.

It is easy to understand why. Democracies are on average richer than non-democracies, are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption. More fundamentally, democracy lets people speak their minds and shape their own and their children’s futures. That so many people in so many different parts of the world are prepared to risk so much for this idea is testimony to its enduring appeal.

Yet these days the exhilaration generated by events like those in Kiev is mixed with anxiety, for a troubling pattern has repeated itself in capital after capital. The people mass in the main square. Regime-sanctioned thugs try to fight back but lose their nerve in the face of popular intransigence and global news coverage. The world applauds the collapse of the regime and offers to help build a democracy. But turfing out an autocrat turns out to be much easier than setting up a viable democratic government. The new regime stumbles, the economy flounders and the country finds itself in a state at least as bad as it was before. This is what happened in much of the Arab spring, and also in Ukraine’s Orange revolution a decade ago. In 2004 Mr Yanukovych was ousted from office by vast street protests, only to be re-elected to the presidency (with the help of huge amounts of Russian money) in 2010, after the opposition politicians who replaced him turned out to be just as hopeless.

Democracy is going through a difficult time. Where autocrats have been driven out of office, their opponents have mostly failed to create viable democratic regimes. Even in established democracies, flaws in the system have become worryingly visible and disillusion with politics is rife. Yet just a few years ago democracy looked as though it would dominate the world.

In the second half of the 20th century, democracies had taken root in the most difficult circumstances possible—in Germany, which had been traumatised by Nazism, in India, which had the world’s largest population of poor people, and, in the 1990s, in South Africa, which had been disfigured by apartheid. Decolonialisation created a host of new democracies in Africa and Asia, and autocratic regimes gave way to democracy in Greece (1974), Spain (1975), Argentina (1983), Brazil (1985) and Chile (1989). The collapse of the Soviet Union created many fledgling democracies in central Europe. By 2000 Freedom House, an American think-tank, classified 120 countries, or 63% of the world total, as democracies.

Representatives of more than 100 countries gathered at the World Forum on Democracy in Warsaw that year to proclaim that “the will of the people” was “the basis of the authority of government”. A report issued by America’s State Department declared that having seen off “failed experiments” with authoritarian and totalitarian forms of government, “it seems that now, at long last, democracy is triumphant.”

Such hubris was surely understandable after such a run of successes. But stand farther back and the triumph of democracy looks rather less inevitable. After the fall of Athens, where it was first developed, the political model had lain dormant until the Enlightenment more than 2,000 years later. In the 18th century only the American revolution produced a sustainable democracy. During the 19th century monarchists fought a prolonged rearguard action against democratic forces. In the first half of the 20th century nascent democracies collapsed in Germany, Spain and Italy. By 1941 there were only 11 democracies left, and Franklin Roosevelt worried that it might not be possible to shield “the great flame of democracy from the blackout of barbarism”.

The progress seen in the late 20th century has stalled in the 21st. Even though around 40% of the world’s population, more people than ever before, live in countries that will hold free and fair elections this year, democracy’s global advance has come to a halt, and may even have gone into reverse. Freedom House reckons that 2013 was the eighth consecutive year in which global freedom declined, and that its forward march peaked around the beginning of the century. Between 1980 and 2000 the cause of democracy experienced only a few setbacks, but since 2000 there have been many. And democracy’s problems run deeper than mere numbers suggest. Many nominal democracies have slid towards autocracy, maintaining the outward appearance of democracy through elections, but without the rights and institutions that are equally important aspects of a functioning democratic system.

Faith in democracy flares up in moments of triumph, such as the overthrow of unpopular regimes in Cairo or Kiev, only to sputter out once again. Outside the West, democracy often advances only to collapse. And within the West, democracy has too often become associated with debt and dysfunction at home and overreach abroad. Democracy has always had its critics, but now old doubts are being treated with renewed respect as the weaknesses of democracy in its Western strongholds, and the fragility of its influence elsewhere, have become increasingly apparent. Why has democracy lost its forward momentum?

A statue of Stalin is carted away after the fall of the Soviet Union

The return of history

THE two main reasons are the financial crisis of 2007-08 and the rise of China. The damage the crisis did was psychological as well as financial. It revealed fundamental weaknesses in the West’s political systems, undermining the self-confidence that had been one of their great assets. Governments had steadily extended entitlements over decades, allowing dangerous levels of debt to develop, and politicians came to believe that they had abolished boom-bust cycles and tamed risk. Many people became disillusioned with the workings of their political systems—particularly when governments bailed out bankers with taxpayers’ money and then stood by impotently as financiers continued to pay themselves huge bonuses. The crisis turned the Washington consensus into a term of reproach across the emerging world.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party has broken the democratic world’s monopoly on economic progress. Larry Summers, of Harvard University, observes that when America was growing fastest, it doubled living standards roughly every 30 years. China has been doubling living standards roughly every decade for the past 30 years. The Chinese elite argue that their model—tight control by the Communist Party, coupled with a relentless effort to recruit talented people into its upper ranks—is more efficient than democracy and less susceptible to gridlock. The political leadership changes every decade or so, and there is a constant supply of fresh talent as party cadres are promoted based on their ability to hit targets.

China’s critics rightly condemn the government for controlling public opinion in all sorts of ways, from imprisoning dissidents to censoring internet discussions. Yet the regime’s obsession with control paradoxically means it pays close attention to public opinion. At the same time China’s leaders have been able to tackle some of the big problems of state-building that can take decades to deal with in a democracy. In just two years China has extended pension coverage to an extra 240m rural dwellers, for example—far more than the total number of people covered by America’s public-pension system.

Many Chinese are prepared to put up with their system if it delivers growth. The 2013 Pew Survey of Global Attitudes showed that 85% of Chinese were “very satisfied” with their country’s direction, compared with 31% of Americans. Some Chinese intellectuals have become positively boastful. Zhang Weiwei of Fudan University argues that democracy is destroying the West, and particularly America, because it institutionalises gridlock, trivialises decision-making and throws up second-rate presidents like George Bush junior. Yu Keping of Beijing University argues that democracy makes simple things “overly complicated and frivolous” and allows “certain sweet-talking politicians to mislead the people”. Wang Jisi, also of Beijing University, has observed that “many developing countries that have introduced Western values and political systems are experiencing disorder and chaos” and that China offers an alternative model. Countries from Africa (Rwanda) to the Middle East (Dubai) to South-East Asia (Vietnam) are taking this advice seriously.

Chart showing Russian opinion on democracy versus economy, 2002 to 2012

China’s advance is all the more potent in the context of a series of disappointments for democrats since 2000. The first great setback was in Russia. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the democratisation of the old Soviet Union seemed inevitable. In the 1990s Russia took a few drunken steps in that direction under Boris Yeltsin. But at the end of 1999 he resigned and handed power to Vladimir Putin, a former KGB operative who has since been both prime minister and president twice. This postmodern tsar has destroyed the substance of democracy in Russia, muzzling the press and imprisoning his opponents, while preserving the show—everyone can vote, so long as Mr Putin wins. Autocratic leaders in Venezuela, Ukraine, Argentina and elsewhere have followed suit, perpetuating a perverted simulacrum of democracy rather than doing away with it altogether, and thus discrediting it further.

The next big setback was the Iraq war. When Saddam Hussein’s fabled weapons of mass destruction failed to materialise after the American-led invasion of 2003, Mr Bush switched instead to justifying the war as a fight for freedom and democracy. “The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies’ defeat,” he argued in his second inaugural address. This was more than mere opportunism: Mr Bush sincerely believed that the Middle East would remain a breeding ground for terrorism so long as it was dominated by dictators. But it did the democratic cause great harm. Left-wingers regarded it as proof that democracy was just a figleaf for American imperialism. Foreign-policy realists took Iraq’s growing chaos as proof that American-led promotion of democratisation was a recipe for instability. And disillusioned neoconservatives such as Francis Fukuyama, an American political scientist, saw it as proof that democracy cannot put down roots in stony ground.

A third serious setback was Egypt. The collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011, amid giant protests, raised hopes that democracy would spread in the Middle East. But the euphoria soon turned to despair. Egypt’s ensuing elections were won not by liberal activists (who were hopelessly divided into a myriad of Pythonesque parties) but by Muhammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Mr Morsi treated democracy as a winner-takes-all system, packing the state with Brothers, granting himself almost unlimited powers and creating an upper house with a permanent Islamic majority. In July 2013 the army stepped in, arresting Egypt’s first democratically elected president, imprisoning leading members of the Brotherhood and killing hundreds of demonstrators. Along with war in Syria and anarchy in Libya, this has dashed the hope that the Arab spring would lead to a flowering of democracy across the Middle East.

Chart showing American approval rating on congress, 1974 to 2014

Meanwhile some recent recruits to the democratic camp have lost their lustre. Since the introduction of democracy in 1994 South Africa has been ruled by the same party, the African National Congress, which has become progressively more self-serving. Turkey, which once seemed to combine moderate Islam with prosperity and democracy, is descending into corruption and autocracy. In Bangladesh, Thailand and Cambodia, opposition parties have boycotted recent elections or refused to accept their results.

All this has demonstrated that building the institutions needed to sustain democracy is very slow work indeed, and has dispelled the once-popular notion that democracy will blossom rapidly and spontaneously once the seed is planted. Although democracy may be a “universal aspiration”, as Mr Bush and Tony Blair insisted, it is a culturally rooted practice. Western countries almost all extended the right to vote long after the establishment of sophisticated political systems, with powerful civil services and entrenched constitutional rights, in societies that cherished the notions of individual rights and independent judiciaries.

Anti-austerity protests in Greece, October 2010

Protestors against austerity confront riot police in Greece, October 2010

“Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”

Yet in recent years the very institutions that are meant to provide models for new democracies have come to seem outdated and dysfunctional in established ones. The United States has become a byword for gridlock, so obsessed with partisan point-scoring that it has come to the verge of defaulting on its debts twice in the past two years. Its democracy is also corrupted by gerrymandering, the practice of drawing constituency boundaries to entrench the power of incumbents. This encourages extremism, because politicians have to appeal only to the party faithful, and in effect disenfranchises large numbers of voters. And money talks louder than ever in American politics. Thousands of lobbyists (more than 20 for every member of Congress) add to the length and complexity of legislation, the better to smuggle in special privileges. All this creates the impression that American democracy is for sale and that the rich have more power than the poor, even as lobbyists and donors insist that political expenditure is an exercise in free speech. The result is that America’s image—and by extension that of democracy itself—has taken a terrible battering.

Nor is the EU a paragon of democracy. The decision to introduce the euro in 1999 was taken largely by technocrats; only two countries, Denmark and Sweden, held referendums on the matter (both said no). Efforts to win popular approval for the Lisbon Treaty, which consolidated power in Brussels, were abandoned when people started voting the wrong way. During the darkest days of the euro crisis the euro-elite forced Italy and Greece to replace democratically elected leaders with technocrats. The European Parliament, an unsuccessful attempt to fix Europe’s democratic deficit, is both ignored and despised. The EU has become a breeding ground for populist parties, such as Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, which claim to defend ordinary people against an arrogant and incompetent elite. Greece’s Golden Dawn is testing how far democracies can tolerate Nazi-style parties. A project designed to tame the beast of European populism is instead poking it back.

And, democracy is clearly suffering from serious structural probems, rather than a few isolated ailments. Since the dawn of the modern democratic era in the late 19th century, democracy has expressed itself through nation-states and national parliaments. People elect representatives who pull the levers of national power for a fixed period. But this arrangement is now under assault from both above and below.

From above, globalisation has changed national politics profoundly. National politicians have surrendered ever more power, for example over trade and financial flows, to global markets and supranational bodies, and may thus find that they are unable to keep promises they have made to voters. International organisations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and the European Union have extended their influence. There is a compelling logic to much of this: how can a single country deal with problems like climate change or tax evasion? National politicians have also responded to globalisation by limiting their discretion and handing power to unelected technocrats in some areas. The number of countries with independent central banks, for example, has increased from about 20 in 1980 to more than 160 today.

From below come equally powerful challenges: from would-be breakaway nations, such as the Catalans and the Scots, from Indian states, from American city mayors. All are trying to reclaim power from national governments. There are also a host of what Moisés Naim, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, calls “micro-powers”, such as NGOs and lobbyists, which are disrupting traditional politics and making life harder for democratic and autocratic leaders alike. The internet makes it easier to organise and agitate; in a world where people can participate in reality-TV votes every week, or support a petition with the click of a mouse, the machinery and institutions of parliamentary democracy, where elections happen only every few years, look increasingly anachronistic. Douglas Carswell, a British member of parliament, likens traditional politics to HMV, a chain of British record shops that went bust, in a world where people are used to calling up whatever music they want whenever they want via Spotify, a popular digital music-streaming service.

Chart showing European political party memberships, 1970 to 2010Chart showing voter turnout by country at parliamentary elections, 1970 to 2013

The biggest challenge to democracy, however, comes neither from above nor below but from within—from the voters themselves. Plato’s great worry about democracy, that citizens would “live from day to day, indulging the pleasure of the moment”, has proved prescient. Democratic governments got into the habit of running big structural deficits as a matter of course, borrowing to give voters what they wanted in the short term, while neglecting long-term investment. France and Italy have not balanced their budgets for more than 30 years. The financial crisis starkly exposed the unsustainability of such debt-financed democracy.

With the post-crisis stimulus winding down, politicians must now confront the difficult trade-offs they avoided during years of steady growth and easy credit. But persuading voters to adapt to a new age of austerity will not prove popular at the ballot box. Slow growth and tight budgets will provoke conflict as interest groups compete for limited resources. To make matters worse, this competition is taking place as Western populations are ageing. Older people have always been better at getting their voices heard than younger ones, voting in greater numbers and organising pressure groups like America’s mighty AARP. They will increasingly have absolute numbers on their side. Many democracies now face a fight between past and future, between inherited entitlements and future investment.

Adjusting to hard times will be made even more difficult by a growing cynicism towards politics. Party membership is declining across the developed world: only 1% of Britons are now members of political parties compared with 20% in 1950. Voter turnout is falling, too: a study of 49 democracies found that it had declined by 10 percentage points between 1980-84 and 2007-13. A survey of seven European countries in 2012 found that more than half of voters “had no trust in government” whatsoever. A YouGov opinion poll of British voters in the same year found that 62% of those polled agreed that “politicians tell lies all the time”.

Meanwhile the border between poking fun and launching protest campaigns is fast eroding. In 2010 Iceland’s Best Party, promising to be openly corrupt, won enough votes to co-run Reykjavik’s city council. And in 2013 a quarter of Italians voted for a party founded by Beppe Grillo, a comedian. All this popular cynicism about politics might be healthy if people demanded little from their governments, but they continue to want a great deal. The result can be a toxic and unstable mixture: dependency on government on the one hand, and disdain for it on the other. The dependency forces government to overexpand and overburden itself, while the disdain robs it of its legitimacy. Democratic dysfunction goes hand in hand with democratic distemper.


Spotifying politics

Spotifying politics

Democracy’s problems in its heartland help explain its setbacks elsewhere. Democracy did well in the 20th century in part because of American hegemony: other countries naturally wanted to emulate the world’s leading power. But as China’s influence has grown, America and Europe have lost their appeal as role models and their appetite for spreading democracy. The Obama administration now seems paralysed by the fear that democracy will produce rogue regimes or empower jihadists. And why should developing countries regard democracy as the ideal form of government when the American government cannot even pass a budget, let alone plan for the future? Why should autocrats listen to lectures on democracy from Europe, when the euro-elite sacks elected leaders who get in the way of fiscal orthodoxy?

At the same time, democracies in the emerging world have encountered the same problems as those in the rich world. They too have overindulged in short-term spending rather than long-term investment. Brazil allows public-sector workers to retire at 53 but has done little to create a modern airport system. India pays off vast numbers of client groups but invests too little in infrastructure. Political systems have been captured by interest groups and undermined by anti-democratic habits. Patrick French, a British historian, notes that every member of India’s lower house under the age of 30 is a member of a political dynasty. Even within the capitalist elite, support for democracy is fraying: Indian business moguls constantly complain that India’s chaotic democracy produces rotten infrastructure while China’s authoritarian system produces highways, gleaming airports and high-speed trains.

Democracy has been on the back foot before. In the 1920s and 1930s communism and fascism looked like the coming things: when Spain temporarily restored its parliamentary government in 1931, Benito Mussolini likened it to returning to oil lamps in the age of electricity. In the mid-1970s Willy Brandt, a former German chancellor, pronounced that “western Europe has only 20 or 30 more years of democracy left in it; after that it will slide, engineless and rudderless, under the surrounding sea of dictatorship”. Things are not that bad these days, but China poses a far more credible threat than communism ever did to the idea that democracy is inherently superior and will eventually prevail.

Yet China’s stunning advances conceal deeper problems. The elite is becoming a self-perpetuating and self-serving clique. The 50 richest members of the China’s National People’s Congress are collectively worth $94.7 billion—60 times as much as the 50 richest members of America’s Congress. China’s growth rate has slowed from 10% to below 8% and is expected to fall further—an enormous challenge for a regime whose legitimacy depends on its ability to deliver consistent growth.

At the same time, as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out in the 19th century, democracies always look weaker than they really are: they are all confusion on the surface but have lots of hidden strengths. Being able to install alternative leaders offering alternative policies makes democracies better than autocracies at finding creative solutions to problems and rising to existential challenges, though they often take a while to zigzag to the right policies. But to succeed, both fledgling and established democracies must ensure they are built on firm foundations.

Several places are making progress towards getting this mixture right. The most encouraging example is California. Its system of direct democracy allowed its citizens to vote for contradictory policies, such as higher spending and lower taxes, while closed primaries and gerrymandered districts institutionalised extremism. But over the past five years California has introduced a series of reforms, thanks in part to the efforts of Nicolas Berggruen, a philanthropist and investor. The state has introduced a “Think Long” committee to counteract the short-term tendencies of ballot initiatives. It has introduced open primaries and handed power to redraw boundaries to an independent commission. And it has succeeded in balancing its budget—an achievement which Darrell Steinberg, the leader of the California Senate, described as “almost surreal”.

Similarly, the Finnish government has set up a non-partisan commission to produce proposals for the future of its pension system. At the same time it is trying to harness e-democracy: parliament is obliged to consider any citizens’ initiative that gains 50,000 signatures. But many more such experiments are needed—combining technocracy with direct democracy, and upward and downward delegation—if democracy is to zigzag its way back to health.

John Adams, America’s second president, once pronounced that “democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” He was clearly wrong. Democracy was the great victor of the ideological clashes of the 20th century. But if democracy is to remain as successful in the 21st century as it was in the 20th, it must be both assiduously nurtured when it is young—and carefully maintained when it is mature.

Malaysia in 2014–A Perspective from Thailand

March 1, 2014

Malaysia in 2014–A Perspective from Thailand

Najib and Yingluck

Thai-Malaysian relations have in the past decade been predominantly shaped by the situation in the three southernmost provinces of Thailand. In 2004, under the Thaksin Shinawatra administration, an Islamic insurgency re-erupted, seen in the incidents at Krue Sae Mosque in Pattani, where 32 Muslim militants were executed, and at Tak Bai district in Narathiwat, where 78 Muslim detainees suffocated to death while being transported to a military camp.

But the real turning point in Thai-Malaysian relations took place in August 2005 when 131 Thai Muslims fled across border into the Malay northern states. Reportedly, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Alba agreed to release them only if Bangkok could “guarantee” their human rights and safety. Thaksin was infuriated, perceiving his remarks as interfering with Thailand’s internal affairs.

Malaysia subsequently proposed a dialogue to resolve the problem as a means to defuse tensions. Accordingly, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad held informal discussions with former Thai Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, who was then the head of the National Reconciliation Commission. They reassured Anand that Malaysia did not support the separatist movement in Thailand.

But the complexity of Thai politics and its impact on the issue of the southern conflict has continued to influence bilateral relations. As Thailand attempted to isolate its southern conflict, it also isolated Malaysia. Such isolation reflected on a Thai policy of externalising the cause of conflict, and Malaysia was painted as a prime manipulator behind the Thai Muslim insurgents.

In December 2009, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, in striving to improve ties with Thailand, made a high-profile visit to Narathiwat. Najib said, “I don’t expect things to change overnight. This is a journey, but there is a commitment and plans by Thailand to move toward a comprehensive solution. Malaysia’s stand is to be a partner who will respect that this is domestic, and the message is clear that the people of Thailand must be loyal to the country.”

Clearly, Najib’s mission was to dispel the existing mutual distrust. At the end of the meeting, the two countries initiated a number of joint projects to rebuild Thailand’s southern region. For example, Thai Muslim teachers were to be trained in Islamic teachings in Malaysia and Thai businesses invited to visit Malaysia with the possibility of investing in the country.

In June 2013, peace talks between the Thai government and members of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) reached a milestone when the two parties decided to sit down to discuss ways to rebuild mutual trust, eliminate suspicion and to find a long-lasting solution to the protracted conflict. Malaysia hosted the peace talks in Kuala Lumpur signalling a new role as a peace mediator.

Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told the media that he was hopeful of progress through development of the southern provinces: “The issue of development, poverty, fair treatment of everybody — those are the issues to be navigated by both sides based on trust. Building up trust is the difficult part.”

Until recently, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has tried to reach out for peace with the Thai Muslim community and for better ties with Malaysia. There were obstacles to the government’s efforts. For one, local Thai Muslims could not forget what her elder brother, then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, did in 2004. In the political context, the south has never been the territory supportive of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, but instead, are long-time supporters of the Democrat Party – the current opposition party.

Thailand has fallen into another crisis and Yingluck’s resolve will once again be tested. It has been more than three months since the anti-government protesters seized Bangkok, driving Yingluck to dissolve the parliament. General elections were held but outcomes were inconclusive. The Yingluck administration is now in a limbo. The Thai political situation is unpredictable, to say the least.

Daily killings in the restive south, meanwhile, have been normalised. The more Bangkok is preoccupied with other domestic crisis, the longer the insurgency will prolong in the south. Since the last meeting between the government and the BRN, the Thai public is in the dark regarding progress on the peace talk. If the violence escalates in the Thai south, it will further complicate Bangkok politics and Thailand’s relations with Malaysia.

Insurgency issue aside, democratic and anti-democratic movements in Thailand could also impact Malaysia. Political power in Thailand, long dominated by the old elite, are now being seriously challenged by new political alternatives. The end game could be traumatic. The imminent royal transition could serve to exacerbate the already fragile situation. In Malaysia, the United Malays National Organisation has been in power for far too long. It has been too inert, complacent and perhaps too authoritarian. The Thai example could influence political developments in Malaysia, particularly through the rising political awareness of the Malaysian masses and their demand to gain better access to political resources, economic wealth and better social status. Like Thailand, it will be interesting to see where Malaysian politics would be heading towards— reforms or struggle?

Pavin Chachavalpongun is Associate Professor at Kyoto University’s Centre for Southeast Asian Studies. He is the author of ‘Reinventing Thailand: Thaksin and His Foreign Policy’.

Prime Minister Najib: Malaysia must embrace middle power position in ASEAN

February 24, 2014

Prime Minister Najib: Malaysia must embrace middle power position in ASEAN

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia must embrace its position as one of the region’s middle powers, in its path towards becoming a developed nation by 2020.

NAJIB_RAZAK_091213_TMINAJJUA_05_540_360_100Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib  Razak said as a middle power, the nation will be expected to play a greater part  in Asia and to help Asia play a greater part in the world.

“Come 2020, Malaysia will be a developed country with far-flung and expanding interests. The international community, as well as our own public, will expect that we assume our share of the burden of responsibility and leadership.

“As a Middle Power, that means playing a greater part in Asia, and helping Asia play a greater part in the world,” he said in his keynote address at the 8th Heads of Mission Conference here today, which was attended by among others, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman and his deputy, Datuk Hamzah Zainuddin.

Najib said this meant Malaysia was continuing its commitment to ASEAN which groups 10 Southeast Asian countries.

“We swim or sink with our region. If we don’t have an influential voice here, we won’t have an influential voice anywhere,” he stressed.

Meanwhile Bernama reported, Najib said the most effective coalitions in the future will be those which involve both the developed and developing world.

In this regard, he said, Malaysia must be deft and nimble in building and participating in coalitions, seeking out those which shared its concerns. He said there was also a need at the same time to exercise leadership within the shared platforms which were needed to tackle multilateral problems.

“A stronger foreign policy establishment here in Malaysia, which brings together think-tanks, academic chairs and foundations will strengthen our hand when it comes to building coalitions for change,” Najib said.

Najib noted that Malaysia must react to the transformations around it with a transformation of its own, including having a foreign policy that would see the country through to 2020 when this country achieved a developed nation status, and beyond.

Najib also said Malaysia must devote adequate resources to strengthening its bilateral relations with neighbours and continue to value ASEAN as the fulcrum of peace, prosperity and stability in the region.

“Even as we undertake to do more, we must concentrate resources on initiatives that will generate the best returns, leading in areas that concern us the most, not aiming to be everything to everyone,” the Prime Minister said.

He said Kuala Lumpur must sharpen the way it conceived and executed the cooperation and assistance programmes it provided at the bilateral, regional and multilateral levels.

“And we must assess the impact of such programmes more systematically to ensure they are effective and efficient,” he said.

In the speech, Najib noted that the factors which shaped Malaysia’s diplomacy — its dependence on trade, strategic location and demographic change — were in turn shaped by external trends

“And here the grounds beneath our feet are shifting as old assumptions are being overturned and new ones emerging.

“These global and regional trends ask that we adapt our diplomacy to fit the pressures and opportunities of a new century,” he added.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak delivers keynotes address after opening conference on ‘Transforming Malaysia’s Diplomacy Towards 2020 and Beyond’ at the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations (IDFR). Auditorium in Kuala Lumpur. — NSTP/Yazit Razali

Malaysia in 2014–A Perspective from Singapore

February 22, 2014

Malaysia in 2014–A Perspective from Singapore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malaysia’s Anifah Aman on Foreign Policy: Promoting Peace and Moderation

February 22, 2014

Malaysia’s Foreign Policy: Promoting Peace and Moderation

by Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Dato’ Seri Anifah Aman

FOREIGN POLICY GOALS: World acknowledging Malaysia’s role in promoting peace and moderation.

AnifahAmanA COUNTRY’S foreign policy consists of self-interest strategies chosen by the state to safeguard its national interests and to achieve its own goals through relations with other countries.

While interactions with other countries through bilateral means remain the core element of foreign policy, multilateralism is also an important facet in foreign policy when dealing with collective concerns and issues of common interests.

In today’s complex international environment with fast changing political realities in many countries, foreign policy imperatives have become equally complex, calling for a more flexible, pragmatic and accommodative stance.

Over the years, Malaysia’s foreign policy has come to encompass trade, finance, human rights, environment and culture apart from the political relations.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry has established a total of 107 missions (missions in Baghdad and Damascus are temporarily closed)  in 83 countries and appointed 53 Honorary Consuls who provide support and assistance in promoting Malaysia’s interests and safeguarding the country’s image abroad.

The objectives of Malaysia’s Foreign Policy are:

  • MAINTAINING peaceful relations with all countries regardless of their ideology and political system;
  • ADOPTING an independent, non-aligned, and principled stance in regional and international diplomatic affairs;
  • FORGING close relations and economic partnerships with all nations, particularly with ASEAN and other regional friends;
  • PROMOTING peace and stability in the region through capacity building and conflict resolution measures;
  • PLAYING an influential leadership role in ASEAN, the Non-aligned Movement (NAM) and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC);
  • PARTICIPATING actively and meaningfully in the United Nations, especially in the efforts to end injustice and oppression, and to uphold international law; and,
  • PROJECTING Malaysia as a leading example of a tolerant and progressive Islamic nation.

The evolution of Malaysia’s Foreign Policy

Malaysia’s Foreign Policy since Iindependence in 1957 has evolved and isasean1 characterised by the notable changes in political stewardship. It began with the nation’s emphasis on nation-building under Tunku Abdul Rahman, to non-alignment and an Islamic nation under Tun Abdul Razak, to consolidation and ASEAN as a cornerstone of Malaysia’s Foreign Policy under Tun Hussein Onn.

Malaysia saw greater economic orientation and advocacy for the rights of developing countries under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the strengthening of ASEAN as a rule-based organisation under Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Malaysia’s Foreign Policy thrusts are the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) and the transformation agendas towards making Malaysia a high income developed nation by the year 2020.

Fostering close bilateral relations with neighbouring countries remains a high priority. ASEAN is the cornerstone of Malaysia’s Foreign Policy. A strong and successful ASEAN is not only an economic necessity but also a strategic imperative. A prosperous, consolidated and stable ASEAN is a security deposit for Southeast Asia and Asia at large.

Building and deepening partnerships with other Asian countries including China, Japan, South Korea and India, US, Russia, European, African, Middle-Eastern and Latin American countries are continuously pursued.

At the multilateral level, Malaysia is a strong proponent of the United Nations (UN) Charter and the fundamental principles governing interstate relations. These refer to the sovereign and mutual respect for territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs of other nations, peaceful settlement of disputes and peaceful co-existence.

Malaysia’s engagement in other multilateral fora such as APEC, ASEM, OIC, Commonwealth, NAM and other organisations are equally important. These are available platforms to speak on issues of common concerns.

Wisma PutraThe Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Wisma Putra has been part and parcel of this evolution of the nation’s foreign affairs from the early days of Independence.

The pioneering diplomats of the day had laid a strong foundation in our international relations which over the years has been further fortified in pursuing our foreign policy imperatives.

We hold our former officers in high esteem for their service in raising the stature and prestige of Malaysia in the eyes of the international community just as we acknowledge the dedication and commitment of all those who came after them to the present day.

In today’s digital era, information flow is instantaneous, almost seamless and unstoppable compared to decades ago. With the dramatic transformation of the geo-political landscape over the decades and the emergence of a plethora of new and complex issues, such as those relating to the environment, energy security, war, terrorism, pandemics and other humanitarian crises, food security, climate change, piracy, among others, Wisma Putra has had to face new challenges that require new strategies and approaches and inevitably hiring of officers from an array of disciplines.

Coordination with ministries and agencies

Wisma Putra works closely with all relevant government departments in organising and managing international meetings or visits by foreign leaders and delegations. Similarly, Malaysian missions abroad work with other Malaysian agencies such as MIDA, MATRADE and Tourism Malaysia based in the host country in carrying out their activities. This cohesive platform also contributes to cost-effective promotion of Malaysian interests and conduct of foreign relations.


The entry into force of Asean Charter on December 15 2008 was a turning point for ASEAN, where it transformed itself into a rule-based organisation, with legal personality. This Charter reiterates the common principles and collective commitments of ASEAN in enhancing regional peace, security and prosperity.

The Charter also sets a firm footing for achieving ASEAN Community in 2015, with a dedicated work plan, clear timelines and targets. Initiatives that have been realised include the adoption of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, establishment of ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, ASEAN Institute of Peace and Reconciliation, as well as ASEAN Regional Mine Action Centre.

As the ASEAN Chair in 2015, Malaysia will play a key role in steering the work of ASEAN towards the establishment of one community and beyond 2015 Vision. Malaysia underlines five key elements as the basis of the Asean post-2015 vision namely:

THE Post-2015 vision should reflect the commonly-held aspirations of the ASEAN people. These include good governance, transparency, higher standards of living, sustainable development, empowerment of women and greater opportunity for all;

THE ASEAN integration process should be brought to a higher level;

THE capacity of ASEAN’s institutions must be strengthened;

THE coordination between the various ASEAN organs must be improved; and,

THE region must be free of internal conflicts which could be achieved by promoting moderation as one of the key ASEAN values.

UN Security Council

Malaysia is currently vying for the one non-permanent seat of the UNNajib@UNGA Security Council (UNSC) allocated to the Asia Pacific Group for the 2015-2016 term. The elections are scheduled in October 2014 in New York. Malaysia’s candidature carries the theme “Peace and Security through Moderation”.

If elected to the UNSC, Malaysia will continue to promote the moderation agenda and mediation approach, and contribute towards the enhancement of UN peacekeeping operations.

Malaysia was the facilitator of the Mindanao Peace Process which led to the signing of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro between the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Oct 15, 2013.

Membership in the UNSC would allow Malaysia to continue promoting mediation as an approach towards peaceful conflict resolution. Malaysia would also be able to share its experience, knowledge and expertise as a mediator in resolving conflicts and disputes peacefully.

Malaysia has participated actively in over 30 UN Peacekeeping Operations since 1960, with deployment of over 29,000 peacekeepers from the Malaysian Armed Forces and Royal Malaysian Police.

In addition, Malaysia, through its Malaysian Peacekeeping Training Centre (MPTC), also provides pre-deployment training courses to many local and international peacekeepers.

Malaysia remains committed to and supportive of comprehensive efforts in reforming the UNSC. Malaysia firmly believes that the reform of the Security Council should take place in a comprehensive manner, both in terms of its working methods and expansion of its membership.

Malaysia has trained over 4,000 participants from 14 post-conflict countries since the establishment of the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme (MTCP). Membership in the UNSC would allow Malaysia to continue advocating peaceful means in the prevention of conflicts.

Recent achievements in bilateral relations

John+Kerry+Najib+RazakIn 2013 alone, Malaysia achieved significant milestones in terms of intensifying our engagement with key players at the global scene. The recent exchanges of high-level visits with Japan, China, Russia, France, and the US have contributed to further boost our political relations with these countries and augmented bilateral cooperation for mutual benefit. Malaysia has benefited immensely from these engagements, as new commitments were pledged and agreements were inked to create a win-win situation for all.

For instance, relations between Malaysia and China have been elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which marked new heights in bilateral relations.

Both countries have also embarked on a Five-Year-Programme for Economic and Trade Cooperation for the period of 2013-2017, with the aim of achieving an annual bilateral trade of US$160 billion by the year 2017.

As for Malaysia-Japan relations, both leaders agreed to expand theAbe-Najib enduring Look East Policy (LEP) to be more forward-looking. Thus, a Second Wave of the LEP will now embody a new focus on economic cooperation, particularly on investment, trade, technology, infrastructure, Islamic finance and promotion of the halal industry, in line with our economic transformation policies and priorities.

Even our traditional ties with the United Kingdom have received a recent boost and are currently at its best, driven by close personal relations and shared visions between our Prime Minister and Prime Minister David Cameron. We are immensely proud of the investment by a Malaysian consortium in the Battersea Project, which has breathed new life to the excellent bilateral relations.

Similarly, the recent US$5.1 billion acquisition by PETRONAS of a Canadian energy company — Progress Energy Resources Corporation — has made Malaysia the largest foreign direct investor in Canada. The project involves a US$35 billion plan to develop shale gas assets and build an LNG export terminal in British Columbia.

Ten years ago, who would have thought that Malaysia, a small developing country in Southeast Asia, could be the largest foreign direct investor in a Western developed country like Canada?

As for Malaysia-US relations, following the visit of our Prime Minister to the US in September 2013, both countries are exploring cooperation in strategic areas such as science and technology, information technology, and biotechnology.

Last year also saw several exchanges of visits between Russia and Malaysia at the ministerial level, including my official visit to the Russian Federation last July, which opened a new chapter in our bilateral relations. Russia, as one of the Permanent Members of the UNSC, has also given positive indication to Malaysia’s bid as the non-permanent member for the 2015-2016 term.

 Promoting moderation

 Testament to Malaysia’s success in its endeavour to promote GMM at the international level is the acceptance of the initiative by NAM, CHOGM, ASEM, D8 and OIC in their respective outcome documents.

Most significantly, moderation has been endorsed and accepted by ASEAN as a key ASEAN value. France has even expressed its hope that Malaysia could be the spokesperson on moderation at the UNSC, since Malaysia is vying for the UNSC Non-Permanent seat.

Malaysia will continue to propagate moderation as a useful tool in foreign policy, especially in dealing with conflicts. We believe that moderation can be practiced at the national level, it can direct regional policy and at the international level, moderation can guide our approach to the current global challenges.

The success of the approach was evident from Malaysia’s contribution as an honest broker in the peace process and national reconciliation of our neighbours in southern Philippines and southern Thailand.

Malaysia believes in a just, balanced and consistent approach in addressing the many issues affecting the regional and international community such as the Rohingya issue, situation in the Korean Peninsula, conflict in Syria, political turbulence in Egypt and the Palestinian cause. To this end, we steadfastly advocate a peaceful solution to end these crises through dialogue and negotiations.

At the national level, the moderation concept must also be practised by Malaysians in order to preserve unity and to avoid acts that would strain the diversity that is celebrated in Malaysia.

The special attribute of Malaysia as a microcosm of multiracial and multi-religious society means Malaysians should not lose sight of the importance of practising moderation at home. We need to end violence by rejecting extremism and instead, choosing mutual respect and inclusiveness, and strengthening the bonds between our different communities and faiths.

The Palestinian cause

Najid and AbbasFor more than four decades, Malaysia has been one of the staunchest supporters of the Palestinian cause at the bilateral, regional and international levels. Malaysia also supported Palestine’s bid to become a Non-Member Observer State of the UN on November 29, 2012.

We have been consistent in providing various forms of assistance to Palestine and its people, both in cash and in kind, bilaterally or via multilateral platforms such as the UN and the OIC.

Last year, Malaysia pledged a one-off contribution amounting to US$250,000 to UNRWA on top of our annual contribution of US$25,000 for the period of 2012-2017. Reflective of Malaysia’s long standing commitment and support for Palestine, Najib made the inaugural humanitarian visit to Gaza, Palestine on Jan 22, 2013. During the visit, Malaysia pledged to contribute US$6.5 million to finance the construction of four infrastructure projects namely a vocational school, a mosque, an office building as well as new wing at a children’s hospital.

Malaysia’s role in the international community

Malaysia has a role to play in contributing towards the well-being of the general society, especially of its neighbours as a responsible member of the international community. Wisma Putra has been quick and forthcoming in responding to the needs of countries faced with humanitarian crises and natural calamities.

We have contributed through the deployment of search and rescue teams, medical aid assistance, as well as contribution in kind and monetary terms, to help alleviate the pain and suffering during times of crisis.

The most recent was Malaysia’s humanitarian assistance to the Philippines, following the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, where Malaysia contributed basic necessities such as food and water, as well as financial, logistical, and medical assistance to the victims.

 Service and assistance to Malaysians

The function of Wisma Putra is by no means limited to diplomacy. The ministry’s consular service, or known as “citizen service” has often received the limelight in the media since it directly touches people’s lives and welfare.

With the increasing number of Malaysians travelling abroad and foreign expatriates making Malaysia their temporary home, consular achievement has now become one of the benchmarks to evaluate the effectiveness of our foreign service delivery system.

In dealing with consular crises, the ministry has been providing assistance to Malaysians abroad who are in need of help within limits of local and international law as well as assistance related to death, detention and distressed and missing Malaysians overseas.

Malaysia’s future direction in the international arena

Malaysia will continue to play an active role in the international arena in the coming years, especially through its chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015 and its bid for the non-permanent seat of the UNSC for the 2015-2016 term.

On Malaysia’s upcoming chairmanship of ASEAN, the year 2015 is particularly significant for the regional organisation, since it is the year the ASEAN Community is to be realised.

During its chairmanship of ASEAN, Malaysia wishes to see further strengthening of rules and norms to govern inter-state relations in the region, progress in the resolution of the South China Sea issue, as well as greater utilisation of ASEAN-led mechanisms and instruments related to peace and security such as the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia and the Asean Regional Forum (ARF).

Obama and NajibMalaysia is poised to project its prominent role in international diplomacy in 2014 when the country is scheduled to host several important world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and French President Francois Hollande. Such high-level visits are a clear endorsement of the importance of forging close bilateral ties with Malaysia and the Najib administration.

This year Malaysia and China are gearing up to celebrate our 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Both countries have agreed to adopt the theme “Malaysia and China Year of Friendly Exchanges”, which aptly reflects the direction in which both countries would collaborate further.

 Malaysia’s voice

Wisma Putra is entrusted to develop policy that is current, relevant and in step with evolving and changing political environments across the globe and present a clear and effective position in facing the exigencies in the region and farther afield.

China, India and Indonesia–Building Trust Amidst Hostility

February 21, 2014

east-west-center-asia-pacific-bulletinNumber 249 | February 18, 2014


China, India and Indonesia–Building Trust Amidst Hostility

By Vibhanshu Shekher     

Amidst the prevailing atmospherics of aggression, hostility and uncertainty, rising powers of the Indo-Pacific are also making efforts towards building trust and exhibiting their willingness to come to terms with each other’s rise. Three such efforts were made in October 2013 by China, India and Indonesia during the high-level visits of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Jakarta, October 3; Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Jakarta, October 10-12; and again by Prime Minister Singh to Beijing, October 22-24. The significance of these visits lies in the introduction of a somewhat calibrated approach towards dealing with each other’s rise, strengthening relations as major powers, and opening up of new channels of communication in their troubled areas of relations. No matter how small these efforts for collaboration are, their significance should not be lost amidst the cacophony of doom and gloom that some reports claim are prevalent throughout the region.

The official statements from these visits offer a glimpse into how these three states are acknowledging the significance of each other in the evolving regional order. Though the United States remains the paramount power in the region, mutual acknowledgement of each other’s interests and stakes between these three second-tier rising powers could create conditions for stability in an otherwise unstable multipolar Indo-Pacific. The visits produced commitments in three major areas of diplomacy: assertion of strategic partnerships including defense cooperation, deepening of cooperation in economic and other softer areas of relations, and introduction of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to diffuse tension. First, while consolidating their relations, these Asian powers laid out road maps for cementing ties, and acknowledged each other’s role and importance in the region. The first signal came from Jakarta where Indonesia and China decided to elevate their bilateral cooperation to the level of a comprehensive strategic partnership. While Beijing acknowledged Jakarta as an emerging market with global and regional influence, the latter characterized their partnership as an epochal moment in the history of their bilateral relations. Defense and security cooperation–specifically in the areas of maritime security, military exercises, defense industry–figured prominently in their joint statement.

India and Indonesia, bereft of any major sore point in their relations in comparison to either Sino-Indian or Sino-Indonesian relations, attempted to add more substance and speed to their otherwise thin and slow-paced strategic partnership. The two countries identified five focus areas to strengthen their bilateral ties: strategic engagement, defense and security cooperation, comprehensive economic partnership, cultural and people-to-people linkages, and cooperation in responding to common challenges. The content of their joint statement highlighted the intent of the two rising powers to go beyond the bilateral context of cooperation towards a pan-Indo-Pacific orientation. Both the Indian Ocean and the G-20 were added as important regional and global agendas for bilateral cooperation.

On the other hand, the Sino-Indian joint statement, entitled “A Vision for Future Development of India-China Strategic and Cooperative Partnership” aimed to project broad-based consensus between the two powers over issues of regional and global concern. The two countries signed nine agreements/Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) with the two-pronged focus of developing confidence-building measures to address areas of bilateral dispute and deepening cooperation in areas of mutual benefit.

Second, these visits reflected an infusion of substantive economic cooperation into their partnerships and an emphasis on strengthening cooperation in other less contentious areas, such as education and culture. In addition to the signing of a currency swap agreement worth $16 billion, China and Indonesia agreed to implement the commitments of the China-Indonesia Five Year Development Program for Trade and Economic Cooperation to reach a bilateral trade target of $80 billion by 2015. The Chinese leadership tried to allay Indonesian misgivings in the economic sector by agreeing to enhance direct investment in the infrastructure and development sectors and to promote balanced trade. At the 2013 Bali summit of APEC, both China and Indonesia pushed for greater economic integration, better connectivity and greater market access within the region.

India and Indonesia signed six MoUs, which entailed greater collaboration between institutions of the two countries in the areas of health, natural disasters, drug-trafficking, intelligence training, and research. In a similar fashion, the Sino-Indian joint statement focused on linkages in the softer areas of cooperation. They signed an MoU on reviving the ancient Nalanda University and also agreed to celebrate the six decades of the Nehruvian doctrine of Panchsheel–Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence–as a symbol of post-colonial Sino-Indian friendship. The ASEAN Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership initiative figured for the first time as a potential agenda of bilateral economic cooperation. Both India and China are not part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. These agendas of cooperation reflect on decisions of the two countries to widen the audience and stakeholders of their relationship by strengthening people-to-people relations.

Experts on Sino-Indian relations would have found it unpalatable to imagine a few years ago that Myanmar, which has remained a source of Sino-Indian rivalries, would figure as a connecting link in their efforts towards building ties. This welcome trend was evident from the joint statement of India and China that mentioned Myanmar as a likely participant in their celebration of six decades of Panchsheel.

Finally, these visits saw attempts to build confidence over long-standing bilateral disputes by introducing these sensitive issues into the official agenda of negotiation. Major strides came from the most troubled equation of this strategic triangle–Sino-Indian relations. New Delhi and Beijing signed a border defense cooperation agreement that underscored the necessity of maintaining peace along the border through information sharing and laid out elaborate mechanisms for both periodic meetings as well as emergency communications. Moreover, India and China, for the first time, brought trans-border river management into the official agenda of negotiation with the signing of an MoU on strengthening cooperation on trans-border rivers and the Chinese consent for data sharing.

The predominant culture of strategic autonomy in India and Indonesia seems to be dictating their economically beneficial and tension-reducing exercises of cooperation with China. Jakarta as an autonomous actor, once again, holds the key in this new-evolving triangle of relationships. Nevertheless, it is yet to be seen whether these three powers are able to shoulder the responsibility of building a stable regional order or if they will inevitably push the region towards greater instability as their individual power and ambitions grow.

About the Author

Dr. Vibhanshu Shekhar is a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi. He was previously a Research Fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi. He can be contacted via email at

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China taking Malaysia’s friendship for granted

February 18, 2014

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

by  Dr. Tang Siew Mun@

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mahathir: Vote Anwar and Prompto Pro-US Government in Malaysia

February 17, 2014

MY COMMENT: I can’t believe that this can come from our former Prime Minister. It is true that during his premiership, our relations with the United States were contentious and sour. Ambassador John Malott who was the US Ambassador here could tell you horror stories about Tun Dr. Mahathir’s anti-US policies.

Mahathir US

He boycotted the first APEC meeting in Seattle, Washington State, only to host it a few years later. He attacked George Soros during the 1998 Asian Financial crisis, and later embraced the famed currency trader.  He condemned President George W. Bush’s pro-Israel policies in the Middle East and the War against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, only to pay substantial sums of money to visit the US President for a photo opportunity and a handshake in Washington D.C. It is sheer hypocrisy.

Fortunately, relations with the US under Najib have improved considerably. Can we say that the Najib Administration is pro-US when we also have excellent relations with Australia, China, Japan, Russia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom and other countries?  –Din Merican

Mahathir: Vote Anwar and Prompto A Pro-US Government in Malaysia

by MD Izwan@
February 17, 2014
Latest Update: February 17, 2014 02:57 pm

Mahathir at IDFRTun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today warned Malaysians not to put his former Deputy, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, in Putrajaya if they did not want a pro-US government.

“If you want a pro-American government, please vote for Anwar (in the Kajang by-election),” the country’s longest premier told reporters after delivering a keynote address at the Mahathir Global Peace School event at the Institute for Diplomacy and Foreign Relations.

Father of CorruptionIn his speech earlier, Dr Mahathir lambasted Washington’s policies which he said tried to impose conditions on democracy, including promoting the rights of the lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGBT) community.

“Now, LGBT has become an additional condition for democracy. But don’t expect us to go around naked because that is your freedom (in western countries),” Dr Mahathir said.

Dr Mahathir’s remarks against Anwar were the second attack against his former protégé since the latter announced his intention to contest in the Kajang by-election.

Last week, Dr Mahathir suggested that Anwar, who was part of Dr Mahathir’s cabinet until he was sacked in 1998, had played a “key role” in the Ops Lalang security crackdown of 1987.

The PKR leader has been attracting large crowds at the various programmes he has attended in Kajang.

On Sunday, Anwar wowed a crowd of some 1,200 at the Holy Family church hall after Sunday services, the first such engagement with the Christian community in the state after the controversial seizure of Malay and Iban-language Bibles by the Selangor Islamic Department last month.

The Election Commission has set March 23 as the polling date for the Kajang by-election, the country’s third since the general election last May, while nomination is on March 11.

PKR”s Lee Chin Cheh won the Kajang state seat in Election 2013 with a 6,824-vote majority, defeating Barisan Nasional’s Lee Ban Seng, Berjasa’s Mohamad Ismail of Berjasa and three other candidates.

Yesterday, former minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, announced his intention to join the race, joining two others with former PKR links, Datuk S. Nallakarupan and Yuktes Vijay.

BN has yet to indicate its choice of candidate but MCA Vice-President Datuk Paduka Chew Mei Fun is widely tipped to be the party’s choice.

A Gramscian Take on Thai Politics

February 15, 2014

A Gramscian Take on Thai Politics

by Daniel Mattes (02-14-14)

At a dinner table in a common Isaan household, a spirit appears, asking, “What’s wrong with my eyes? They are open, but I can’t see a thing.”  The spirit’s appearance initially renders it a menacing threat, but it soon becomes clear that the spirit is the family’s guardian.  This scene takes place in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s 2010 film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, alongside many other images of superstition and banal rural life in Thailand’s Northeast.

The film was produced at a moment of immense change in Thailand, as the military continually interfered in civilian political processes between 2006 and 2010, sometimes causing violence in the suppression of street protests.  The film, aware of its context, notes the country’s history of military interventions when the eponymous protagonist laments his past murder of communists under the false and exaggerated premise of nationalism.

The more recent military action that removed elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from power in 2006 occurred along a polarized divide between the urban and the rural, between business and agriculture, and between the bourgeoisie and the poor.  The film’s threatening spirit guardian represents this rural working poor, who simultaneously form a foundation of Thai identity but stoke fear among urban elites through their electoral power.  Although 2006 saw the successful removal of Thaksin, the resumption of new street protests in recent months demonstrates the anxieties over rural power that still exist in Thailand.

Key elements within a “deep state” of military, royal and business elites have unsuccessfully offset the interests of rural peasants, even as they have utilized and managed support from civil society movements opposed to government corruption.  To shift the polarization in Thai society and politics, greater understanding of the historical experiences of the Thai subaltern – the rural and working poor – can bridge the divide.

TakshinAlthough the Shinawatra-associated parties of Pheu Thai [PTP] and previously Thai Rak Thai [TRT] won four elections between 2001 and 2011, the deeper powers of the Thai state have not necessarily shifted with the changes in government.  Rather, as McCargo has suggested in his work on the Thai network monarchy, the entrenched military, royalist and business elements have continued to operate the state at a deeper level than any superficial electoral shift.  Yet in the face of PTP’s continued electoral mandates for programs of healthcare provision and rural development loans, this deep state may no longer feel so empowered.

Through studies of bourgeois hegemony in his Prison Notebooks, the Italian communist leader, Antonio Gramsci, noted society’s role when a state lost control over politics.  As he noted, “When the State trembled a sturdy structure of civil society was at once revealed…[as] a powerful system of fortresses and earthenworks.”  Thaksin’s mutation into a populist force outside the Bangkok establishment encouraged support among those that the leading Democrat Party had long ignored, including the geographically marginalized North and Northeast as well as the socioeconomically marginalized rural poor and migrant workers.  It was assumed Thaksin held ulterior motives, but corruption and cronyism were not new features of Thai democracy; what unnerved the urban elite to a greater extent was his ability to consolidate such wide support from the voting public, for this had the capacity to threaten future policymaking and their deeper interests.  This elite struggle resulted in and revealed the real forces within civil society taking part in street movements and fighting over sociopolitical hegemony: the urban bourgeoisie and the rural poor.  As the dominant bloc of political elites lost control over the government, bourgeois elites now fear losing hegemony over the rural and working poor.

Recent events in Bangkok have amplified the anti-rural noise, referring to potential PTP voters as either ignorant or susceptible to bribes.  Thongchai Winichakul has noted the discrepancy in criticizing vote-buying among rural populations but ignoring similar strategies of localized spending within the urban context.  The cynical discourse surrounding development in rural areas does not exist concerning commonly used tax breaks or transit improvements in Bangkok.

Andrew Walker has also argued that urban elites wrongly presume that money dispensed during elections will directly determine voting outcomes, an assumption that indicates not only urban bias but also urban ignorance of the realities and rational choices of rural populations.

Herein lies the paradox at the crux of the divide: the deep state of military, royalist and urban business interests view populist efforts as a threat to their wider support, but what truly threatens their grasp on power is their own mischaracterization of that wider public as threatening.  Instead, these elements should view the rural populations as a foundational spirit of their power.  The king once achieved his prominence and earned his wide appeal through years of concerted public engagement with rural farmers, for example.  However, the monarchy and its networks have presently come to fear the rural population’s intractable power and related support for the Shinawatras.

There is a distinct possibility — even probability — that Thaksin capitalized on the subaltern of rural farmers and urban poor in a clever attempt to assuage populist sentiment without true action.  Recent protests among Northern farmers still awaiting their promised subsidies reinforce this notion.  However, the opposition’s emphasis of this claim only aims to manipulate the subaltern for purposes of its own.  As such, Thai political and civil society regularly engage in debates that reinforce the status quo and protect the hegemony of the dominant bloc of the ruling class and the state.

The selective removal of Thaksin Shinawatra as a singular example of corrupt politics denotes not only the level of unease among elites in response to his continued support among the rural population and the working poor, but also the continued entrenchment of an elite class on either side of the political divide.  The monarchy’s Privy Council, the military and the courts – the structural tools of the deep state – only began to pursue Thaksin’s removal from office after his resounding 2005 re-election, after ignoring his and others’ corruption as a banal normalcy within Thai politics.

yingluck-shinawatra_4Thongchai Winichakul labels the events of 2006 “a royalist coup,” with the military and the courts as accomplices and with the support of an electoral minority but crucial element called “the people’s sector,” made up of activists, intellectuals, media outlets, and the business elite.  This sector, weighted towards the attitudes and interests of the urban bourgeoisie, has failed to appreciate those of rural citizens.  The lengthy movements of 2006 and 2008, the violence of 2010 and the renewal of action in recent months indicate the deep intractability of the divide that continues to separate the country.

The invention of “the people’s sector” has resurfaced in the past few months, as protestors have rallied against elections and called for the instatement of a “people’s council.”  The current protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, speaks of moral opposition to Thaksin’s corruption and his sister Yingluck’s leadership failings, even as he minimizes his own alleged involvement as the deputy Prime Minister who ordered the deadly military crackdown that killed 93 red-shirt supporters of Thaksin in 2010.  Such a selective memory extrapolates beyond Suthep’s personal evasion: his circle of elite and urban-based support has consistently justified the previous acts of violence perpetrated on the social movements that first caused the state to tremble (to use Gramsci’s phrasing).

What truly needs to change in Thailand is a shift in civil society; street protests evoke the vestiges of civil action, but they merely actualise the political gamesmanship on both sides of a purely political debate.  Understood as such, a Gramscian framework is more illuminating with regards to ongoing events in Thailand than the conventional analysis of democratization, which focuses too much on political power and policy.  The opposition is correct that Thailand needs more than new elections, but Suthep and other yellow-shirt elites have ideologically manipulated the discontent of their supporters for their own political entrenchment.  The series of trembles to the Thai state over the past eight years have revealed the cracked earthenworks of division and misunderstanding that lay between the key interests of society.

A Gramscian framework provides greater agency to the subaltern: “If yesterday it [the subaltern element] was not responsible, because ‘resisting’ a will external to itself, now it feels itself to be responsible because it is no longer resisting but an agent, necessarily active and taking the initiative.”

For subaltern elements to entrench their own sense of agency, they must resist the hegemony within their own ranks – red or yellow.  The alternative Gramscian framework has suggested they can accomplish this through direct emphasis on their own cultural strengths, ideological dominance, and incumbent moral superiority.  Modern Thailand faces the task of reconciling an increasingly polarized populace, divided by political ideology as much as geographic and industrial background.  Yet the battle is taking place and must continue to take place not within political society but within civil society.  Until urban elites interpret the incentives and interests of the rural poor not as a threat but instead as a foundational spirit, the hegemonic Thai system will continue to move forward blindly, as with open eyes that cannot see.

Daniel Mattes is a graduate student at the London School of Economics and Political Science

Book Review on South China Sea

February 12, 2014

Book Review on South China Sea

Jacket image for Solving Disputes for Regional Cooperation and Development in the South China Sea – Chandos Publishing

Wu Shicun, Solving Disputes for Regional Cooperation and Development in the South China Sea: A Chinese perspective [Hardcover], 1st Edition, Chandos Asian Studies Series, Chandos Publishing,Oxford,2013,ISBN 978-1-84334-685-2.

Reviewed by BA Hamzah.

Writing a book on the complex subject of the South China Sea is a challenge. A bigger challenge is to attempt to address all the issues, which border geo-politics, law, economics and history under two hundred pages.

However, to his credit, the author has succeeded to present China’s official views of the disputes over the overlapping maritime claims in the South China. Where he fails to provide a balanced view on contemporary issues, he makes it up by a thorough treatment of the historical events that led to the present conflict, albeit from the Chinese perspective.

For the non –mandarin speaking researchers, getting an official Chinese position on the conflict in the South China Sea is always a guessing work. Dr Wu Shicun’s book fills in the much-needed void.

The title of the book is a bit misleading. The book focuses on the overlapping claims in the Spratly although the title says, “Resolving Disputes for Regional co-operation and Development in the South China Sea.” While no one should judge the book by its cover, the message is clear: that China wishes to resolve the overlapping claims via some forms of regional cooperation. There is a slight change in the nuances. In the past, China was rather reluctant to enter into any kind of Joint Development Projects. Recent events seem to suggest a policy change, a new appetite to reduce tensions in the Spratlys.

By training, the author is an historian. He has contributed significantly to the body of knowledge on the South China Sea. His current position as President of the National Institute of South China Sea Studies (NISCSS) gives him a rare insight into the thinking of policy planners at Beijing. The author’s special relationship with policy makers at Beijing makes this book a valuable contribution to the literature on China’s official position on the South China Sea.

Like all books, it is impossible to do justice to the subject matter, especially when the writer wishes to fill a wide canvass as he has attempted. In covering too wide a ground, the author inevitably misses some important details. For example, he gives only a glimpse examination on the Philippines’ decision in January 2013 to refer China to the United Nations Arbitration Tribunal.

Although China has refused to participate in the Arbitration process, the author should have, in my view, examined in some details the law and facts of the case from China’s vantage. A sneak preview of how China will deal with the issue should the Tribunal find the case, in absentia, against China. Leaving the matter hanging would invite all kinds of innuendoes.

The author has defended China’s “indisputable sovereignty over the entire South China Sea”. He claims that China’s position results from discovery, presence and history. In his view, China has demonstrated historic right over the South China Sea. He forgets to remind readers that in customary international law, mere discovery of a territory, gives the discoverer only an “inchoate title”. That is to say, it has only a temporary right to make an effective occupation. If, within a reasonable time, the area is not occupied, it is subject to appropriation.

The author has asserted that China has “exercised successive administration” (p50) over the features in the South China Sea since the Han dynasty (206 BC-9 AD). While the assertion could be historically correct, modern international law puts greater weight on an interrupted, peaceful and continuous display of state authority to satisfy the legal requirement of effective jurisdiction.

China has not been able to demonstrate that it has exercised continuous and effective display of state authority on all the features it claims in the South China Sea. For example, Great Britain and France occupied some major features in the South China Sea, when China was weak. Japan occupied the major features in the Spratlys during WW 11 including the Paracels, Pratas and Itu Aba.

The author has ignored another occupation. In 1878, for example, Great Britain occupied Amboyna Cay (presently occupied by Vietnam and claimed by Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines). The British gave permission to the Central Borneo Company Limited to extract phosphates (guano) and to fly the Union Jack on the island.

Intriguingly, the author acknowledges that between the 1930s and 1950s the ownership of the features in the South China Sea were claimed by “France, Japan and occasionally by a private Filipino (p 4). However, he fails to impute any legal result that accrues from such occupation. By dismissing these claims, the author is at odd with state practice with respect to the means of acquiring of territories under modern international law.

The book deals at great length with China’s controversial nine-dash line map. The author refers to this map as the “U-shaped line”. The Nationalist Government of China (under General Chiang Kai- shek), first published the nine-dash line map (originally eleven dash-lines) in 1947. This controversial map was given a semi-official status in May 2009, when it was appended to China’s Note Verbale to the United Nations Secretary General. The Note Verbale was China’s diplomatic response to a joint submission by Malaysia and Vietnam on their extended continental shelf to the UN Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) in May 2009.

The author cited four different interpretations of the controversial “U -shaped line”. In his view, Judge Gao Zhiguo’s explanation of the line as being “synonymous with a claim of sovereignty over the island groups…” including claim to historical right of fishing, navigation, and other marine activities is more acceptable to the “international audience”. The author warns that the debate over the U-Shaped line will continue, “If China remains silent and keeps its claim ambiguous.”

China policy makers should heed this advice.

The map that shows “the U-shaped line” is one of many maps that China could use to defend its title, according to the author. The author has also cited many ancient Chinese maps that incorporated the South China Sea as China’s territory. The legal status of these ancient maps under temporal international law is questionable and uncertain at best. While official maps often play pivotal role in international boundary disputes, the international courts have tended in the past to give little evidentiary value to ancient maps, especially those bereft of coordinates. For example, in the Burkina Faso/Republic of Mali Case (ICJ Reports, 1986) the Court finds that “the IGN map is not an official document” and the Court observes that, in general, “whether in frontier limitations or in international territorial conflicts, maps merely constitute information which varies in accuracy from case to case.” (italics added).

The author argues that the ambiguity of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982) has led to different interpretations of its provisions. This ambiguity has made it difficult to put the conflicting territorial claims in its proper perspective. According to the author, the failure of UNCLOS to give recognition to the concepts of “historic rights” and “historic waters” under international law has not done justice to China’s claim.

The author also discusses in some details the bases of claims by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei to the features in the Spratly. Dismissing all these claims as illegal, the author offers joint development as a way out. In his view, for the JDA to take off, it has to be premised  on four principles:[1]

·     The ocean should be used only for peaceful purposes;

·    Incremental approach. Regional cooperation should commence with the less sensitive topics like marine environmental protection;

·    All inclusive approach. The projects must benefit all the stakeholders;

·Preservation of marine environment. The author has suggested that the exploitation of living and non-living resources in the South China Sea should not damage the marine environment.

Based on the above principles, the author has outlined the general areas for co- operation. They include:

·         Joint development for oil and gas. He cited the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) case (2004-2008) between the National Oil Companies of China, the Philippines and (later) Vietnam.

·         Joint management and conservation of fishery resources. He cited the China -Vietnam Agreement on Fishery Cooperation in the Biebu Gulf (2004) as an example.

·         Navigational Safety and Search and Rescue activities;

·         Combating international maritime crimes, and

·         Marine scientific research and marine environmental protection.

Interestingly, throughout the book, the author makes no mention of the claim by Taiwan. Although Taiwan claims the same area, as China’s and the bases of claims are similar, it deserves a fair treatment. After all, it has effectively occupied two large features in the South China Sea-the Pratas and Itu Aba.

The author’s discussion on Malaysia’s claim requires updating. Malaysia has relied on the 1958 Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf to claim certain features in the Spratlys (known as Gugusan Terumbu Semarang since 2006). The area and the features claimed by Malaysia are contained in the 1979 Map on the Continental Shelf of Malaysia.

In 1978, Malaysia sent a team of officers from the National Mapping Directorate, the Royal Malaysian Navy and Army Engineers from the Line of Communication Unit to survey the area. The team found no trace of occupation of the features, except on Amboyna Cay. There, the team found a concrete structure with Vietnamese markings. However, at the material time, there were no Vietnamese soldiers or civilians on the island.

Soon after the Malaysian survey team returned to their home base, the Vietnamese troops went back to reclaim Amboyna Cay. Similarly, the Philippines, which also claim Amboyna Cay (Pulau Kechil Amboyna), made hasty return to Commodore Reef (Terumbu Laksamana) soon after the Malaysian survey team left the Reef in 1978. The Philippines still maintains a military outpost on Commodore Reef.

The Malaysian Government published the 1979 map only after the survey team has physically established that the features were located on its continental Shelf as defined under the 1958 Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf. To suggest otherwise is quite inaccurate.

The author also examines China’s trade-based ancient tributary political patronage system (with a strong China at its apex), which in his words, became “the dominant international order in ancient East Asia”. Although the author does not draw any implication from this tributary system in the book, the message that a strong China had kept peace and order in the region in the past is quite instructive. Is a strong China trying to replicate the trade-based political patronage system in the current multi-polar international structure is not quite clear? However, this point is worth noting as the countries in the region continue to engage China. 

In conclusion, it becomes obvious that China is desperate to reduce the tension in the South China Sea. Yet by continuing to insist that the entire South China Sea as its own sea and that it has indisputable sovereignty over the features within the nine-dash line map, gives little space and hope for other claimant parties to advance their claims. Compounding the jurisdictional problem in the contested- South China Sea, apart from China’s hard-line position, is the role of third parties, which China considers as unfriendly to its interest. Beijing views the presence of USA, Japan and India, who have no territorial claims in the South China Sea, as unhelpful.

China’ offer to consider joint development projects, with the claimant parties, as defined by China is an attempt to rebuild confidence. However, until such promises are met, they must be viewed with some circumspect. In my view, China is unlikely to negotiate its sovereignty claim. Nonetheless, it is prepared to co-exist by acknowledging the present status quo only if the claimant state makes no effort to undermine or belittle its claim. Taking China for arbitration over the territories in the South China Sea as the Philippines has done, for example, goes again the current modus operandi of China as a rising power. Similarly, China finds it odd why some claimant states have allied with the third parties, external to the region, against it.

Under the current geo-political circumstances, the challenge to China is to demonstrate to the region that it is a benign power with the capacity to keep peace in the Spratlys and the region beyond.

[1] Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said at the 8th East Asia Summit at Brunei (8-9 October 2013), “China and ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] have agreed that the disputes in the South China Sea should be resolved peacefully through consultations and negotiations between countries directly concerned.” Still, until a peaceful agreement is met, these are just words.


An Emergent US Security Strategy in Southeast Asia

February 12, 2014

east-west-center-asia-pacific-bulletinNumber 248 | February 11, 2014

An Emergent US Security Strategy in Southeast Asia

By Marvin Ott and Kenneth Ngo

The foundation of US security strategy in Southeast Asia since the end of World War II has been a “hub and spoke” system of formal bilateral alliances with four countries in the region: Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and, for a period, New Zealand. During the Cold War these alliances became the primary vehicle for US and allied governments to prosecute counterinsurgency campaigns against communist guerrilla forces. Both Manila and Bangkok allowed the Pentagon to establish major facilities that were critical to America’s largest counterinsurgency campaign in Indochina.

The end of the Vietnam War in 1975 signaled a sharp diminution of the US military presence in Southeast Asia and the end of the Cold War in 1991 removed the overarching strategic threat. Not surprisingly, the value assigned to the alliances both in Washington and in the region declined–most tangibly expressed in Manila’s readiness to allow the US lease at Subic Bay to expire. Meanwhile, Thailand turned to China for support in dealing with its ongoing communist insurgency and the Vietnamese army’s occupation of neighboring Cambodia.

For Southeast Asia more generally, the 1990s were a heady time of rapid economic growth and societal modernization–powerfully reinforced by the dramatic growth in China’s economy. Post-Mao China emerged as an ideal neighbor committed to a “peaceful rise” and a growing economic partnership with its southern neighbors. Under these conditions it is remarkable that the entire US alliance system did not just dissolve. It continued due, in part, to simple inertia, the efforts of Singapore to provide facilities for Pacific Command (PACOM), shared concerns over terrorism after 9/11, and the unique value of PACOM’s capabilities in disaster mitigation demonstrated in response to the epic 2004 tsunami. Nevertheless, the Southeast Asia alliance system as a whole remained at a low ebb in terms of public visibility and strategic priority.

All this began to change three to four years ago–and has continued to do so at an accelerating pace. The driver of this change has been China–specifically the perception that Beijing’s investment in military capabilities, particularly maritime and air, is excessive and disquieting. Moreover, China’s overt moves to seize control over land features and maritime space in the South China Sea are alarming. As the only country with the military capability to potentially deter and frustrate China’s apparent territorial ambitions, the United States has found itself facing a profound strategic choice.

Starkly put, should the United States signal that it will acquiesce to a de facto Chinese sphere of influence and security monopoly over the South China Sea and much of Southeast Asia or instead contest China’s geopolitical ambitions? During the George W. Bush administration’s preoccupation with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, strategic choices in East Asia were deferred.

President Barack Obama entered office determined to wind down these two military operations, making room for a refocus of US diplomatic, economic and military assets elsewhere, particularly in Southeast Asia. At a meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum in July 2010, US Secretary of State Clinton effectively committed the United States to a policy of contesting China’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea–and by implication, China’s broader hegemonic posture toward Southeast Asia. This strategy resonated with modern US history where US involvement in World War I and II, as well as the Cold War, had the fundamental strategic purpose of preventing Europe and Asia from coming under the domination of a rival and hostile hegemon.

Specific US national interests in Southeast Asia (and East Asia more generally) include the preservation of major sea lanes of communication through the South China Sea as a global commons and the credibility of still binding US alliance commitments in the region.

If “containment” was the overarching descriptor of America’s Cold War strategy, “pivot” and “rebalance” serve that function for Southeast Asia today. No one close to this effort, in the White House, the Pentagon, or the State Department, has any illusions about the magnitude of the challenge. China is a multidimensional great power on a rapid ascent toward superpower capabilities.

The nationalism fueling China’s regional ambitions runs very deep and the geographical distances involved in deploying US military power to the region are not insignificant. Moreover, China’s economic and demographic connections to Southeast are organic and profound.

That said; the “pivot” has several things going for it. First, fear and suspicion are natural attributes of small states dealing with a much larger, more powerful neighbor. Since the Peloponnesian Wars, states in such circumstances have looked to powerful friends from outside the immediate area for support. The United States seeks nothing more than a region that is stable, prosperous, autonomous, and accessible–objectives that coincide perfectly with the national interests of Southeast Asian states.

China’s territorial and hegemonic ambitions, however, are profoundly antithetical to these interests. This is most obviously true of the South China Sea claimant states–Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei–but distinct signs of unease with China’s assertiveness have been evident in such non-claimant capitals as Jakarta and Naypyidaw.

Second, the growing salience of multilateral arrangements centered on ASEAN has been a key feature of the region. ASEAN connectivity is valued as an engine of economic growth and a means of strengthening the region against external pressure and coercion. For the United States, multilateral security arrangements epitomized by the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) are a natural strategic supplement to the alliance system. China, however, has insisted that security issues, including maritime disputes, be handled bilaterally.

From a Chinese strategist’s perspective, a binary face-off between China and the United States in the South China Sea is far more promising than one that also involves several other regional actors. The more numerous the players and the more complex and dense the interactions the less China will be able to control outcomes.

It is far too early to provide a scorecard on the pivot. President Obama and other senior officials have signaled ongoing US commitment through frequent travel to Southeast Asia. The first steps of a redeployment of the US military to the region has been implemented and a tailored military strategy–air-sea battle–is being actively developed. Other strategic partnerships with Southeast Asian counterparts are becoming more robust. Game theory predicts that in a competitive arena with multiple actors, coalitions will form.

In Southeast Asia, we are seeing the emergence of an incipient coalition in support of US security strategy. The ultimate outcome of all of this is quite unclear. What is clear is that this will be the defining strategic contest of the first half of this century.

About the Author

Dr. Marvin C. Ott is Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University/SAIS. Dr. Ott can be contacted at  Mr. Kenneth M. Ngo is Research Assistant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and can be contacted at

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.

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Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M Gates

February 5, 2014


Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M Gates – Review

by Dan Roberts, The Observer, 2 February, 2014

Republican Robert M Gates’s account of his years in the Bush and Obama administrations is sometimes catty yet full of insights

Obama and GatesIn a town blighted by partisan rancour, Robert Gates’s memoir of his time as secretary of defence under both George W Bush and Barack Obama has largely been read as a political morality play: a sober warning of what goes wrong when you mix tribes.

Despite a reputation as someone able to rise above party squabbles, the elder statesman once nicknamed Yoda by White House staff has ended up embarrassing a trusting Democratic Administration with a surprisingly un-Jedi-like account of his time as a Republican behind enemy lines.

However, there is more to this book than catty, if entertaining, swipes at Washington’s great and good; readers outside the beltway will come away from reading Duty with a more meaningful insight into the world’s military capital. Indeed, for anyone trying to understand how America’s most liberal president in decades could allow drone assassinations, Guántanamo Bay and NSA surveillance to continue largely unchecked during his time in office, this memoir has a very different moral to that seized upon by DC’s self-obsessed pundits. Though not a dominant driver of such controversial policies, Gates reveals himself as an emblem of the continuity that sustains this increasingly militarised country regardless of who is in the Oval Office.

Since joining the CIA in 1968, Gates served six other presidents before he was put in charge of the Pentagon’s 3 million employees and $700bn budget by Bush the younger at the recommendation of his father. And although there is more warmth to the book’s early chapters chronicling the last days of that dynasty’s reign in office, this consummate company man makes clear that Obama’s decision to reassure security hawks by retaining him was a lot less of a shock to the system than everyone assumed at the time.

“Although Obama, to my mind, is a liberal Democrat and I consider myself a moderately conservative Republican, for the first two years, on national security matters we largely saw eye to eye… as loath as partisans on both sides were (and are) to admit it,” writes Gates.

“I’m no peacenik,” he fondly quotes Obama telling him. “My staying in place would show foreigners that US resolve would be undiminished.”

The book’s much-publicised attacks on Obama’s senior advisers do reveal some differences of style between the two administrations. Vice-president Joe Biden incurs the most wrath for opposing the military’s proposed troop surge in Afghanistan. “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” says Gates.

Former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and current UN ambassador Samantha Power come under fire, too, blamed for opening up a “poisonous” “chasm” between the White House and the Pentagon over everything from gay rights in the military to intervention in Syria. And Obama is politely criticised for adding to the mistrust by failing to act like he really enjoyed continuing to pour troops into America’s disastrous foreign wars. “As I sat there, I thought: the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his,” recalls Gates of one planning meeting.

History may ultimately judge Obama’s reticence more favourably than the military’s reluctance to admit defeat, but the brass nonetheless succeeded in persuading the president of the need for the troop surge. Gates also convinced Obama to retain another Bush-era spook, current director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who infamously went on to lie to Congress over the extent of NSA mass surveillance on Americans.

The detailed fights to protect defence spending and clear disdain for civilian politicians makeRGates Book-Duty clear that the Pentagon remained in safe hands throughout Gates’s four-and-a-half years in office. But Duty is not the memoir of a neocon warmonger. Gates writes intelligently and candidly of the anxieties of sending men to die and makes clear he largely disliked his “deployment to the Washington combat zone”.

Some sections detailing military deployment negotiations will prove as dry as Afghan dust to anyone not wearing green, but overall the book is a rewarding read and a rare insight into the ongoing capture of the Obama administration by Washington’s security establishment.