Malaysia truly Asia’s weakest link


June 7, 2014

Malaysia truly Asia’s weakest link thanks to Putrajaya, says Bloomberg

Published: 5 June 2014 | Updated: 5 June 2014 10:33  PM

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

kuala-lumpur-skylineKuala Lumpur: Beautiful  outside but Rotten Inside

Putrajaya’s one-party policy and its 40-year-old pro-Malay affirmative action programme will spell trouble for the country’s economy, effectively turning Malaysia into the weakest link in Asia, a Bloomberg columnist said today.

http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-06-05/is-malaysia-asia-s-weakest-link

William P2William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist based in Tokyo and writes on economics, markets and politics throughout the Asia-Pacific region. His journalism awards include the 2010 Society of American Business Editors and Writers prize for commentary. Since joining Bloomberg in 2000, Pesek’s columns have appeared in the International Herald Tribune, the Sydney Morning Herald, the New York Post, the Straits Times, the Japan Times and many other publications around the world. Pesek began his journalism career writing for the American Banker and Bond Buyer newspapers.

He also worked for Dow Jones Newswires, where he wrote the daily credit markets column for the Wall Street Journal. Pesek earned a bachelor’s degree in business journalism from Bernard M. Baruch College-City University of New York

Citing Putrajaya’s poor handling of opposition politicians and the search for MH370, William Pesek said Malaysia will continue to hog headlines for all the wrong reasons if Putrajaya continues to be complacent in economic matters.

“Its 40-year-old, pro-Malay affirmative-action program chips away at the country’s competitiveness more and more each passing year. The scheme, which disenfranchises Malaysia’s Chinese and Indian minorities, is a productivity and innovation killer. It also has a corrupting influence on the political and business culture,” Pesek said.

Pesek based his observations on a new report from Sarah Fowler of UK-based Oxford Economics, which ranks Malaysia the “riskiest country in Asia of those we consider,” more so than India, Indonesia and even coup-ridden Thailand.

In the report, Fowler said: “Prompted by its high levels of public debt, rising external debt and shrinking current account surplus, there has been a shift in the perception of risks towards Malaysia and away from Indonesia”

Pesek added that current-account surplus is dwindling, from 16% of GDP in 2008 to 3.7% last year, while household debt, according to Fowler, is “worryingly high” at more than 80% of GDP compared to less than 60% in 2008.

Fowler also wrote that Putrajaya’s “climate of entitlement amongst the Malay community limits entrepreneurialism and vested interests within UMNO still resist change.”

Pesek said that the only thing holding Malaysia back is its insular political culture.“The government’s handling of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 said it all. Its deer-in-the-headlights response to the plane’s disappearance was the product of an insular political culture.

“The trouble is, that insularity is holding back a resource-rich economy that should be among Asia’s superstars, not its weakest links.” – June 5, 2014.

 

Dissonance in Malaysia-Japan Relations


June 4, 2014

Dissonance in Malaysia-Japan Relations

Abe-NajibBamboo Diplomacy–Look East Again?

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak recently met with Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe in Tokyo in conjunction with the annual symposium organised by the Nikkei, one of Japan’s leading newspaper. The summit meeting covered various topics including Japanese security policy, coastal protection, the missing MH370, the South China Sea (SCS) dispute, and Malaysia’s goal to be a high-income nation by 2020. Enhancing the cooperation for a ‘Second Wave of Look East Policy’ (LEP) was also agreed as a framework to deepen bilateral relations. The meeting nevertheless appeared lacklustre with the two Premiers appearing in the same press conference but talking about totally different agendas: Japan underscoring the importance of security while Malaysia stressed on the economic cooperation.

Wither “Second Wave of LEP”?

Malaysia-Japan relations have always been depicted as special by academics and diplomats who frequently refer to the LEP as a symbol of cultural, economic and ethical ties. When talking about the LEP, it is important to remember that this policy was the product of a congruence of strategic thought among the key players in the two countries more than three decades ago. In 1982, the LEP was launched by Mahathir Mohamad in response to a proposal by the Japan Malaysia Economic Association and Malaysia Japan Economic Association. The LEP would mean many things: the emulation of the Japanese model; a way to attract Japanese capital; to put Malaysia on the track to heavy industrialisation; but would also uplift the economic status of Bumiputeras.

Japan in the 1980s, on the other hand, was in the process of expanding its identity from just a member of the West to that of the growing Asia Pacific region as developed countries faced economic stagnation after the second Oil Shock, and as Japan confronted a protracted trade conflict with the US. Thus, the LEP was formulated between a developed country looking for new investment opportunity to decrease its trade surplus with the US and reduce production cost on one hand, and a developing country trying to court much-needed foreign investment. Bolstered by an appreciated Yen – following the Plaza Accord – the LEP eased the inflow of Japanese capital, with the amount of direct investment from Japan to Malaysia increasing by more than seven times for the next decade.

Three decades later, Najib calls for upgrading the LEP. The intent was clearly stated when he asserted that the LEP can address new priority industries such as energy-saving and green technology, healthcare and education— key areas of development included in Najib’s Economic Transformation Program (ETP). However, it is unclear if the ‘Second Wave of LEP’ gives a new thrust to the bilateral relations. In the 1980s to 1990s, “Look East Policy”, “Mahathir” and/or “developmental state” were catch-phrases attached to Malaysia among the Japanese business class and policy-makers. Today, neither “Second Wave of LEP” nor “Najib” are buzz words among the same circle in Tokyo. Rather, it is “middle-income trap”, “weak government” or “dragging its feet in the negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP)” that the Japanese audience is talking about.

Dominant party systems in decay: experience of LDP and BN

The notion of a “weak Malaysian government” is depicted by the declining power of the Barisan Nasional (BN). For some Japanese commentators, the developments surrounding the 13th Malaysian General Election was reminiscent of Japan in the late 1980s to early 1990s when Japan’s own dominant party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), saw its control over government diminishing and eventually lost.

At that time, financial deficit had become normalcy and government debt kept on soaring as LDP expanded expenditure for public works and social spending for the elderly to consolidate its support. One of the decisive moments of LDP losing its dominance was the introduction of 3% of Consumption Tax in 1989 as a means to broaden revenue base, after years of hesitation in fear of losing voters. Indeed, this decision – to introduce the consumption tax – was derided by voters who were already angered by the LDP-led government’s profligate public spending. Another and bigger cause of LDP’s decay was the corruption scandals involving top party leaders including then Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita. These scandals revealed the pervasiveness of money politics within the party and the government. The recurring scandals prompted voters, especially those who resided in urban areas, to discard the LDP. Not surprisingly, the party lost the majority of the Upper House in 1989. In 1993 the LDP lost power for the first time since 1955 to a coalition of small parties that consisted of former LDP members and socialists in the Lower House elections of that year. The “1955 system” ended.

Like the LDP dominated Japanese government, the dominant party government in Malaysia has behaved in the similar way for decades, and especially since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. BN has tried to boost or maintain support for the party, especially under the Najib administration, through expansionary fiscal policies. To draw support from the business sector, the government has increased expenditure for infrastructure projects. To gather support from lower income groups, BN has disbursed cash benefits under the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M). Moreover, an increase in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was put on hold in the run-up for the last general election.

The similarity between the LDP and BN does not end there. Prolonged control of government by the BN has blurred the boundary between public and private interest, resulting in the series of high profile corruption allegations involving top party leaders. Even the result of GE13 – in which BN managed to secure a simple majority of the Dewan Rakyat (Lower House) through heavily-weighted rural votes – reminded many Japanese of the strategy of the LDP in Japan to maintain its dominance in equally testy times in the past.

Though the BN managed to retain majority control of the Dewan Rakyat despite losing the popular vote against the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, not a few Japanese observers have reflected on whether a change in the federal government in the near future will ensure better or a more effective government. This question is relevant in the Japanese context given the fact that post-1993 governments have been short-lived, unable to push forward their reform agenda, and in the case of the Democratic Party of Japan that was in power from 2009 to 2012, bungled on key concerns that include Japan-US relations and the management of the 3.11 disaster (referring to the triple earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima disaster).

Stalled structural reform

While the effectiveness of the future Malaysian government is yet to be known, what is clearly understood by the Malaysia-attentive Japanese audience is that the BN government is weak and can barely maintain its autonomy given heightened social pressure. This is made evident most clearly in the TPP negotiations.

While the TPP draws controversy in Japan, especially with its impact on the agricultural sector, Malaysia’s demands on the TPP is also often highlighted in the Japanese media. For example, Malaysia is known to oppose the institution of investor-state dispute settlement and intellectual property rights that affects access to generic medicines. But much more highlighted in the Japanese media is Malaysia’s demand to exempt Government-Linked Companies (GLCs) and government procurement from TPP coverage. For those who are familiar with Malaysian domestic affairs, this is understandable.

GLCs play too big a-role in the Malaysian economy, and also as the major investor in Najib’s flagship Economic Transformation Programme (ETP). Further, government procurement is an essential means to distribute resources to GLCs and eventually to Bumiputera SMEs. Given the result of GE13 where Bumiputera votes somewhat enabled BN-UMNO to remain in power, the already limited room for the Government to make concessions to external negotiating parties in these areas has narrowed even further.

Malaysia’s rather defensive posture in the TPP negotiation is seen, especially by the Japanese business sector, as a reflection of the weak power of the government vis-à-vis pressure groups and a stalled reform agenda. For this group, liberalisation under the TPP is one of the primary means to further advance structural reform and increase the competitiveness of Japanese economy. This same group knows that Malaysia remains – now for almost two-decades – caught in a “middle-income trap”. Many also argue that a failed conclusion of TPP, with the creation of ASEAN Economic Community just around the corner, would negatively affect Malaysia’s path to become a high-income nation.

The misgivings of the Japanese business sector is also anchored on the belief that the BN cannot be expected to exercise strong leadership given its increasing dependence on the Bumiputera constituency and the relative increase in the power of UMNO within the governing coalition. They somehow expect that it will take an even bigger electoral jolt, similar to what the LDP experienced in 1993, before the Malaysian government takes a more serious effort in pushing required reforms through. Looking back, it was only after LDP lost its power that Japan embarked on a series of important reforms. For instance, administrative and fiscal reform was pursued since the mid-1990s, and more seriously since 1996 when the LDP came back to power as a major coalitional partner.

Based on the lessons learned, LDP-led governments shifted to a more liberal orientation where the government drastically decreased government spending, rationalised government financial institutions, and embarked upon series of privatisation including Japan Post, Highway Public Corporation and other financial institutions. In light of these Japanese experiences, a number of Japanese naturally expect that a reform that pushes Malaysia out of the trap would come only after change in the federal government.

Japan’s security agenda and Malaysia’s ambiguity

While Japanese business players have not been impressed with scenes from the Malaysian political economy, the current Japanese government puts much value on Malaysia. This is demonstrated by the frequent official visits of Ministers between the two countries. In particular, Prime Minister Abe’s renewed interest in Malaysia, as well as ASEAN, comes with a clear agenda: regional security.

Abe grabbed a landslide victory and brought the LDP back to power again in the 2012 Lower House election touting a “Take Back Japan” that focused on “intrusion into Japanese territory by foreign forces” as one of his main campaign slogan. Since then, Abe has had official visits to ASEAN countries and even hosted the Japan-ASEAN Commemorative Summit in 2013. All this in the hope of cementing Japan’s relationship with Southeast Asian countries in various areas including regional security given China’s growing naval power and its increasing assertiveness over territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas. In the summit meetings with Malaysian counterpart, Abe highlighted the issues such as maritime security and the newly introduced Air Defense Identification Zone declared by Chinese government in November 2013 as common concerns between the two countries.

The Japanese Premier’s effort is also directed toward securing support from ASEAN countries for his long-cherished goal of a “departure from the post-war regime,” enabling Japan to play a bigger role in regional security among others. His security policy self-labelled as “proactive pacifism” includes changing the interpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution to allow the country to exercise the right to collective self-defense. This agenda has always been included in the summit meetings with ASEAN countries including Malaysia.

TDM--21 MarchHowever, the timing and context do not seem right. In the mid-1990s, it was Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir that often urged Japan to loosen the legal constraints on the use of force to play a significant role in regional and global security. The Socialist Party dominated coalition government, however, did not positively receive this prodding. Now, as the Abe government pushes for a reinterpretation of Article 9, the conditions that will generate support for such change from countries like Malaysia has changed. China has grown powerful, economically and militarily, and disputes over territories have become more intense with increasing competition over natural resources and nationalistic sentiments among the general public in the conflicting countries. In this new regional context, Malaysia has shown a somewhat reserved reaction to Abe’s agenda.

Although Malaysia has expressed concern over the overlapping territorial claims in the SCS and the absence of an effective regional Code of Conduct, the fact that China is its largest trading partner has led Malaysia to stick to its traditional position: not to regard China as a threat. This explains Najib’s rather indifferent attitude towards Abe’s expressed concern on China’s aggressive actions in disputed territories. In one meeting, Najib was reported to have indicated that the SCS issue should be dealt by ASEAN through a multilateral approach, indicating his weariness to link disputes in SCS and East China Sea.

While the Malaysian government carefully but steadily deepens security cooperationPM Najib with the US as a hedge against a rising China, it obviously sits on the fence with Abe’s new agenda. Such a posture by Malaysia is often taken as a reflection of the country’s “pro-China” position by some Japanese whose picture of contemporary East Asia is a region where two major countries – Japan and China – are competing for influence in the region.

The dissonance between Abe and Najib in their latest bilateral meeting is explained by the fate and current status of their long dominant parties in the context of changing regional security dynamics. Abe, the leader of Japan’s former dominant party that recently regained control of government due to the ineptness of the opposition, confidently pursued his hawkish agenda. Najib is at the helm of a dominant party whose acts are tied down by the reality that their support base has declined. Najib also has to balance his responses to regional issues as Malaysia – a middle power – is in a delicate position in the rapidly changing big power relations in the region. Thus, a significant ‘Second Wave of LEP’ underpinned by strategic congruence between the two countries will simply have to wait.

Asia’s Resilience


June 4, 2014

Asia’s Resilience

by  (Tan Sri) Dr. Zeti Akhtar Aziz, Governor, Bank Negara Malaysia

ASIA has weathered the global financial crisis and its aftermath with a resilience that it built steadily over the past decade. Today, that resilience is again being tested as a significant transition takes place in the global economic and financial landscape.

Zeti, BN GovernorAs the recovery in the major advanced economies strengthens, the end of unconventional monetary easing in these economies is inevitable. While the prospect of a return to more conventional monetary policy reflects improved economic conditions, it has been accompanied by heightened volatility, with spillovers to the emerging market economies.

Asia, with highly open economies and globally connected financial systems, is not insulated from these external developments. The region will benefit from the global recovery, and its strength and resilience will help it navigate this more volatile international financial environment.

 Managing  the  TRANSITION

Monetary policy normalisation will present a challenging transition. Following the indications of a potential US Federal Reserve scale-back in quantitative easing (its term for unconventional monetary policy) in May last year, emerging market economies experienced large reversals of capital flows.

Within eight months, about a quarter of the capital that had flowed into those economies during the preceding four years had reversed. Several economies experienced significant exchange rate depreciation and a decline in equity and bond prices.

Nonetheless, macroeconomic and financial stability in Asia was preserved. Financial intermediation — the linking of savers and borrowers — was not interrupted, and creditworthy households and businesses had continuous access to financing. Economic activity in the region remained broadly unaffected by these volatile financial conditions.

This is the result of its strong economic fundamentals and sound banking systems, reinforced by improved governance and risk-management practices, and enhanced regulatory and supervisory oversight.

Sources of financing are also more diversified following efforts to increase the size and offerings in the capital markets.

Economies in the region have generally maintained favourable external positions — with flexible exchange rates, high international reserves and less reliance on short-term external funding. Many Asian economies also have the policy space and flexibility to implement countercyclical measures.

Since 2009, several Asian economies have also introduced preemptive measures to address the buildup of financial imbalances arising from the capital inflows, which have contributed to strong credit growth, high household debt and rising property prices in the region.

Measures included limits on maximum loan duration and adjustment of loan-to-value ratios for property purchases, fiscal measures, such as higher transfer taxes and revisions to real property gains taxes.

Policymakers recognised that such measures would help address domestic vulnerabilities. Efforts have also taken to strengthen macroeconomic fundamentals, with greater focus on the current account and fiscal balances. Some economies eased export rules, such as taxes and hedging regulations, while the management of foreign exchange liquidity was improved to strengthen their external position.

Tax and subsidy reforms were also undertaken to reduce government deficits and debt, and improved governance and medium-term fiscal targets enhanced the credibility of the measures.

The policy approach in several Asian economies is gradual, sequenced and targeted. This approach promotes orderly adjustments and corrections in the affected sectors. Policymakers can also monitor the impact of these policies and preserve flexibility.

While national policies help strengthen domestic fundamentals, they are insufficient to maintain resilience in an increasingly integrated global economic and financial environment.

Regional cooperation has, therefore, been enhanced, especially in the areas of cross-border surveillance and integrated crisis management, to address risks to regional macroeconomic and financial stability preemptively.

Multilateral arrangements to support a country in a liquidity crisis, such as the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation (CMIM), as well as trade financing and settlement arrangements, will enhance the region’s ability to weather the more challenging environment. Frameworks are also in place for information sharing and collective policy response when a crisis is imminent.

Potential for GROWTH

 Since 2000, with the exception of the 2009 crisis year, Asia has grown at an annual rate of 7.5 per cent, accounting for 44 per cent of global growth. Home to 60 per cent of the world’s population, the region is a significant source of revenue for many global corporations.

In part, this was achieved through more balanced and diversified sources of growth, which essentially took place on two fronts.First, the economies increasingly grew as a result of domestic demand. Second, within that domestic demand, the growth drivers shifted from the public to the private sector.

While Asia’s trade with economies outside the region has doubled since 2000, intra-Asia trade has tripled. More than 55 percent of Asia’s exports are now to countries within the region. Similarly, intraregional investment activity has also increased significantly.

In the future, the region’s growth potential will be sustained by several fundamental factors. Asia’s demographic advantage is a key economic asset. During this decade, a young middle-class population has emerged, and it is growing in number and in affluence. The increase in consumption demand and the greater investment activity will thus anchor the growing importance of domestic demand in Asia.

In addition, Asia’s diversity will continue to support regional economic integration. The region comprises economies at different stages of development that are endowed with a range of rich natural resources. Because development needs in the region are vast, there is ample opportunity for further trade and investment linkages which will garner benefits from outside regional borders.

Importantly, financial institutions and markets will become significantly better integrated in the medium term. This will facilitate more efficient intermediation of funds within Asia through more effective recycling of surplus savings for productive investments.

With one of the highest savings rates in the world, Asia has the capacity to meet the region’s vast financing needs with the right institutional arrangements.

To further unlock the region’s growth potential, reforms to generate sustainable, quality and inclusive growth are also important. Efforts to improve social safety nets, pensions, healthcare, education and financial inclusion are being intensified. These efforts contribute to more balanced growth and maintain social cohesion.

At the same time, growing consumption will place demand pressures on limited resources. The policy agenda must, therefore, address environmental damage, pollution and climate change, for example, through sustainable financing.

Importantly, growing interdependence will present both benefits and risks. The challenge is to ensure that regional collective action, particularly the institutional arrangements for policy coordination, is evolving in line with the rapid global financial and economic integration.

 Asia’s  FUTURE

Asia’s resilience has withstood a major global financial crisis and its aftermath. As the world transitions to a new environment characterised by moderate growth, slower global trade, and greater uncertainty and volatility, Asia’s response has been preemptive, marked by increased flexibility and greater foresight.

A resilient Asia will benefit the global economy by being a vibrant growth centre and a stabilising force in the global financial system.

Equally important, Asia’s contribution can transcend economic progress and financial stability in the global policy landscape with the right representation on the global forums.

 

Hub and Spokes: How US Allies in Asia Can Contribute to the US Rebalance


Asia Pacific Bulletin
Number 265 | June 3, 2014
ANALYSIS

Hub and Spokes: How US Allies in Asia Can Contribute to the US Rebalance

By Hayley Channer

The US rebalance to Asia and the promise of renewed American attention and resources has prompted some US allies and partners in the region to expect more of their superpower ally. Many countries, including Japan, Australia, and South Korea, welcomed the rebalance, although there has been criticism from some that the rebalance is “all rhetoric and no action.” While the expectations of US allies vis-à-vis the rebalance have been well communicated, exactly what the United States expects of its allies is less clear.

Certainly, the United States faces greater constraints after two long military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, sequestration, and a diversified global security environment that continues to spread US resources more thinly. These constraints have influenced the United States to expect more from its allies in Asia and globally. The question remains though, what precisely does the United States expect of its allies, and in what areas?

In order to answer this question, it is important to recognize what allies are currently doing. Japan, Australia, and South Korea are three of the closest US allies in Asia and are often mentioned together in connection with the US rebalance. Japan has been contributing to the rebalance in a number of ways by attempting to reinterpret its pacifist constitution and expand the role of its self-defense forces in global security operations–especially those mandated by the United Nations–by increasing defense spending and acquisition. No doubt, these measures also work in favor of Japan’s national interests.

Australia has been hosting US Marines in the country’s Northern Territory since April 2012 and has further increased its defense cooperation with the United States on force posture, interoperability, space, cyber, and ballistic missile defense. It has also offered political support and, importantly, spoken out against China’s unilateral declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea in November 2013. South Korea has also supported the rebalance militarily, by accepting another battalion of US troops and heightening military exercises with the United States in face of highly unpredictable and belligerent actions by North Korea. Thus, US allies in Asia have been contributing to the rebalance in a number of areas and in different concentrations. So, what more does the Unites States expect?

Speaking off-the-record with former US government officials, think tank experts, and academics in Washington DC over the past two months has provided this author with some fascinating insights.

Where Japan is concerned, the overwhelming view is that its greatest potential contribution to the rebalance is economic, specifically, by agreeing to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and undertaking economic structural reforms to revitalize its economy. The TPP–a trade pact under negotiation between twelve countries–is designed to open markets and establish high-standard trade rules for the global economy.

From the perspective of the United States, TPP is the economic component of the rebalance. If successful, a TPP agreement would include member economies that represent approximately 40 percent of the world’s economy and would help shape the rules of international trade for the 21st century. As the world’s third largest economy, Japan’s inclusion would be a major contribution to ensuring TPP success. Other areas where Japan could help the rebalance are by increasing its defense spending above one percent of GDP; improve its relations with South Korea and China; and increase its engagement with Southeast Asia. The latter is something that Japan has already begun to do.

For Australia, its main strength in supporting the rebalance is seen in being a political voice for the region. The vast majority of interviewees thought that Australia could assist the United States by promoting a rules-based order and adherence to international norms and codes of conduct. In particular, Australia was considered to be somewhat passive regarding China’s actions in the South China Sea over territorial disputes.

Australia currently maintains a position of neutrality and, while it supports ASEAN’s call for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea with China, Australia emphasizes that it has no direct interests in the dispute. The commonly held American view is that Australia should speak out more strongly against coercive action by China and voice its support for the Philippines’ move to seek international arbitration, just as the United States has done.

By having a louder voice in regional affairs, Australia could encourage other countries to follow suit and, collectively, they could influence China. In terms of a military contribution, Australia could support the rebalance by increasing its defense spending, upgrading existing military bases to host additional US forces, and increasing maritime domain surveillance.

In contrast to Japan and Australia, expectations of South Korea’s contribution to the rebalance were not as great or well defined. There is a palatable feeling of uncertainty in Washington about the extent to which Seoul is willing and able to contribute to the US rebalance. This derives from the belief that South Korea sees the rebalance as directed at China and is cautious not to be seen siding with Washington against Beijing. Seoul is careful not to upset relations with Beijing as China is crucial to the outcome of the reunification of the peninsula. Despite South Korea’s unique concerns, Washington analysts still identified areas where Seoul could be doing more to militarily support the rebalance.

In particular, South Korea could implement measures that would allow it to regain wartime operational control (OPCON) of its forces in a war time environment. The United States would like to see OPCON transfer realized in order for South Korea to take greater responsibility for its own security. South Korea could also develop a more sophisticated ballistic missile defense system–integrating ground and sea-based platforms–as well as enhance its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, and keep its military reserve forces in service until the age of fifty. In terms of political and diplomatic contributions, South Korea could make a concerted effort to improve relations with Japan.

Overall, all US allies in Asia could assist the rebalance by deepening their links with each other, increasing their interoperability, and by investing more in multilateral forums. In addition, many in Washington would like US allies to be proactive on regional issues and, rather than always look to the United States to take the lead, be more forward leaning.

From the above, it is clear that the United States expects more from its allies in Asia. Financial, political and–in some cases–social and cultural constraints will prevent allies from fulfilling US wishes in all areas. However, Japan, South Korea, and Australia are all making greater efforts to support the US rebalance and, if they can better communicate their intentions to the region and to their own domestic populations, this will go some way towards ensuring the longevity of the rebalance and the continuation of this policy beyond the current administration.

About the Author
Hayley Channer is an Analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) and currently a Visiting Scholar at the East-West Center in Washington. She can be contacted via email at channerh@EastWestCenter.org.

___________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Clash of Generations in Teluk Intan


June 3, 2013

The Clash of Generations in Teluk Intan

by Zairil Khir Johari (received via e-mail)

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/opinion/zairil-khir-johari/article/the-clash-of-generations-in-teluk-intan

Zairil Khir JohariEarlier this month, I had the privilege of attending the 44th St Gallen Symposium, an annual international conference held in a picturesque town in eastern Switzerland, having been selected as a global “Leader of Tomorrow” by the International Students Council of the University of St Gallen.

Over the three-day conference, I met many other young men and women under the age of 35 from all corners of the world, each a leader in their field. From entrepreneurs to venture capitalists to Ivy League scholars to fellow politicians, I relished the opportunity to engage them in workshops, debates and forums.

The presence of so many up-and-coming young leaders certainly proved that capability is not age specific. One impressive example that I came across was Lazar Krstic, a Yale-trained 29-year-old from Serbia who was appointed last year to his country’s Cabinet as Minister of Finance. I thought that surely such an appointment must have been an anomaly rather than the norm, until I was told the current Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs is only 27 years old. Despite being Malaysia’s youngest serving MP at 31, I suddenly felt old.

The theme of this year’s symposium was interestingly entitled “The Clash of Generations”. This is an issue that is quickly gaining relevance in Europe, a continent with a disproportionately large aging population. As a result, fissures have emerged, such as the prospect of rising healthcare costs and unsustainable pensions growth.

In Malaysia, we face an inter-generational divide as well, though the problem is not quite the same. With more than 70% of the population below the age of 40, the increasing number of Malaysians entering the workforce in the next few decades will be enough to sustain the pension payments of the older and smaller demographic of retirees.

Nevertheless, the situation in Malaysia produces a different set of issues. For example, the need to balance population growth with social mobility will require the creation of not only more jobs, but higher-paying ones. This will require our education system to keep up in terms of staying relevant to industry needs. Besides creating better opportunities, we also need to ensure the vibrancy of our workforce, and that requires us to keep our brightest young minds from leaving our country in search of greener pastures elsewhere (especially across the causeway).

Between new politics and old politics

Dyana Vs MahGerakan-BN’s Mah won this round

In Malaysia, the “clash of generations” is not only manifested in the socio-economic sphere, but also the political one. In fact, I have experienced it first-hand as the deputy campaign director of DAP’s Teluk Intan by-election campaign these last two weeks.In this case, the clash is not simply due to the age gap between our young lawyer, Dyana Sofya, and the seasoned President of Gerakan, Dato Mah Siew Keong. Instead, it is between what they each represent – between new politics and old politics.

The stark differences between the two dynamics have unfolded very clearly throughout the campaign. Take for example statements made by senior BN leaders such as Defence Minister Dato Seri Zahid Hamidi, who smugly remarked that Dyana was “… not as pretty in person as in pictures and on television”.

Far from being an isolated lapse of judgement, such an incredibly crude line of argument, as misogynistic and patronising as it sounds, continued to pepper the headlines during the entire campaign. One by one, BN ministers have trumpeted the same sexist tune.

Minister of Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Dato Abdul RahmanAbdul Rahman Dahlan Dahlan (right) insinuated that people would vote for Dyana simply because she wears lipstick, while Deputy Finance Minister Dato Ahmad Maslan compared her looks to his wife’s. Capping it off was Deputy Minister for Agriculture and Agro-based Industries, Dato Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, who suggested that it was not wrong to “gawk at her beauty”.

Besides the testosterone-induced need to flex their male egos, there has been nothing to suggest that BN leaders have realised the need to try anything other than the usual formula of character assassination, money politics, intimidation, race mongering and the wanton abuse of government machinery.

And this is in spite of the fact that BN has experienced a steady downtrend in electoral results ever since abandoning their reform agenda post-2004. Instead, it is Pakatan Rakyat that has managed to capture public imagination with policy ideas to improve socio-economic welfare, reform state institutions and fight against corruption.

In contrast to BN, DAP’s Teluk Intan campaign has been all about the new brand of constructive politics for which young Malaysians yearn. To begin with, a fresh, idealistic and educated young candidate is proffered, as opposed to our opponent’s recycled contender. Besides being young and female, she also comes across as the unlikeliest of DAP candidates – Malay, active UMNO family and UiTM-trained.

Yet despite being what a fellow columnist recently termed as an “Umno product”, Dyana is everything UMNO isn’t. Vowing to “Malaysianise” Malaysia, she has time and again proven that she will steer clear from the old UMNO-BN style of politics. Instead, she has chosen to present a parliamentary agenda that encompasses policies concerning cost of living, good governance, youth development and women empowerment – choices made after fusing empirical data from local surveys with her own policy interests.

The contrast between the two political paradigms is not surprising, given the vastly different historical experiences that divide the two generations in question. In this context, I have always suggested that a Malaysian dichotomy exists between those above and below the age of 40.

TDMMalaysians above the age of 40 lived through a tumultuous post-war period that included the Emergency, the struggle for independence, the merger, the split and the traumatic racial riots of May 13, 1969. For those of us born after, these historical incidences do not quite shape our world-view the same way it has shaped our parents’. Instead, our experience has been shaped by 22 years of Mahathirism, Reformasi and the Bersih rallies.

This is why every general election in this country since our generation came of age as voters has seen the reform platform gaining ground, beginning with the 2004 general election when Pak Lah was elected as prime minister with an unprecedented majority on the promise to breathe fresh air into a political landscape dominated by one man for the last two decades.

Meanwhile, whatever reforms that were promised first by Pak Lah and then by his successor Najib have fizzled out as corruption, cronyism and state monopoly capitalism continue to plague the country’s economy, while the right-wing agenda has become politically dominant.

As such, it is all the more vital that Dyana Sofya wins the Teluk Intan by-election. A victory for Dyana would not only send her to Parliament, but also signal the victory of new ideas and constructive politics over BN’s outdated and arrogant politics premised upon race, religion and the total abuse of power.

And so, after two weeks of intense campaigning, Teluk Intan goes to the polls today. Although I believe we have done all we can, I cannot help but feel nervous and excited at the same time – nervous in the face of the seemingly insurmountable might of the BN machinery, and excited at the prospects that a Pakatan Rakyat victory would bring.

It is therefore my hope that, come this evening, the feisty young lady I recruited three years ago will take over from me as the 13th Malaysian Parliament’s youngest MP, and in so doing possibly also become the catalyst for much-needed change in Malaysian politics.

Building on the Tun Razak Legacy


June 1, 2014

Malaysia and China: Building on the Tun Razak Legacy

by Prime Minister of Malaysia Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak@www.nst.com.my

JOURNEY OF GOODWILL: This is the full text of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s speech at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing yesterday

Tun Razak and Zhou EnlaiTun Abdul Razak and China’s Mandarin Premier Zhou En-Lai 40 Years ago

FORTY years ago, my father set out on what he called a ‘journey of goodwill, to sow the seeds of mutual understanding and trust’.

That journey led him here, to Beijing, and to this very hall. It was here that he signed an agreement with Premier Chou En-lai, formally establishing diplomatic ties between our countries.

It was here that we began a new chapter in our relations. And, it is here today that I feel not just the responsibility of government but the responsibility to my father — to continue his legacy and ensure the deepening of Malaysia-China ties.

Our nations are joined by a history that spans a thousand years. The friendship that began during the Song dynasty flourished under the Ming, as a relationship built on trade was strengthened by blood — as Chinese families made the Straits of Malacca their home. From Zheng He and the Peranakans to Sun Yat Sen in Penang, our nations’ stories share the same cast.

It should not have been a surprise, therefore, that Malaysia was the first Southeast Asian country to establish relations with China. Yet, some allies advised my father, prime minister Tun Abdul Razak, against the decision.

Alone among the members of ASEAN, he held firm, and extended a hand of friendship to the People’s Republic of China. As a university student in 1974, I asked my father why did you make that journey and establish diplomatic relations? He replied, and I quote, ‘because Chou En-lai is a man I can trust’. At a time of upheaval and uncertainty, Malaysia and China laid the foundations of trust for a relationship which has advanced and flourished.

Over the past four decades, as our nations have developed, we have grown closer together. China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner, and Malaysia is China’s largest trading partner in Asean. We formed a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for prosperity and growth. And, last year, we signed a Five-Year Development Programme for Economic and Trade Cooperation.

najib_razak_xi_jinpingAs our economies grow, so, too, do the bonds between our people. Thousands of our students have made the journey to learn in a different culture, my own son included. The ties of family and language which were forged in the 15th century grow deeper with time. There is perhaps no better symbol of our friendship than the recent arrival from China of two giant pandas, which have become an instant hit with the Malaysian people.

Like all friendships, ours is sometimes tested. Malaysia was deeply saddened by the tragic disappearance of flight MH370, with 50 Malaysian passengers and crew, and 154 Chinese passengers on board. Facing a mystery without precedent, we were grateful for the support of the Chinese government, which has spared no expense in the search effort. We will not rest until the plane is found.

I believe that, with time, we will grow even closer together. Good relations are easy when times are good; but true friendship is forged in difficulty. In his speech four decades ago, my father stressed that ‘this goodwill that exists between us must be carefully nurtured’.

It is in this spirit that I come here to China. And, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the government of the People’s Republic of China for the hospitality and warmth extended to us on this visit, and particularly, to Premier Li Keqiang for attending today.

The joint communiqué we have signed further broadens and deepens cooperation in all areas of mutual benefit — economic, tourism, financial services, political, cultural and military.

We have agreed to increase our level of trade and investment, enhance people-to-people relations and to preserve peace and stability in the region.

Today, we renew the bonds of friendship that were established four decades ago. And, as Asia assumes a greater role in the world, we look forward to greater cooperation in the service of common goals.

In years to come, we will remain partners for prosperity; connected by history and firm in our commitment to peace. The ties that bind us will bring stability for our region and opportunity for our citizens.

For as the Chinese proverb says: ‘If people are of one heart, even the yellow earth can become gold’.”

 

Dyana lost narrowly in the Battle for Teluk Intan ?


June 1, 2014

Dyana lost narrowly in the Battle for Teluk Intan

by Dr. Ong Kian Ming@www.themalaysianinsider.com

As expected, the Teluk Intan by-elections was a very closely fought affair. In the end, the turnout of 67% was not sufficient for the DAP to maintain this seat, losing by a razor thin majority of 238 votes. In fact, before the results of the last polling station was returned to the DAP operations centre, our candidate, Dyana Sofya, was still ahead by 25 votes. Unfortunately, the last polling station, Sungai Bugis, also happened to be an UMNO stronghold which we lost by a majority of 263 votes.

Is this true ?

Is this true ?

It was always going to be a bold and risky strategy on the part of the DAP to field Dyana as a young, female Malay candidate. I had highlighted these risks earlier when I wrote about why Dyana should be considered as the underdog in this contest [1].  In this earlier statement, I outlined two possible scenarios – one more positive, one more scenario – under which DAP would win or lose this seat. Unfortunately, the more negative scenario came to pass.

The Chinese support for DAP decreased by 15% from 85% in GE2013 to 70% in this by-election which was the most pessimistic projection. This was somewhat surprising given the positive response that the campaign was receiving from the Chinese voters including the mammoth ceramah on the final day of the campaign. The Indian support for DAP decreased by 10% from 62% in GE2013 to 52% in this by-election, again the most pessimistic projection.

If there was a silver lining to this campaign, it would be the slight increase in Malay support of 3% from 25% in GE2013 to 28% in this by-election. In 6 Malay majority polling stations, the DAP experienced small increases in the overall support ranging from 0.7% to 3.4%, an encouraging sign given that we were not expecting the Malay support to increase.

teluk-intan-lean-towerIn analysing and interpreting these by-election results, care needs to be taken to separate the short term and more local factors at play in this by-election versus the more national and longer term issues.

At the local level, the race and place of birth of both candidates, the promise of a Ministerial position for the BN candidate if elected, the fact that this by-election will not have any impact on the overall balance of politics at the national level, the usual pouring in of goodies by the BN and promises for more development that happens during a by-election and the relative lack of interest in this contest that led to a lower turnout rate were all contributory factors to the DAP’s defeat. These factors may not have as big of an impact at the national level in the context of a general election.

At the national level, the possible impact of the hudud issue especially among the Chinese community, the lack of resonance of the Hindraf and Hindraf-related issues such as the resignation of Waythamoorthy as Deputy Minister and the appeal of Pakatan Rakyat in other similar constituencies – ethnically mixed, semi-urban with many developmental needs and relatively poor internet access – are all issues which need to be pondered over by the PR national leadership.

Some specific questions which need to be raised include the following:

First, will turnout in the next general election be as high as GE2013 especially if voters are turned off by the problems affecting Pakatan Rakyat such as the disagreement over hudud, problems in party elections, leadership issues within Pakatan in the state of Selangor, the Allah and the Malay bible issue, just to name a few? There is no guarantee that these problems will not escalate leading up to the next general election and if so, many voters may choose not to come back to vote. The lower turnout which partly caused DAP to lose Teluk Intan may be replicated in many other such seats.

Second, will Pakatan Rakyat be able to develop a convincing message to other constituencies like Teluk Intan which are semi-urban and are more likely to be convinced by promises of development rather than messages to combat corruption and to get rid of race based politics in this country? These are seats where Pakatan are either vulnerable incumbents e.g. Beruas, Bakri, Raub, Bukit Gantang, Kluang, Kuala Kedah, just to name a few or where BN are vulnerable incumbents e.g. Bentong, Cameron Highlands, Labis, Bagan Serai, just to name a few. A different and complementary strategy to what Pakatan has been doing at the national level may be needed in order for PR to defend and win these kinds of seats.

Third, will Pakatan be able to capitalize on its image as a coalition that is more appealing and attractive to the younger generation and therefore younger voters? There is no question that PR has more appealing and credible younger parliamentarians compared to the BN. But the youth vote is fickle and can easily swing to the BN. The challenge for Pakatan is to provide the necessary platform for young leaders, especially young Malay leaders, to present creative ideas and credible policies to convince the younger voters that they are better placed than BN to lead the country into the future.

We saw a glimpse of this in Dyana’s campaign in Teluk Intan. The amount of excitement and interest which she generated at the national level especially among young Malays was, dare I say, unprecedented. Because of Dyana’s candidacy, UiTM students were talking about the DAP and not necessarily in a negative manner! A Malaysian student in Oxford wrote about why younger Malays are abandoning UMNO, using Dyana as an example [2].  Marina Mahathir praised Dyana’s for being able to think and write for herself [3].  At the local level, Dyana received a tremendous reception from among kids and also young people where-ever she went. While most of them were not voters, they will be voters in the near future and young leaders such as Dyana are much better positioned to win them over.

image

The battle for Teluk Intan may have been lost by the DAP but by attempting this move to break down racial and gender barriers, new ground has been paved. I am confident that after this by-election, more young Malays would look at DAP as a possible avenue for political activism. I am confident that more young people would support Pakatan’s cause to move away from race-based politics. Pakatan’s challenge is to lead the way forward and not look back. – June 1, 2014.

Notes:

1. http://ongkianming.com/2014/05/27/press-statement-why-dyana-sofya-is-the-underdog-in-teluk-intan/

2.http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/yasmin-disney/article/dyana-and-umno-why-are-young-malays-abandoning-the-party

3. http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/she-can-think-she-can-write-she-can-articulate-marina-mahathir-says-of-smar

*Dr. Ong Kian Ming is the DAP election strategist and the MP of Serdang.

 

The Muslim World’s Challenges–Part 1


May 28, 2014

The Muslim World’s Challenges

By Dr Farhan Ahmad Nizami

ISLAMIC PAST: Legacy was built on Muslims’ confidence in Islam, sustained by material prosperity, combined with political and legal stability

Dr Farhan Ahmad NizamiFOR about a thousand years, roughly from the 7th century onwards, the people under Islamic rule made striking advances in their material and intellectual culture.

The contribution of those advances to modern Western philosophy, sciences and technology has been extensively studied. But I want to speak about their distinctively Islamic qualities.

The area under Islamic influence stretched overland from the Atlantic in the west to the borders of China, and across the Indian Ocean to the islands of the Malay archipelago.

This vast area was commercially interconnected with much continuous and profitable exchange of goods. It was also culturally interconnected, with prodigious traffic in books and ideas, scholars and travellers.

Its people busied themselves in seeking knowledge and writing it down. So much so was this that, to this day, there remain huge quantities of manuscripts, from different ends of the Islamic world, yet to be catalogued and studied.

The regional diversity and assimilative embrace of Islam as a civilisation is manifest in the names by which great figures in Islamic scholarship are best known: al-Qurtubi, al-Fasi, al-Iskandari, al-Dimashaqi, al-Baghdadi, al-Isfahani, al-Bukhari, al-Dihlawi and al-Jawi.

The language of communication among scholars was mostly Arabic, with Persian and Turkish becoming important later in the east. This dominance of Arabic was not the result of any policy to diminish local languages. It was simply a gradual extension of the authority of the language of the Quran and its teachings.

Muslims believed that the way of life defined by the Quran summed up the best of the teachings of the past. They expected that non-Muslims, too, would have knowledge, skills and virtues. They expected to learn from them and to fit that learning with Islam.

Islamic civilisation thus self-consciously set out to co-exist with and absorb the cultures of others. It did so from a position of political strength.

The House of Wisdom (Bayt al-Hikma) in Baghdad, funded by the Caliph, is the best-known example of this attitude. Translations were commissioned of works in every branch of learning, from metaphysics to the science of making poisons. Once translated, these works were studied critically, then improved and extended.

The dominant streams in this flood of knowledge were Hellenic, Persian and Indian. The Chinese script proved too severe an obstacle to the absorption of Chinese philosophy and science. However, Chinese influences are found everywhere in the material culture of the Islamic world, in decorative motifs, and in the skills of making paper, ceramics, glass, metal-ware, textiles, dyes and drugs.

The Quran presented the teaching of all God’s messengers as a unified legacy. Muslims set out to harmonise older traditions of learning with that legacy. This effort was not universally admired.

In particular, the presentation of Islamic teachings in the style of Greek philosophy remained controversial for centuries. In the end, it had a more enduring influence on the medieval Christian world than on Islam.

Such controversies did not dampen Muslims’ self-confidence. In general, Islamic norms continued to encourage intellectual adventure and achievement. Muslims were aware of living in prosperous, stable societies, and comfortable with non-Muslim communities among them. They considered themselves forward-looking, inventive and multi-cultured.

Their best scholars made innovations of lasting importance in mathematics and experimental science, and applied them in technical instruments, manufacture, and engineering. And the wealthiest royal courts competed to own and display the results.

Al-Jazari’s famous water-clock illustrates this well. Its water-raising technology is Greek; the elephant, inside which the great vat of water is hidden, represents India, the rugs on its back are Persian; on top of the howdah sits an Egyptian phoenix; on its sides are conspicuously Chinese red dragons. This deliberately multicultural device was constructed shortly after the Crusades.

All that said, while Muslim societies were stable, their governments were often not: regime change was usually violent and disruptive. Politically, the Muslims became ever weaker and more divided.

Little now survives of their cultural self-confidence; even less remains of the personal and political skills they had developed to manage life alongside different communities and confessions.

Their ways of organising long-distance commerce and regulating free markets have vanished completely. The material remains of the rest — all the thinking in all the books, colleges, libraries and hospitals — interest only medievalists, museums, and tourists.

The past still has presence in the public spaces; you still hear the call to prayer, even in secularised city centres. There is still a feel of Islam in private homes and personal manners.

We can objectively map the movements of books, ideas and scholars from one end of the Islamic world to the other in every century until the modern period.

The recovery following the Crusades and Mongol conquests included the building of madrasa and colleges that taught a rich, varied curriculum.

There is little evidence of that during European colonial rule. The madrasa of that era were not well funded. They could afford to focus only on Islamic sciences narrowly defined.

For the rest of their education, Muslims had to leave the cultural space of Islam. A division became established between religious and secular education, between old and modern, with Islam on the side of the old. That division is at the heart of the present challenges facing Muslims in every part of the world.

When we memorialise the legacy of the Islamic past — when naming public institutions, or presenting past glories in books and museums — we should remember that this legacy was built on Muslims’ confidence in Islam.

This confidence was sustained by material prosperity, combined with a sufficient degree of political and legal stability. Without prosperity and stability, the constraints on political and economic decisions are too strong for people to make their own choices for their future.

We need only look at the difficulties in post-recession Europe to know that feeling powerless to shape the future is not special to Muslim societies. It is not related to their being Muslim but to the material conditions in which they are Muslim.

The end-goal is hardly a matter of dispute among the vast majority of Muslims. It is to re-establish connections between Islamic upbringing and education and modern secular, technical education.

The latter provides the means for individuals to make their way in the world, to have things to do in it and to enjoy doing them successfully. The former provides them with their religious orientation and identity.

Religious orientation is not itself the goal. The aim is not to have people identify as Muslims; the vast majority already do that. Rather, the aim is to enable them to prosper in the world in ways that express and test, inform and improve, their identity as Muslims.

As the Chinese saying puts it, the journey of a thousand miles begins from where your feet are. We in the Muslim world can only set out from where we stand in reality. That reality needs to be stated bluntly.

Today, Muslim identity is not sufficiently relevant to how things are done in the world, especially in the collective spheres of life.

Muslim identity is not the engine of prosperity, of either the production or the distribution of wealth. Muslim identity is not the engine of knowledge, of collecting it, or adding to it, or disseminating it. (This is true, rather unexpectedly, even of knowledge about the past legacy of Islam.)

Muslim identity is not the engine of political and legal order. Or rather, it is not so in a positive way. Instead, we see mainly negative expressions of it. We see it in a despairing withdrawal from the evils of power: in the attitude that the status quo, however bad, is still better than chaos.

We see it also in despairing violence intended to erase the status quo, without any labour of understanding and analysis about what will follow.

The end-goal is to make being Muslim relevant and effective in the quest for knowledge, in the quest for prosperity and in the quest for political order. Except in the sphere of personal courtesies and private concerns, being Muslim is no longer the currency of exchange neither among Muslims themselves, nor between them and non-Muslims.

To make it so again is a task of huge scale and complexity. Our first priority must be to establish institutions and forums so that the present challenges are properly identified, and then try to guide expectations towards realistic, achievable goals.

The hurdles in the way are real and substantial.First, there is the hurdle, as I said, of determining what is do-able and specifying it intelligently, in the light of local realities; in the way that sustains momentum towards the next objective; and without losing sight of the end-goal.

Second, there is the hurdle of co-ordinating effort with other societies and states. Priorities can vary sharply with local conditions. Therefore, there will be a need for trust among policymakers, with tolerance for variable levels of competence and energy.

Thirdly, there is the hurdle of rejection by those who oppose any attempt to bring religious concerns into the public sphere. The response will sometimes be concession, compromise and conciliation. At other times, it will take the form of steadfastly holding one’s ground. In either case, alert flexibility — the readiness to adjust to different circumstances — is essential.

Among general objectives, the most inclusive is to build up the commercial, financial, trade and cultural ties between Muslim societies.One measure of the need is the low values and volumes of bilateral trade between Muslim-majority countries, compared with their trade with non-Muslim countries.

Another measure is the low values and volumes of trade outside the dollar-dominated banking system.

Another is the low numbers of Muslims travelling for higher education from one Muslim country to another; the general preference, for those who can afford it, remains Europe or America.

Yet another measure is the massive inflow of cultural product from the non-Muslim into the Muslim world — the information and imagery people get from their televisions and computers; the advertising that influences the things they want to own; the time they give to sports and other entertainments.

All of this shapes people’s horizons, and their understanding of what is important and what is possible.

For the states that make up the Islamic world, the need to work together is clear. Modern technologies make it much easier to do that than it used to be. The sacrifices needed for cooperation to succeed are widely understood. But we should also highlight the benefits of a strengthened economic base in Muslim states, through increase in trade and long-term investments in human development.

The distribution of resources favours Muslim nations, but they lack the will and confidence to manage them to best advantage. If only because they are Muslim nations, their leaders have a special responsibility to nurture that will and confidence.

Their aspirations and policies should be consciously linked to the history, culture and faith that Muslims share. If enough far-sighted individuals have the courage of their Islamic convictions, what seems desirable but unrealistic can become a realistic and achievable goal.

Muslims are commanded to “bid to the good and forbid from the evil” (amr bi-l-ma`ruf wa-nahy `ani l-munkar). This entails commitment to the direction and quality of the whole social ethos. Not just traditional forms of family life and neighbourliness but also religiously valid ways of earning a living, co-operatively with others and with the natural environment.

As I mentioned, in the past, Muslims traded globally. The expansion of Islam’s influence followed the trade routes out of its Arabian heartland. For Muslims, economic effort is an integral part of responsible living.

We have a reliable record of how the Prophet and his companions went about discharging that responsibility. Muslims may not engage in practices that deliberately and systematically deprive others of their livelihood, and then, in response to a separate impulse, give charitably to relieve the distress their economic practice has generated.

Rather, the effort to do good works and the effort to create wealth must be sustained as a single endeavour. Both means and ends must be halal.

More Muslims need to join, with each other and with non-Muslims, in the urgent need to balance the creation and distribution of wealth so that a good life is available to all, including future generations.

Muslims’ efforts to develop techniques of financing and investment that are free of usury and uncertainty (speculation) are pertinent to the wider concerns about ethical investment, fair and genuinely free trade, and abolishing the export, through debt-slavery, of poverty, instability and pollution to the poorest and weakest on this earth.

We have seen over the last forty years massive growth in the stocks of Islamic financial capital. But these stocks are not being deployed to develop the economic capacity of Muslim countries. It seems that the wealthiest Muslims, individually or as sovereign powers, prefer the safe, quick returns from investment in the non-Muslim world.

In many Muslim states, economic infrastructure and activity remain linked to servicing the economies of former colonial powers. Those linkages are not sustained only by fear, but by individual and institutional inertia — by lack of will and imagination on the part of officials to take the necessary steps to put in place the needed skills and systems.

One reason that Muslims do not invest their wealth and talents in Muslim countries is that those countries are unstable, unsafe and unproductive to work in.

This vicious circle is not a function of those countries being Muslim: similar socio-economic conditions elsewhere have similar effects — an exodus of energy, talent and money.

Many Muslim states inherited their political boundaries from the colonial era. Those boundaries increased dependence on the colonial power to keep order. The anti-colonial struggle provided a shared history for communities separated by ethnic and religious differences. In the post-colonial era they have not been able to find common ground. Solidarity is not a precondition, but an outcome, of the effort to identify common purposes. It is something that has to be, and can be, constructed.

To make Muslim identity effective in the world, a major policy commitment must be to make justice and fairness the decisive value for all modes and levels of governance.

This means allowing independent centres of authority to emerge and recognising their concerns and aspirations. It means a redistribution of opportunities to acquire wealth and influence, so that decision-making is not concentrated in the same few hands.

This must be a process, not a gesture. It must be given the time it needs, according to local conditions, to happen gradually.

In this way all parties learn to trust and work with each other to mutual benefit. If government is seen to be in the service of the people as a whole, its security is guaranteed by them.

Tomorrow: Part II

Dr Farhan Ahmad Nizami presenting the Perdana Putrajaya Lecture at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre yesterday. Bernama pic

On Thailand’s military coup


May 26, 2014

Thailand’s military coup: Stamping populist expectations and rising demands by status quo powers

by Dr Farish M.Noor@http://www.nst.com

farish-a-noorTHE news of the military takeover in Thailand has caught some observers by surprise, though it should not. For those who reside in Bangkok and who have been observing the escalation of violence on both sides of the political fence there, it was just a matter of time before a higher authority steps in and arrests the cycle of violence and confrontation that has taken the country to the brink.

However it should be noted that despite the particularities of the Thai case, there are also some underlying structural similarities between what has been happening in Thailand and what is happening in other parts of the ASEAN region as well. It can be summed up by one word, namely “populism”.

The anti-Chinese demonstrations that have erupted in parts of Vietnam, the anti-Chinese sentiments in the Philippines, the growing call for economic nationalism and the threat to nationalise all foreign capital assets in Indonesia, etc, are all symptoms of the same thing, namely a form of populist politics that seems devoid of ideological moorings and trajectory, but which has mass appeal to an undefined mass base of voters.

That such populism can be used as a vehicle for political mobilisation and as political capital by politicians is self-evident; but it can also lead to unfortunate outcomes such as the violence and killings we have seen in Bangkok and parts of Vietnam recently.

In the case of Thailand, the military takeover is basically an attempt by the status quo powers to hold back the tide of populist expectations and rising demands that were let loose during the time of Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin’s opponents who are equally opposed to his sister Yingluck — whom theyYingluck regard as little more than a proxy-puppet of Thaksin — seem worried that the rising expectations of the poor and disenfranchised may eventually threaten their own safe comfort zones and jeopardise their own standards of living. Yet notwithstanding their enmity towards Thaksin, the question remains: Why hasn’t the Thai middle-class elite emulated Thaksin’s ways and policies, in order to dent his own advance and win back the support of the people?

Thaksin was a divisive figure to many, but he did get some things right: His populist policies included healthcare to the poor, communicating with the masses and explaining his policies, introducing a “mobile government” where government meetings were held in other parts of Thailand outside Bangkok — and thus bridging the rural-metropole divide, etc.

 It has to be said that many of these policies were indeed smart, and perhaps needed too. So why didn’t the middle-class elites learn a lesson from Thaksin’s rise?

My own concern is that among a number of middle-class urbanites, the fear of populism has less to do with the fear of crass nationalist politics intoxicating emotional people, but rather the fear of the unwashed masses who are seen as reminders of the earlier underdeveloped past.

This is something I have seen so many times, in the capitals of Asia where the globally-connected elite have the tendency to look down upon the poor and the rural folk whom they are happy to exploit in their sweatshops or employ as lowly-paid domestic help, but who show no empathy whatsoever with their fellow citizens.

In such a case, the gap between the urban centre and the rural periphery is no longer simply a geographical one, but a moral one as well. It would be only a matter of time before a charismatic leader comes along, and mobilises the masses in the name of a new nationhood that is more inclusive and representative, and from that starting point social revolutions may well follow.

Nemanja Seslija Photography T: +61415065664 E: info@nemanjaseslija.com W: www.nemanjaseslija.comBangkok’s elite may stand aghast at Thaksin’s rise, but they need to also ask themselves how a man like him managed to bring together so many of the rural poor and working classes, and also why they failed to do the same.

As populism manifests itself across the Southeast Asian region, and increasingly becomes the norm in the conduct of domestic politics, it is imperative that politicians and policymakers take a less Machiavellian attitude towards the masses, and recognise that in this age of global communication and connectivity, societies can be mobilised faster and easier, and have higher demands, too.

Thaksin’s success was due to his uncanny ability to anticipate these changes and turn them to his advantage, but any politician who has the public’s interest in mind can do so, too.

The worry at the moment is that with Thailand’s politics now being put in a “pause” phase, these populist demands will not go away, but will simply be silenced momentarily. That still leaves Thai policymakers — whoever they may be — with the challenge of developing an inclusive national narrative that does not alienate the masses, or worse still keep things on the boil.

Asia’s tomorrow has come–PM Najib Tun Razak


May 24, 2014

Asia’s tomorrow has come

by Dato Seri Najib Tun Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia

http://www.nst.com.my (05-23-14)

RISING ASIA’: This is the full text of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s keynote address at the Nikkei’s 20th International Conference on The Future of Asia in Tokyo yesterday (May 22, 2014)

PM NajibPrime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak delivering a speech at the Nikkei’s 20th International Conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo yesterday. Najib says theLook East policy will move into a second phase, focusing on high technology and highly skilled workers. AFP pic

I am honoured to join you today. This is the second time I have spoken at the Future of Asia conference, and it is wonderful to be back in Japan. Under Prime Minister Abe’s leadership, the Japanese economy has burst back into life, with strong early promise. Now, Japan looks set to usher in a new period of sustained growth,  and set a new standard for reform.

Abenomics–Resurgance of Japan

Japan’s reputation for economic leadership is well-known and well-deserved. In the early 1980s, under Prime Minister Mahathir’s leadership, Malaysia began a ‘Look East’ policy, turning to Japan and Korea for inspiration, helping to train the next generation of Malaysian students and businesses leaders in the East Asian way.

Not only has the Look East policy continued under my tenure, but in line with our transformation programme for Malaysia, it’s moved into a second phase, focusing on high technology and highly skilled workers — helping us move our economy up the value chain, and onto high-income status.

Back in the 1980s, things were different. Asia was rising, but the truly explosive growth was still to come. The emergence of the ‘Tiger’ economies, and the reforms in China, showed the world that something was stirring in Asia. It was the 1980s that the phrase ‘Asian Century’ was coined. But for many observers, Asia was still tomorrow’s story.

Tomorrow has come to Asia (and Malaysia)

Tomorrow has come. Economically and politically, Asia is now at the heart of world affairs. The most populous region on earth is also one of the most dynamic, and increasingly, one of the more contested.

Remarkable economic development has focused global attention on Asia’s prospects. When the recent financial crisis shook confidence in established markets, more companies, and countries, began to ‘look East’.This growing sense of economic momentum has also raised the geopolitical stakes, as emerging and established powers vie for influence in Asia.

This trend shows no sign of abating. Within 20 years, Asia is set to account for more than 40 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP), and 60 per cent of the world’s middle class. This phase of growth will be accompanied by growing global stature, influence, and interest. We must come to terms with life in the spotlight.

Asia’s economy will remain in focus; our internal dynamics under the microscope. There will be, InsyaAllah, no return to Asia’s age of isolation. We are one of the new centres of gravity in a newly multipolar world.

For the Asians of tomorrow, what matters is how we respond to this scrutiny; whether we build strong and sustainable economies, or simply inflate more bubbles. Whether we show security leadership, or allow internal tensions to derail the peace upon which prosperity depends.

That is what I would like to talk about today — the challenges to Asia’s economy and security, and how we can respond. Let me start with the economy. There are a number of trends that will determine Asia’s continued success. The first is economic integration: the removal of trade barriers, and cooperation on monetary and fiscal policies.

According to McKinsey, in 2012, cross-border trade accounted for a third of global GDP. By 2025, that figure could reach half. In the past 20 years, emerging economies have more than doubled their share of cross-border goods, services and finance, but are still lagging far behind developed markets.

For Asian economies, integration offers significant benefits, including the ability to negotiate together. It can increase the power of middle nations, and raise living standards for all. It can help developing nations climb the ladder, and ensure fewer citizens are left behind, as common standards and entry requirements filter back into domestic policy.

I believe Asian states must look to build stronger, more lasting economic connections — both within our region, and with the outside world. That is why I strongly support the push to create a single market in Southeast Asia. The ASEAN Economic Community will support jobs and growth for more than half a billion people, and help ensure Southeast Asia’s growth spills across into all member states.

Trans-Pacific Partnership and Integration for Economic Growth

In an interdependent global economy, the benefits of greater cooperation extend far beyond Asia’s borders. Malaysia looks forward to the completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on terms acceptable to us. The TPP will strengthen our ties with the wider world; as will the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which will bring three of the largest economies into the world’s largest trading bloc.

For governments and businesses, trade agreements such as these often have a visible logic. We see the negotiations unfold, often over years. We see the compromises that are made, and the benefits that are secured.

The risk of public disaffection can grow. In an age of increasing integration, we must ensure we take people with us — explaining the process and describing the benefits more clearly. Education and engagement can help address public concerns, and win support for agreements that can unlock growth and create higher paying jobs.

To prevent the build-up of risk, we must also ensure reforms to our financial and regulatory regimes keep pace with innovation in the financial sector. In the next decade, Asia’s financial sector is projected to grow by 50 per cent, accounting for almost a third of global banking sector assets. Yet, as the International Monetary Fund points out, Asia’s financial integration is not keeping pace.

As Asian firms ‘build out’ beyond their borders, and Asian investors seek new opportunities, they will be bound more closely into the global economy. There will be new regulatory challenges, such as the growth of shadow banking, and new problems of scale. As Asian capital stretches into other emerging markets, financial supervisors must be ready to address a much wider range of cross-border risks.

Focus on the reforms needed at home

We must also focus on the reforms needed at home. As the Hong Kong Monetary Authority has pointed out, despite a considerable pool of savings, and strong inflows of capital, some Asian infrastructure projects struggle to attract investment due to political, legal and governance risks. Stronger credit, risk management and corporate governance norms can make it easier to secure foreign capital. These must be complemented by a commitment to institutional reform to boost business and public confidence.

These reforms must be undertaken with an eye on the big picture: Asia’s changing role in the world economy. For many years, emerging Asia’s development model was based on a trade surplus with rich-world markets. But rebalancing is under way, as our nations grow richer and our labour costs rise. Some Asian economies are focused on building domestic demand — laying the foundations for more independently sustainable growth.

Alongside macroprudential policies, this approach will help cushion us from the near-term problems, such as the ongoing effects of sluggish growth in established markets, the withdrawal of United States stimulus, whilst also preparing our economies for the next phase of development. They will pave the way for Asia to play a greater role in shaping the global financial architecture, for the ultimate benefit of our citizens. Such structural changes take time and commitment. They can be socially disruptive. But the reward is a stronger and more secure economic future.

The Challenge of Inequality

The second trend we must come to terms with is inequality.Over the past few years, the growing gap between rich and poor in developed economies has become a pressing policy issue. This is not just the battle cry of the Occupy Wall Street protesters: many research institutions have pointed to the corrosive effect of structural inequality.

A little inequality encourages individuals to work hard and innovate; but an unequal system creates hollow economies, where wealth and opportunity are kept for the few, at the expense of the many. Excessive inequality has serious, and avoidable, effects on health, education and life outcomes. When soaring GDP outstrips living standards, people feel they do not have a stake in their nation’s economic success. That, in turn, undermines social progress and threatens stability.

With rapid growth at a time of globalisation and technological change, emerging Asia is particularly exposed to widening inequality. Over the past two decades, eight out of 10 Asians found themselves living in areas where income inequality is rising, not falling. Whilst inequality has narrowed in emerging regions such as Latin America, it has widened in Asia. As the Asian Development Bank has pointed out, had inequality stayed static, an extra 240 million people would have been lifted out of poverty.

Behind the headline growth figures, it is clear that Asia’s future success depends on broader and more diverse economic development. For Asia to truly prosper, we must give our citizens greater equity, as well as greater equality. Again, this will not be easy. Even the most successful economies have struggled to tackle inequality. There is no straightforward solution. But there are a number of things we can do.

We must invest more in public goods such as education and health: increasing access to quality education and narrowing the divide between urban and rural health outcomes. It means strengthening social safety nets and deploying targeted subsidies that support the poor at the point of need. It means encouraging the private sector to do its part, with corporations providing labour with flexibility, training and support. And, it means building more balanced economies, with higher quality jobs and more even growth spread across sectors.

Fight Against Corruption

It also requires a lasting commitment to the fight against corruption. Corruption suppresses meritocratic opportunity, undermines social cohesion and eats away at people’s confidence in the state. Tackling corruption is not the work of a year, or even a decade; but it can and must be done. Government procurement should be reformed to introduce open bidding, bringing transparency to a process often blighted by graft. Strengthening independent anti-corruption institutions, and increasing prosecutions for both bribe takers and bribe givers, can help change attitudes — even when corruption is deeply rooted.

Responding to these two trends — integration and inequality — will be critical. The changes I have spoken about will not always be easy; they require the investment not just of resources, but of political will. Difficult conversations will be had; in my country, for example, where income inequality remains a concern, we are working to find the right balance between affirmative action and individual opportunity.

With courage and foresight, however, we can deliver a stronger economic future for Asia. But, this future will not be assured unless we deliver the security and stability on which economic success depends.

To do so, we must manage our own rising influence, whilst responding to more intense outside interest in Asian security matters. We must make headway on non-state threats such as terrorism and piracy, and act on the ‘new security’ issues such as climate change. And, we must prepare to play a new leadership role in global security issues.

Rise in Asian military power must deliver peace

First and foremost, we must ensure the rise in Asian military power delivers peace, not instability.Over the past decades, Asia’s strong economic growth has obscured a military build-up that is almost as strong. In 1988, Asian defence spending constituted eight per cent of global military expenditure. By 2012, that figure had risen to 20 percent. In the last 25 years, overall military expenditure has grown by 187 per cent.

Countries have every right to defend themselves. But regular arms replacement programmes aside, this trend indicates deeper concerns about security and conflict — concerns that could swiftly become self-fulfilling. To address this risk, we should reject the siren song of competitive armament, and seek wherever possible to strengthen the multilateral and diplomatic ties that check instability.

We should also redouble our commitment to negotiation. Confronted with complex disagreements between states, Asia must place its trust in diplomatic solutions. We should heed the fundamental principles on which good diplomacy is conducted: sovereign equality, respect for territorial integrity, peaceful settlement of disputes and mutual benefit in relations.

And, we must affirm our commitment to rule-based solutions to competing claims. International law, and not economic or military coercion, should guide the resolution of disputes over resources. I also believe Asia can explore ways to make a bigger contribution to global security challenges.On non-proliferation, for example, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has adopted a comprehensive treaty, the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone.

We should also make a concerted effort to implement and enforce strategic trade controls to cut the risk of dual-use goods.Our regional agreement on piracy is cited as a strong example of regional cooperation by the International Maritime Organisation, which seeks to replicate it elsewhere. The same principles — of sharing information and building capacity – could be applied to anti-terrorism initiatives, which, despite some successes, have sometimes lacked the coordination needed to be truly regional.

Peacekeeping and Conflict Resolution

On peacekeeping and conflict resolution, Asian nations are already ramping up their involvement in the promotion of global peace. Malaysia, which has already played an active role resolving regional conflicts, is bidding for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for 2015-2016. Japan has made peace-building one of its main diplomatic priorities, South Korea has markedly increased its peacekeeping and post-conflict work, and many ASEAN nations, such as Vietnam, which will join UN operations next year, are looking to play a more active role.

This is driven partly by pragmatism: we have seen from the rise of nations that growth in influence and hunger for resources can bring new tensions, and exacerbate old ones. But it is also about acknowledging that with rising influence comes rising responsibility; that for Asia to continue to prosper in a stable global security environment, we must play our part not just in the enforcement of international norms, but in their creation, too.

By laying the foundations for greater Asian engagement in the international security agenda, and preparing our economies for more integrated and sustainable growth, we are recognising that our position in the world is changing.

As we leave behind the era of single hyperpower dominance, as the global economy becomes more connected and as nations converge around democratic market liberalism, a broader policy approach is needed. Today, more than ever, consensus, cooperation and constructive engagement are the basis for success.

Thirty years after it was proposed, the Asian century is upon us. By reforming at home, and assuming a greater international role, we can ensure it brings stability, prosperity and growth.

Defending our airspace is not a video game


By Mariam Mokhtar, FMT

May23, 2014

PlayStation-crazy Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein thinks that RMAF jets sent to investigate an unidentified aircraft must fire missiles and shoot it down. He must realise that the defence of Malaysian airspace is not like playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’.

It has been 10 weeks since MH370 disappeared without a trace en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur and in the absence of anything substantive, speculations and intrigue are taking hold in the public space.

It has been 10 weeks since MH370 disappeared without a trace en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur and in the absence of anything substantive, speculations and intrigue are taking hold in the public space.

It is bad enough having to suffer an inept Cabinet. We do not need trigger-happy ministers to start a war because of their stupidity.Hishammuddin’s performance, in the interview with ABC’s Four Corners programme, was embarrassing. He wasn’t just evasive, he was reckless and negligent.

He misunderstands his role as Defence Minister. On the night Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared, he justified the failure of the RMAF to scramble a fighter jet to investigate because the blip on the radar was “…not deemed a hostile object.” He said, “If you’re not going to shoot it down, what’s the point of sending it (a fighter) up?” The Defence Minister does not need Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim or other people to tarnish the reputation of Malaysia. Hishammuddin is doing a splendid job by himself.

Malaysia's defence minister defended his military's failure to scramble a fighter jet to follow a Malaysian airliner when it veered off course and vanished two months ago, saying it wasn't seen as a hostile object.

Malaysia’s defence minister defended his military’s failure to scramble a fighter jet to follow a Malaysian airliner when it veered off course and vanished two months ago, saying it wasn’t seen as a hostile object.

As Defence Minister he should have known that to shoot a plane down, one does not need to send a fighter jet to apprehend it. One can target it with a surface-to-air missile. Hishammuddin’s justification for not sending fighter jets to investigate a possible incursion into Malaysian airspace is no different from his reaction to last year’s invasion of Sabah.

When Hishammuddin was told about the incursion of the Suluk militants in Lahad Datu in Sabah, he was very laid-back and told the public not to be alarmed because the Suluks were probably a bunch of old men enjoying a picnic. We subsequently found out that he was wrong!

Hishamuddin's reaction defies logic and common sense.

Hishamuddin’s reaction defies logic and common sense.

As Defence Minister, he has much to learn, and a schoolboy probably knows more than him. During peacetime a lot of the work of the military and armed forces is routine, like guarding key premises, weapons depots, telecommunications facilities or border posts.

Perhaps the most excitement the military gets is when they have to investigate reports of an incursion or to check-out sightings of people, straying close to important installations. Investigating any unknown activity does not necessarily mean the military has to engage in hostilities.

When a navy vessel encounters a boat full of asylum seekers they do not blow it out of the water.

The two aeroplanes which crashed into the twin towers on the Sept 11 terrorist attack were commercial aircraft and were not deemed hostile. What if MH370 had been commandeered by terrorists and turned into a missile?

A whole nation betrayed

After the Sept 11 attack on the twin towers, countries throughout the world put their air forces on red alert, ready to escort any plane which strayed from its flight path. They would only be shot if they were considered a threat.

Hishammuddin has often repeated that the RMAF knew the blip on the radar was not hostile. He has refused to explain how the RMAF knew this.

Although there was no radio contact with MH370, the RMAF fighter jets could have done a visual confirmation by the paintwork and the markings on the body of the plane. They could have trailed MH370 and known in which general direction it was heading.

The Search and Rescue (SAR) mission could have been better coordinated instead of sending search teams on a wild goose chase, wasting time and resources. The MH370 investigations highlighted a lack of communication between the Malaysian military aviation and the civil aviation authorities. How is Hishammuddin resolving this?

We spend hundreds of millions of ringgit on aeroplanes, submarines, patrol boats, defence equipment and radar but the leaders of the armed forces seem to be irresponsible or incompetent, or both. In most air forces, strategic airfields have two pilots ready to take-off at a moment’s notice and intercept unidentified aircraft.

The military did not intercept flight MH370 because Malaysia was not in war mode, says Acting Minister of Transport Hishammuddin Hussein.

The military did not intercept flight MH370 because Malaysia was not in war mode, says Acting Minister of Transport Hishammuddin Hussein.

Planes which have not filed a flight plan and which stray into prohibited airspace are intercepted and escorted out of the airspace. Sometimes rival countries may want to test the air defences of a country and check the capabilities of that country’s air force.

Hishammuddin has betrayed a whole nation. Perhaps, his most cruel act and his worst indiscretion was to insult the families of the passengers and crew of MH370. He has failed them. He gave conflicting and inconsistent reports on the military radar detection. There were allegations that the radio transcripts between the control tower and cockpit were doctored.

Why is there so much intrigue over the cargo manifest? Because of incompetence, he and Najib Tun Razak directed SAR to the wrong areas. Why are we at the mercy of ministers who are both reckless and dopey? Hishammuddin is not fit to be the Defence Minister, let alone a future PM. Trying to appease the rakyat by flying in economy will not do.

Hishammuddin defends the people who did not do their jobs. So, why is he rewarding failure? We owe it to the families of the passengers and crew of MH370 and that is why Hishammuddin must resign, along with the head of the RMAF and the chief of the armed forces.

They are only good at showing off their medals at the National Day parade. The rest of the time they act irresponsibly and treat the defense of the nation as a matter of inconsequence.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist

China rebuffing ASEAN’s Quest for a binding code of conduct (COC) on the South China Sea


May 17, 2013

China rebuffing ASEAN’s Quest for a binding code of conduct (COC) on the South China Sea

by Dr. BA Hamzah @www.nst.com.my

THE ASEAN summit in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, has just ended with the usual pomp and circumstance. Some heads of government were visibly exasperated with fresh feuds in the South China Sea and their failure to bring order to the “Maritime Heartland”.

Scs

At Nay Pyi Taw, all eyes were on China, the Middle Kingdom, for rebuffing ASEAN’s proposal for a binding code of conduct (COC) on the South China Sea. The negotiation for the COC started since the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties was adopted in Phnom Penh in 2002. While a mechanism to manage order at sea remains pressing, from Beijing’s perspective, the COC is a bridge too far, unnecessary and giving it just enough rope.

Besides this, the fissures within ASEAN on the COC have not impressed China. Vietnam and the Philippines are very vocal. The other claimants are more conciliatory. The non-claimant states are happy to go along with the COC to keep ASEAN together.

ASEAN should know that China is determined to dominate the South China Sea as its “own internal lake”, akin to the “Yankee Lake” that the United States established in the Caribbean to keep rivals out in the early 20th century.

In my view, China is no longer eager to embrace the COC. A weaker China was more willing to let ASEAN play the China card. Hence, it lulled ASEAN into thinking that it would play ball with the COC. Today, the card has changed hands.

A more confident China, which believes it has geography and history on its side, now takes things in its stride. Worse, China believes that the COC is a pretext by some claimant parties to engage stronger external parties (read: the US) in a proxy war. As an example, within days of signing an Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with Washington, Manila is involved in a massive US-led war game, involving more than 5,000 troops near Scarborough Shoals that is occupied by China since April 2012.

From Beijing’s perspective, the joint military exercise is threatening and runs counter to the earlier assurance by US President Barack Obama that the EDCA was not to counter or contain China. If China is not the threat, who is?

China believes geopolitics is also on its side. At the global level, its rise comes at a time when its biggest rival, the Frugal Superpower (after Michael Mandelbaum), is limping and retreating home. America’s decline results from strategic overstretch and costly military misadventures.

China is now more emboldened as US soldiers continue to recuperate from operational fatigue. Despite the EDCA and policy to rebalance forces to East Asia, China believes the US is less likely to put more fresh boots on the ground.

The US is too preoccupied with Europe to bother about the Pacific. The situation in Ukraine will keep the US busy with Russia. Besides, Washington cannot afford to antagonise Beijing, as it needs China to moderate Iran’s increasing influence in the Middle East, as well as keeping peace in Africa.

The COC is an agreement between ten states against one. Its asymmetrical nature does not bode well for China. It drags in the non-claimant parties, with whom China has no territorial quarrel. The fissures or cracks between the claimant states and non-claimant states (visible in Phnom Penh in 2012 and evident in Myanmar this year, another non-claimant state), have weakened the ASEAN initiative.

ASEAN must not be too pushy over the COC or it may lose its raison d’etat. When Asean was formed in 1967, its original mission was very clear: to keep peace among the member states. Today, there is a danger that the internal fissures may undermine ASEAN’s mission, strategic relevance and centrality.

Dr. Hamzah,

Do we really need a binding code of conduct on South China Seas, since China is already a signatory to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in SEA?–Din Merican

CHINA: INSTRUMENT OF ACCESSION TO THE TREATY OF AMITY AND COOPERATION IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

WHEREAS the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, which was signed on 24 February 1976 in Bali, Indonesia, was amended by the First and Second Protocols Amending the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, which were signed on 15 December 1987 and 25 July 1998, respectively;

WHEREAS Article 18, Paragraph 3, of the aforesaid Treaty as amended by Article 1 of the aforesaid Second Protocol provides that States outside Southeast Asia may also accede to the Treaty with the consent of all the States in Southeast Asia, namely Brunei Darussalam, the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Republic of Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, the Union of Myanmar, the Republic of the Philippines, the Republic of Singapore, the Kingdom of Thailand and the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam; and

WHEREAS all the States in Southeast Asia have consented to the accession of the People’s Republic of China;

NOW, therefore, the People’s Republic of China, having considered the aforesaid Treaty as amended by the Protocols, hereby accedes to the same and undertakes faithfully to perform and carry out all the stipulations therein contained.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, this Instrument of Accession is signed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China.

DONE at Bali, Indonesia, on the Eighth Day of October in the Year Two Thousand and Three.

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The Bay of Bengal: A New Locus for Strategic Competition in Asia


May 16, 2014

Asia Pacific BulletinNumber 263 | May 15, 2014

ANALYSIS

The Bay of Bengal: A New Locus for Strategic Competition in Asia

By David Brewster

Bay of BengalIt is possible that the Bay of Bengal may soon be joining the South China Sea as a major locus of competition between China and its neighbors. Both are the key transit zones between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and, some would argue, the pivot points for maritime security across the Indo-Pacific littoral. Like the South China Sea, the Bay of Bengal is now coming under the strategic spotlight.

Indeed, this body of water is beset by a host of security problems which may even dwarf those in other regions of Asia. These include separatist insurgencies and religious violence in most of the littoral states; major concerns over the energy trading routes through the Malacca Strait; maritime boundary disputes relating to oil and gas; widespread piracy and smuggling; and many environmental security problems, not least the possible inundation of large parts of the littoral by rising sea levels. To these problems can be added strategic competition among India, China and the United States.

There are however surprisingly few attempts by strategic analysts to take a coherent view of security problems around the Bay of Bengal. Indeed, analysts rarely even see it as a “region,” usually drawing a sharp dividing line through the middle of the bay, between “South Asia” and “Southeast Asia.” Perhaps it is now time to better understand the Bay of Bengal as a coherent strategic region within the broader framework of the Indo-Pacific.

India has long been the biggest naval power in the Bay and last year announced that it should henceforth be seen as a “net security provider” to the region. India’s National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon announced in March the establishment of a new maritime security arrangement among India and the island states of Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius. Menon also foreshadowed that the arrangement may be expanded to encompass the Bay of Bengal or that a similar arrangement could be replicated with other littoral states around the Bay. If implemented, such an arrangement would represent a major strategic development for India and for the region.

The main driver for these developments is China. India has long been anxious about a possible Chinese military strategic presence in the Bay of Bengal. Delhi fretted about the purchase of Chinese arms by Sri Lanka during its civil war. The close military links between Myanmar and China have also long worried India, including a supposed Chinese listening post on Myanmar’s Great Coco Island–which if it ever existed, is no longer there. More recently there have been concerns about Bangladesh-China military links, including the purchase of two Ming-class submarines by Bangladesh from China.

India has also long been building its military power in the Bay, including new naval and air facilities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands that run north-south through the Bay. These would allow India to potentially dominate the western end of the Malacca Strait and much of the surrounding waters. The Indian Navy is also gradually being “rebalanced” towards the Bay through the expansion of its Eastern Fleet on India’s east coast–among other things, India’s new aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines will be based there. India has growing security relationships with all of its Bay of Bengal neighbors and is keen to demonstrate its credentials as a provider of public goods in such areas as maritime policing, counter-terrorism and humanitarian and disaster relief.

For years, India has hosted its premier multilateral naval exercise, Exercise MILAN, out of the Andaman Islands. This year’s event, held in early February, was the largest ever with 16 guest navies represented, including all the Bay of Bengal states and other navies from the Pacific to Africa. The cooperative and multilateral nature of India’s Exercise MILAN stands in stark contrast to a unilateral naval exercise which was conducted in late January by China in the eastern Indian Ocean–between the Indonesian island of Java and Australia’s Christmas Island.

These developing security relationships have been accompanied by an increased focus on building political and economic ties across the Bay. Recently, New Delhi has been giving renewed focus to BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), the regional grouping of Bay of Bengal states, with an emphasis on developing improved transport connectivity across the Southern Asian littoral. Some see BIMSTEC as representing an important opportunity for India to break out of the “stagnant regionalism” of the Indian subcontinent–where India is frequently constrained by its rivalry with Pakistan.

Raja Mohan, a prominent Indian strategic commentator, argues that India’s sluggishness is allowing China to seize opportunities which are enabling it to develop regional infrastructure in and around the Bay. These include the construction of road links and gas and oil pipelines that essentially extend “vertically” from southern China through Myanmar to the Bay of Bengal. According to Mohan, New Delhi’s dithering means that India risks being marginalized in the region–while India talks, China builds.

Certainly the BIMSTEC grouping has had few concrete achievements to date. This largely reflects the internal political turmoil and violent insurgencies that have kept members such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand internally focused. Plans for the development of “horizontal” road infrastructure connecting major manufacturing areas in eastern India with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and even to Vietnam have been under discussion for years. India’s Congress-led government did little to create any sense of urgency in implementing these projects.

This is not, however, just about India and China. Washington is also playing a delicate balancing act in the Bay. It wants to see a reduction in China’s relative economic influence and to encourage countries such as Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to avoid becoming too reliant on Chinese weapons or military assistance. The United States also wants to be able to counter or contain any new Chinese maritime presence. These objectives are consistent with India’s, but India is also extremely sensitive towards the military presence of any outsiders in the Bay.

This means that Washington needs to build security relationships and capabilities in the Bay of Bengal in a manner that pays proper regard to India’s perspectives. This includes avoiding or minimizing any overt US military presence that could be perceived as impinging upon India’s core interests in the Bay. An understanding about respective security objectives and responsibilities in the Bay of Bengal needs to be part of a more cooperative overall strategic relationship that Washington should be seeking to develop with the new government in New Delhi.

Dr. David Brewster is a Visiting Fellow with the Strategic and Defense Studies Center at the Australian National University and a Fellow with the Australia India Institute. He is the author of India’s Ocean: The Story of India’s Bid for Regional Leadership and can be contacted via email at dhbrewster@bigpond.com.

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MH370: “The same mistake must not be made again” – Najib


May 14, 2014

MH370: “The same mistake must not be made again” – Najib

The Silent OnePrime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak admitted to the flaws the Malaysian government had done in managing the case of the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370.

Najib in his article entitled Malaysia’s Lessons from the Vanished Airplane, published on The Wall Street Journal, today, stated that “My government didn’t get everything right. Yet other parties too, must learn from MH370 – and make changes.”

In his this article Najib started off with his chronicle of the “bizarre” and “unprecedented” event that took place under his watch as the Prime Minister and that he understands the plight and the terrible anguish for the families of those on the plane especially with the lack of definitive proof or physical evidence like the wreckage from the aircraft that made it harder to bear.

Najib also credited the efforts by all for doing their level best under near-impossible circumstances and this is a huge attainment for a developing country like Malaysia to overcome diplomatic and military sensitivities and bring together 26 different countries to conduct one of the world’s largest peacetime search operations.

However,  Najib wrote, ”But we didn’t get everything right. In the first few days after the plane disappeared, we were so focused on trying to find the aircraft that we did not prioritize our communications.”

Najib also acknowledged the fact that there was a huge confusion especially when the plane vanished instantaneously between two countries’ air traffic controls and that it took air-traffic controllers four hours to launch the search-and-rescue operation and this requires an investigation.

The Prime Minister wrote “None of this could have altered MH370’s fate. And I pledge that Malaysia will keep searching for the plane for as long as it takes. We will also continue facilitating the independent investigation so we can learn from any mistakes. We have already tightened airport security, and investigators are looking for other measures to improve safety.”

Najib highlighted that this ordeal faced by Malaysia in this era of modernity must not be taken lightly and that the nation is not the only party that must learn from MH370.

He ended the article by saying “The global aviation industry must not only learn the lessons of MH370 but implement them. The world learned from Air France but didn’t act. The same mistake must not be made again.”

The geopolitics of MH370


May 12, 2014

Malaysia

The geopolitics of MH370

Having bashed Malaysia over the missing flight, China is now making up

May 10 2014 | KUALA LUMPUR, The Economist | From the print edition

THERE will be no let-up in the efforts to find the missing Malaysian Airlines jet Najib Razak, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, vowed on May 5. Despite his promise, however, there is growing acceptance that it will take months even years to find any trace of flight MH370, which disappeared on March 8. Hopes that any of its passengers might still be alive must also be cast aside. The new search area in the Indian Ocean will alone cover 60,000 square kilometres (23,000 square miles)—and that is on top of the 4,600,000 square kilometres already scoured.

Because the focus of the search-and-rescue mission has now moved to the west coast of Australia, Malaysians have some breathing space to reflect on a traumatic two months in the glare of the world’s attention. The country has taken a battering, but the longer-term damage is another matter. The saga has emphasised how much Malaysia matters in the geopolitics of the region: the two Pacific superpowers, America and China, have both come to play big roles in the search for the missing plane, if in very different ways.

Hisham, Najib, and MuhiyuddinIn any reckoning, Malaysia’s handling of the loss of MH370 has been a public-relations disaster. The tone was set during the first week by the authorities’ confusion, stonewalling and contradictory messages. One of the gravest flaws has been a deep reluctance to release information, however innocuous. This antagonised the victims’ families. And the problem persists.

On May 1 the Malaysian government published a much-heralded report on the disappearance of the plane. This turned out to consist of just five pages, containing little new information. But, as one government adviser admitted: “If we had got this out there in the first week, there wouldn’t have been a nine-week drumbeat of everyone calling us lying bastards.”

Opposition politicians and critics of the government say that the damage to Malaysia’s reputation is a result of the country’s poor governance. Malaysia, the argument goes, is more authoritarian than democratic, with little transparency or accountability in government. There is some truth to that. But government officials are justified in feeling frustrated that the failures of communication have overshadowed their success in efficiently putting together an extraordinary coalition of countries to look for the plane.

On the technical side, many acknowledge that Malaysia has done an adequate job with the relatively limited means at its disposal. It has also gone beyond the call of duty in opening up to its search partners, sharing sensitive details of its military radar system, for example, with the Chinese.

barack-obama-dan-khairy-jamaluddinOne person who has stood up for Malaysia over MH370 is Barack Obama. During a recent long-scheduled visit to Malaysia, the American President went out of his way to laud the country’s leadership of the search operation. America has contributed a vast amount of equipment, man-hours and money to the search for the missing plane, out of all proportion to the three Americans (out of 227 passengers) lost on the flight.

This has brought the two countries closer, at a time when America is searching for new and reinvigorated alliances in the region. Historically, there has been a good deal of anti-Americanism in Muslim-majority Malaysia, but for the time being that seems to have been stilled. Mr Obama got a hero’s welcome from everyone.

That in turn may help account for the zigzag course of China in the MH370 affair. The flight was en route to Beijing, and over half the passengers were Chinese. But rather than support the Malaysian government in the first month or so, China seemed to incite the distraught families into ever fiercer, often histrionic, criticism of Malaysian officialdom, perhaps to deflect attention from the possibility that the plane might have been downed by home-grown terrorists. The Chinese did nothing to dispel some of the alternative, wilder conspiracy theories circulating in Beijing.

In recent weeks, however, the tone has changed. The Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia has told the Chinese-language press in Kuala Lumpur that his country accepts that the disappearance of MH370 was not some dark conspiracy and that Chinese-Malaysian relations are unaffected.

The wave of criticism in the official Chinese press has largely abated. Perhaps China feels, in the regional battle of wills with America, that it needs good relations with Malaysia and that these were threatened by its attacks.

Malaysia is China’s largest trade partner in the Association of South-East AsianNajib-Xi-Jinping-Malaysia-China- Nations (ASEAN). It also has a large ethnic-Chinese population, and thus could be helpful in its disputes in the South China Sea with other ASEAN countries, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, both firmly backed by America.

Mr Najib makes an official visit to China at the end of this month, marking the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries, initiated by Malaysia’s then prime minister, Abdul Razak, Mr Najib’s late father. With power so finely balanced in the region, China will strive to make the visit go smoothly, including keeping angry families at a face-saving distance.

From the print edition: Asia

 

The Power of ‘the Street’


May 11, 2013

NY Times Sunday Review

The Power of ‘the Street’

by Serge Schemann (05  09 14)

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/11/opinion/sunday/the-power-of-the-street.html?partner=rss&emc=rss