Japan is an unpredictable power

August 2, 2014

Japan is an unpredictable power


Japan is an unpredictable power. Sorrowful in defeat in WW 11, it promised never to bear arms againAbe-Najib. However, this is about to change if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has his way. Since becoming the PM for second time in 2012, Abe-san has reneged on the solemn promise Japan made after its surrender in 1945. Abe-san has become the most determined leader to tear the 1947 Peace Constitution and put Japan on a war footing again.

At US $49 billion, Japan’s defence expenditure for 2013 saw an increase of 3 per cent over 2012, the highest in 22 years. Using the same pretexts that the Japanese Imperial Army used to wage wars in late 1930s & 1940s, Abe -san may succeed with his military build-up plan. Japan has a well-equipped standing conventional military ( a.k.a Self Defense Forces) of 225,000 personnel.

A hostile security environment (read China), access to markets, freedom of navigation and national pride are often cited as justification for a stronger military power. Japan’s real motivation is to prepare for the day when the US could no longer provide the military umbrella. Japan became a much-respected nation long after it lost the war.

Japan was a feared nation during the war because it was brutal in victory; it was hated for its brutality and for refusing to formally apologise for its belligerent past. For example, it has refused to acknowledge the role of comfort women, angering the Koreans. The Chinese are upset because Japan continues to deny that the “Rape of Nanking” incident did take place in 1937 and the administration of the Diaoyu/ Senkakus islands, contrary to the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty.

As the third largest world economy, (some say still second), Japan has achieved what no other nation has, including the victors of WW 11, the UK or France. Japan was able to become a strong economic power, NOT because (as asserted by some) the US has undertaken to rewrite its defence expenditure; but, primarily because it has clever, hardworking and innovative people. In short, unlike the United States, Japan (also Germany) has become an influential global power without the normal power trappings associated with the military. A rare achievement in a capitalist system ! By renouncing this geo-business model to bear arms, Japan may gamble its political future.

The Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu who wrote the treatise “The Art of War” who would have been proud of modern day Japanese leaders for embracing his strategic thoughts may now be troubled by Abe-san’s militarisation programme.

In fact, the geo-business model Japan adopted since 1947 has been the envy of many. By staying clear of political entanglements, Japan was able to focus on rebuilding its nation, rising from the ruins of war to what it is today. While Japan is free to be “a normal nation” again, by removing the constitutional constraint (Article 9), it faces an uncertain future as history may repeat itself. A re-armed Japan is set to become a new hegemon but a threat to the region and the world.

The world will be a much safer place without a hegemon with a shady past.Today, as businessmen, Japanese are welcome almost everywhere. Although they are tough trade negotiators (evident in the current Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations with the US), who rarely transfer freely their technology to host countries, they are perceived as friendly and courteous.

The nagging question is: why swap a proven geo-business model for M 16 and AK 47 that failed to sustain its Greater Asia co- Prosperity political dream in the 1940s. Why swap Honda, Toshiba, Hitachi, Suzuki, Nissan, for example, for the much-feared drones and missiles? Can the AK 47, drones, submarines and missiles give the Japanese people the same peace, prosperity and security they have enjoyed for almost seven decades, a quarter of a century from today?

Doubtful as it is, Japan seems to be reacting to some geo-political uncertainties in the region by reinventing itself in a traditional fashion, like a novice, when it should continue to rely on its proven geo-business model. With an eye for geography, the answer to a more assertive China is not to spend more on military hardware (Japan is currently world’s fifth largest defense spender) but to invest more on non- traditional ( i.e., diplomatic, cultural and economic) means by forging closer relationship with wary neighbours like China, Russia and South Korea.

Tokyo’s recent overtures towards the ASEAN countries and Australia, for example, will not bear fruits if Japan were to bear arms again and becomes a military threat to the region. As victims of its aggression in WW 11 their support cannot be presumed.

John KerrryBy selling or transferring used military assets, Japan may temporarily bolster the confidence of Vietnam and the Philippines currently at odds with China in the South China Sea. With the worsening of the US-Russia relations in Europe, following the crisis in the Crimea, for example, the strategic consequences of Japan’s subtle containment policy of the Middle Kingdom can be far reaching. When push comes to shove, in my view, the US may likely jettison its policy of “pivoting” to the Far East to focus on Europe. The Americans will not abandon Europe for Asia.

The geopolitics of MH370

May 12, 2014


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


One missing jet, one sunken ferry, two responses

May 2-3, 2014

MY COMMENT: William Pesek is generous. I would give Malaysia  ‘F’ imagefor its handling of MH370 tragedy. Nothing illustrates this more than the release of the preliminary report which confirms what most of us in Malaysia knew about MH370 and that is our government has shown the world that it is incompetent, inept and poorly led. Our leaders lacked an appreciation of the severity of the tragedy in terms of national security. And that means we never learned the lessons of Lahad Datu. Arrogance will get us no where. Humility will since it is when the learning process begins. –Din Merican

Thanks, CLF…Be Yourself… this poem…it is still a beautiful world…we are children of the Universe–Din Merican

Crisis Management: Malaysia gets ‘D’ and South Korea earns ‘A-

Malaysia getsD ’, South Korea ‘A-’ in handling of tragedies, says Bloomberg columnist

www. themalaysianinsider.com

Putrajaya was once again slammed by a Bloomberg columnist who compared Malaysia’s handling of the MH370 saga with South Korea’s response to the recent Sewol ferry tragedy.

We accept God's will but at the same time, wants us human beings to be accountable for our actions, lest another tragedy such as this will strike again due to our ignorance.

We accept God’s will but at the same time,  we want as human beings to be accountable for our actions, lest another tragedy such as this will strike again due to our ignorance.

In a scathing attack, columnist William Pesek said he would give top marks to South Korea for their handling of the ferry tragedy but found Malaysia sorely lacking in handling the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

He said the incidents could be described as tests for the two governments, if not of Malaysian and South Korean societies. “The grades so far? I’d give Korea an A-, Malaysia a D,” he said in his Bloomberg column titled “One missing jet, one sunken ferry, two responses”.

Pesek said in the two weeks since the ferry sank, killing about 300 people on board, the South Korean government had reacted with self-questioning, shame and official penitence.

President Park Geun-hye issued a dramatic and heartfelt apology. Her No. 2, Prime Minister Chung Hong Won, resigned outright. Prosecutors hauled in the ship’s entire crew and raided the offices of its owners and shipping regulators. Citizens and the media are demanding speedy convictions and long-term reforms,” he said.

Najib must emulate SKorea's accountibility. It's President apologizes, it's PM resigns over the ferry tragedy.

Najib must emulate S Korea’s accountability. Its President apologizes, its PM resigns over the ferry tragedy.

On the flip side, there was no such reaction on the part of Malaysian authorities 56 days after MH370 vanished, said Pesek. “No officials have quit. Prime Minister (Datuk Seri) Najib Razak seems more defiant than contrite. The docile local news media has focused more on international criticism of Malaysia’s leaders rather than on any missteps by those leaders themselves,” he said.

Pesek said although both countries are democracies, the key difference is the relative openness of their political systems.

“One party has dominated Malaysia since independence, while Korea, for all itsgrowing pains and occasional tumultuousness, has seen several peaceful transfers of power over the past quarter-century. Unused to having to answer critics, Malaysia’s government has responded defensively.

“Korean officials, on the other hand, are reflecting, addressing the anger of citizens, and delving into what went wrong with the shipping industry’s regulatory checks and balances,” he pointed out.

Pesek said South Korea was most likely to emerge from the crisis stronger than ever, unlike Malaysia. He said this could be seen from the way both countries handled the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Pesek said Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was the Prime Minister then, had blamed the ringgit’s plunge on some shadowy Jewish cabal headed by George Soros instead of internalising what had gone wrong.

“It didn’t admit it had been using capital inflows unproductively and that coddling state champions – including Malaysia Airlines – was killing competitiveness. Never did the ruling United Malays National Organisation consider it might be part of the problem.”

Pesek said South Korea, on the other hand, forced weak companies and banks to fail, accepting tens of thousands of job losses. South Korean authorities, he said, clamped down on reckless investing and lending and addressed moral hazards head-on.

“Koreans felt such shame that millions lined up to donate gold, jewellery, art and other heirlooms to the national treasury.” Pesek said while South Korea’s response wasn’t perfect, the country’s economic performance since then speaks for itself.

“Now as then, Korea’s open and accountable system is forcing its leaders to look beyond an immediate crisis. Ordinary Koreans are calling for a national catharsis that will reshape their society and its attitude toward safety. Park’s government has no choice but to respond.

“Malaysia’s government, on the other hand, appears to be lost in its own propaganda.

Hishamuddin HusseinTo the outside world, acting Transport Minister (Datuk Seri) Hishammuddin Hussein performed dismally as a government spokesman: He was combative, defensive and so opaque that even China complained.

“Yet Hishammuddin is now seen as Prime Minister material for standing up to pesky foreign journalists and their rude questions. The government seems intent on ensuring that nothing changes as a result of this tragedy. As hard as it seems now, South Korea will move past this tragedy, rejuvenated. Malaysia? I’m not so sure.” .

May 3, 2014

To those who must take responsibility for mishandling MH370: Just RESIGN

By Robert Chaen@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Hisham, Najib, and Muhiyuddin

Here are three good reasons why Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya or Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein –or, better still, both—must resign immediately: to save MAS, to save the tourism industry and, most importantly, to save the reputation of Malaysia and Malaysians.

Malaysians, Chinese and other nationals affected by the MH370 crisis want someone to be accountable—a real person.

They don’t want a thousand and one excuses or those public-relations statements coming from the Prime Minister, such as “this is an unprecedented disaster, 26 countries are involved in the search, we are doing our very best” and so on.

Malaysia Airlines is already losing badly. Bookings are significantly down, and it is likely that more celebrities, holiday makers and travel agents will boycott the airline. And there is now serious talk about the company being split up.

Malaysia’s tourism industry will lose billions of ringgit. Business will be down for hotels, taxis, shopping malls and even roadside stalls. Because neither Jauhari nor Hishammuddin is willing to resign, much less apologize, Malaysians everywhere—not just Malaysian singers in China—will lose respectability in the eyes of the world.

Selfish and arrogant

mh370-hishammuddinIt would seem that the only ones not losing are those clinging to their jobs and salaries despite their responsibility for Malaysia’s loss of face. How selfish and how arrogant of Jauhari and Hishammuddin?

Why can’t they follow the example of South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, who resigned over the recent ferry disaster in order to calm down his countrymen and let them have closure and move on?

Even if just one person had taken responsibility over the MH370 debacle, the tide of resentment against Malaysia might have turned to sympathy.Because the Malaysian government does not have the courage to admit that its agencies and officials have bungled and that it has botched its public relations, the world’s media have rightly lost trust in it.

It is obvious that the government is hoping the public and the media will start to dim their focus on MH370 after nearly two months and move on to other events such as the football World Cup.But one can be sure that the affected relatives will not let it all go away until they find closure. They will continue to hound Putrajaya.

TDM LatestMalaysia’s mainstream media may well play their usual role of spin masters in an attempt to cover up what is rotten in the system, but it will not work this time around because the world media now have the country on their radar. Even Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s attempt to shift the blame to Boeing will not work.

People are not stupid. And that’s the good news. Even readers of Malaysia’s mainstream newspapers are getting wiser and are no longer willing to swallow everything fed to them.

Jauhari or Hishammuddin—or both—please have the decency to resign before you plunge Malaysia into deeper loss. Don’t wait for us taxpayers to rise up and demand your unceremonious sacking. Do the right thing for once. It’s not too late.

Robert Chaen is an international change expert and online pollster.

Obama’s Cynical Malaysian Sojourn

April 29,2014

Obama’s Cynical Malaysian Sojourn

Obama ‘s State visit avoided hard issues and gave Najib a pass on human rights

Obama and NajibFor anyone in Southeast Asia with an interest in fair, honest and even-handed government, the disappointing visit of President Barack Obama to Malaysia is a victory for political expediency that largely glossed over growing discontent over racial tensions, corruption and abuses of judicial power by the ruling coalition.

Obama, according to most reports, walked a careful line on such issues, roaming the stage at a town meeting with students to tell them the country can’t succeed if minorities are suppressed.

But the President also continued to call the Prime Minister a friend and reformer. What kind of friend is this exactly?

The fact is that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak was a willing perpetrator as Defense Minister in the looting of the public purse to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars – in bribery and kickbacks from the French munitions maker DCN over a US$1 billion submarine deal, as well as other deals involving patrol boats that were never delivered, Russian Sukhoi jets that cost vastly more than what other countries paid and other equally dubious transactions that have been repeatedly exposed by the opposition and printed on opposition websites, to no avail.

On top of that, Najib heads a country that is slipping backwards fast on human rights issues, with its most prominent opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, facing jail for the second time on what are clearly bogus charges of sexual deviance and another, Karpal Singh, who was about to be railroaded out of parliament on specious sedition charges when he was killed in a car accident. 

Other Opposition leaders also face sedition charges in what Ambiga Sreenevasan, the former head of the Malaysian Bar Council, recently called “Operation Lalang by the courts,” a reference to a 1987 crackdown on dissidents that sent more than 100 people, most of them opposition leaders, to jail without trial.

Obama’s decision not to meet with Anwar “in and of itself isn’t indicative of our lack of concern, given the fact that there are a lot of people I don’t meet with and opposition leaders that I don’t meet with,” he told reporters in response to a question by CNN.

Anwar does get an April 28 meeting with Susan Rice, the President’s National Security Advisor, but the message on human rights was clear – the issue takes a back seat to geopolitics in Kuala Lumpur and perhaps to a desire to prop up Najib for fear of empowering more conservative elements inside his long-ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) or to gain his support for the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Obama either appears to have been hoodwinked by Najib, or decided that diplomatic niceties demanded a waffle. In response to a question, the president said in a press conference that … “the prime minister is the first to acknowledge that Malaysia still has work to do,” that he “came in as a reformer and one who is committed to it, and I am going to continue to encourage him as a friend and a partner to making progress on that front.”

Najib’s lukewarm commitment to economic reform vanished in the wake of the May 2013 election, in which the opposition won a narrow popular-vote victory but lost parliament due to gerrymandering, and the subsequent ascendancy of the hardline UMNO wing led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his long-running ally Daim Zainuddin. The modest reforms Najib had put in place to reverse parts of the disastrous race-based New Economic Policy were washed away last September in an array of new economic benefits for ethnic Malays.

Najib, whatever his personal beliefs may be, is clearly in the thrall of such Malay chauvinist organizations as PERKASA, which preaches astonishing hatred towards Malaysia’s minority races. Nobody, including Najib, has ever spoken of reining in such groups. Minority and opposition politicians who raise an outcry over racial issues are often met with threats of sedition charges.

To anyone deeply familiar with Malaysia, the statement that Najib is committed to reform is laughable. None of Malaysia’s online news sites, which form the credible journalistic opposition, were invited to the Najib-Obama joint press conference. So while Obama was extolling Najib’s reformist credentials, Malaysia’s most trusted news organization Malaysiakini was shut out of the press conference.

UMNO is a kleptocracy that continues to loot the country’s assets with impunity. The latest, for example, was the award – without an open bid ‑ earlier this month of a RM1.6 billion contract for the building and maintenance of a hospital whose entire board of directors was drawn from the youth wing of UMNO, and whose managing director is a close friend of Khairy Jamaluddin, the head of UMNO youth. 

These contracts are signed on a regular basis. Any suggestion that Najib doesn’t know they benefit his own political party is silly. He has participated personally in this kind of theft, which has resulted in his ostentatiously wealthy wife flaunting her riches worldwide to the anger of many people back home.

The party’s continuing use of fundamentalist Islam has nothing to do with true religious fervor but rather a specious use of faith to shore up its rural base at election time.  The decision to ban the word “Allah” in Malay-language Christian Bibles is an example. The word was banned for Bibles in mainland Malaysia, where Malays outnumber other races, but allowed to stand in Bibles in East Malaysia, where indigenous tribes are mainly Christians who support the ruling national coalition at the polls.

According to the New York Times, Obama’s visit underscores a change in Malaysian attitudes toward the United States, “which has evolved from deep suspicion, verging on contempt, to a cautious desire for cooperation.” 

But the fact is, as the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur knows well and surely told the President, is that despite Mahathir’s heated rhetoric during his years on office, the country has remained firmly in the western camp. Indeed, as the late Barry Wain illustrated in his book, Malaysian Maverick, while Mahathir was delivering speeches about American imperialism, he was quietly allowing the US military to train in Malaysian jungles. He was also sending his own children to American universities for their education.

While Malaysia recognizes its future with China as its biggest trading partner, it is hardly the fulcrum of influence for or against the US in Asia.  It is nice for the US to have it as a strategic partner, as Obama stressed.  But it is one that should be kept at arms’ length.


US National Security Advisor Dr.Susan Rice tells Najib and Cohorts: Respect The Rule of Law

April 28, 2014

Goodbye, MalaysiaGoodbye, Mr.President and Thank You for coming to our Country. Thank You also for this reminder: “Malaysia won’t succeed if non-Muslims don’t have opportunity.”

US National Security Advisor Dr.Susan Rice tells Najib and Cohorts: Respect The Rule of Law

dr-susan-riceUS National Security Adviser Susan Rice (left) today met Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and expressed concern at a sodomy conviction against him that is widely seen as politically motivated.

Wrapping up a US visit to Malaysia led by President Barack Obama, Rice also called on the government of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to ensure the rule of law in the country.

“Ambassador Rice emphasised to Mr Anwar that the United States has followed his case closely, and that the decision to prosecute him and the trial have raised a number of concerns regarding the rule of law and the independence of the courts,” a White House statement said after their meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

Anwar was convicted and sentenced to five years in jail on March 7 on charges he sodomised former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan. He is free pending an appeal.

Anwar says the charge is false and part of a long-running government campaign to smear his name with charges of sodomy, which is illegal in Malaysia.The opposition has heavily eroded the ruling coalition’s control of parliament in recent elections.

Rice also said during the meeting that it was “critical for Malaysia to apply the rule Anwar-Kajangof law fairly, transparently, and apolitically in order to promote confidence in Malaysia’s democracy and judiciary”.

Obama left Malaysia today morning for the Philippines as part of an Asian tour that also took him to Japan and South Korea.

The President nudged Najib in a joint press briefing yesterday to ensure rights were protected, but also indicated the issue was unlikely to stand in the way of US plans to improve ties with Malaysia. Obama is keen to shore up US engagement with a region in which China’s increasing assertiveness is causing growing alarm.

Anwar released a statement after the Rice meeting, saying he told her that US-Malaysia ties should include not just trade and security and other traditional issues but also “human rights, good governance and democracy”.

The US administration raised eyebrows by leaving Anwar off Obama’s list of appointments. But the President said sending his senior foreign policy official to the meeting signalled the importance he attached to it.

Malaysia’s ruling regime has kept a tight grip on power for decades, often jailing or pressuring opponents with court charges.Critics say it has launched a clampdown on rights and free expression since Anwar’s opposition won the popular vote in elections last year for the first time.

Najib retained power due in part to an electoral system favouring his coalition. – AFP, April 28, 2014.


Ambiga: We told President Obama what Najib didn’t

by Hafiz Yatim@http://www.malaysiakini.com

Members of the civil society presented Malaysia in its rawest form to US President Barack Obama during their nearly hour-long meeting with him yesterday.

Human rights group Hakam Associate President Ambiga Sreenevasen, who was among those present, shared with Malaysiakini what was discussed during the historic session with President Barack Obama.

“Some of the issues (raised) were the divisive politics, religious and racial extremism, discrimination, authoritarianism of the government by way of repressive legislation, free and fair elections and the rule of  law…,” Ambiga said.

Also highlighted were the charges against Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and the persecution of the opposition by way of sedition charges and charges under the Peaceful Assembly Act.

Obama, she said, was also briefed on how Malaysian authorities stifled the media.

“We made it clear (to the President)  that Malaysia was neither a  moderate Muslim nation nor was it a democracy in the true sense of the word,” the former Bar Council President added.

Ambiga’s views were similarly shared by Bersih 2.0 chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah, who said  Malaysia was neither a democratic nor a moderate country, and that old laws were used against the opposition, as highlighted by Bar Council president Christopher Leong, who were among those who met with Obama.

Earlier today, PKR Vice-President N Surendran also pointed out that Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak had mislead the public by saying that the Sodomy II case against Anwar was private action when it was the Attorney-General who initiated the charge.

Obama meets, Najib did not

Ambiga said Obama had put the civil society leaders at ease and that the meeting very informal, throughout.“Obama was concerned about what we raised and agreed with us on the importance of upholding the rule of law and human rights. Interestingly, he had apparently earlier said, at the town hall meeting (at Universiti Malaya) that Malaysia cannot prosper as a nation if there was discrimination against the non-Muslims.

“This is a significant statement by President Obama and needed to be said. Sadly, we decry such discrimination in other countries but do not fully appreciate the effects of such conduct on the future of our nation.”

As what had been reiterated by Maria (left), Christian Federation of Malaysia General Secretary Rev. Dr Hermen Shastri and Leong, Ambiga said the US President indicated he would raise these concerns with the Malaysian government when he could. Obama, Ambiga said, asked the NGOs to continue with their engagement on human rights issues.

She pointed out that lawyer Honey Tan, one of the proponents of the Universal Periodic Review and one of the participants, made an interesting observation, that while the Prime Minister Najib has not met with these members of civil society groups despite requests made, the US President has.

“Hence, we are very appreciative of the time the US President spent with us. MoreAmbiga importantly, I believe that this meeting sends out a powerful message that civil society plays a significant role in the advancement of democracy the world over,” Ambiga, a recipient of the  US International Women of Courage Award in 2009, said.

In reference to Obama’s statement at the state dinner that Malaysia should have, in the next generation, a better nation than the one given to us, Ambiga said in Malaysia’s case, the next generation was not being handed over a better Malaysia.

‘A divided nation for the next generation’

“We are handing them a nation divided by religion and race. Ultimately we recognise this is our battle to fight. For us it was important the President knew about Malaysia as it is, and put the human rights on the agenda of cooperation with the Malaysian government.”

Ambiga said while Najib had stated the Peaceful Assembly Act for shoring his reform image, he failed to admit that this law prohibits street protests and that opposition members are facing charges on the matter.

While Najib also declared that the government had nothing to do with Anwar’s sodomy trial, he failed to admit that it was the government that appealed against the High Court’s acquittal of Anwar.

She also described Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s immediate response to Obama by saying that Malaysia does not discriminate as not encouraging and Ambiga wondered whether there would be a change in the Malaysian government’s attitude towards human rights and civil society.


Why Malaysia Will Say Almost Nothing About the Missing Plane


Why Malaysia Will Say Almost Nothing About the Missing Plane

March 12, 2014

Hishamuddin HusseinWith an international team of investigators still seemingly baffled about what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared over the weekend, relatives of the passengers and diplomats from countries touched by the mishap have vented their frustration with the Malaysian government.

For days, it seems, Malaysian officials and the state-owned carrier have released almost no information about the flight or working theories of why it vanished. Malaysia Airlines did not even inform relatives for 15 hours that the plane had disappeared, sending the distraught families to a hotel in Beijing to wait, and Kuala Lumpur’s envoys still have mostly kept the relatives in the dark days later.

More than 100 friends and relatives of the vanished passengers signed a petition on Monday calling on the Malaysian government to be more transparent and answer questions. Several of the relatives threw bottles at Malaysia Airlines employees who came to speak with them in Beijing, where the missing plane had been headed, but mostly the officials maintained their tight-lipped approach.

The frustration felt by families of the missing is understandable and reasonable, but no one should have expected much better from the Malaysian government. Although theoretically a democracy with regular, contested elections, Malaysia has been ruled since independence by the same governing coalition that has become known for its lack of transparency and disinterest—even outright hostility—toward the press and inquiring citizens. For a relatively wealthy country, Malaysia is also unusually prone to corruption. Since the Sept. 11 attacks and the revelations that al-Qaeda members had convened planning meetings in Malaysia, the government has become intensely controlling of any information about potential terror threats while maintaining a liberal visa policy for arrivals.

Malaysia’s actual air safety record is, according to aviation experts, relatively strong. That achievement is unsurprising for a country with a per capita gross domestic product of about $10,400, which has become a global hub for electronics production and other high-tech manufacturing. Before the disappearance of Flight MH370, Malaysia Airlines had not suffered a fatal crash since 1995. Kuala Lumpur, where the plane originated, has an even higher GDP per capita than the rest of the country—about $18,000—and boasts a vast, modern skyline, efficient transport, and gleaming new suburbs.

But Malaysia’s politics have not kept pace with its economic expansion. The long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition has continued to win elections through massive gerrymandering, outright thuggery, and opposition parties’ inability to stop squabbling and make connections with rural voters.

In the most recent national elections, held in May 2013, the Barisan Nasional coalition won the largest number of seats in parliament, although the opposition actually won the popular vote; only gerrymandering, massive handouts to voters, and many election irregularities ensured the Barisan Nasional’s victory. In addition, the ruling party squeaked home by appealing primarily to the most hardline elements within its coalition, politicians and voters disdainful of the country’s multiethnic identity and the incremental freedoms of expression and social life that have developed in the past 20 years.

So even though Malaysia is far richer than neighboring Indonesia or the Philippines, those countries’ histories of democratic politics have made their politicians more accountable and more attuned to public expectations. Since independence in 1957, Malaysia has had only six prime ministers and the senior ranks of the ruling coalition have gained little fresh blood. In the current crisis, Prime Minister Najib Razak has made few substantive comments on the plane, while Malaysia’s major state-controlled media outlets, which in theory could have been ahead of the plane investigation story, have been very timid in their reporting.

This lack of accountability filters down, especially at state-owned enterprises such as Malaysia Airlines, which are notorious in Malaysia for insider dealing, corruption, and lack of transparency. Even before the crash, Malaysia Airlines’ parent company had lost money the last three years, including a huge loss of more than $350 million in 2013, in part because of its terrible management. One comprehensive study of government-linked companies, conducted by a group of economists in Australia and Malaysia, found that Malaysia state-run firms had worse corporate governance than publicly traded Malaysian companies not controlled by the state. Partly because investors understood that state-run companies were so poorly managed, the study found lower overall valuations on the Malaysian stock market. In other words, these state companies traded at a discount because of their mismanagement.

Malaysia’s lack of transparency and weak institutions have made graft and corruption endemic, making it easy for people to be smuggled in or out of the country, often on stolen passports.

The watchdog organization Global Financial Integrity has ranked Malaysia as one of the countries with the biggest illicit outflows of money in the world, while corruption monitoring organization Transparency International ranks Malaysia 53rd in the world in terms of clean government, below many poorer nations with fewer potential resources to combat graft.

At least two of the people on the vanished flight, and possibly more, apparently traveled on stolen passports and may have been migrants using people smugglers to get through Malaysia and on, eventually, to Europe. The Head of Interpol, Ronald Noble, has expressed surprise at how easy these people with stolen passports boarded the plane.

Malaysia’s fraught relationship with other Muslim-majority countries and the U.S. has made Kuala Lumpur’s leaders, never very transparent, even more opaque when it comes to intelligence-sharing and counterterrorism. Although no one seems to have determined whether the flight’s disappearance is related to terrorism, do not expect the Malaysian government to be the one providing any answers to the public if it turns out terrorism was involved. Malaysia has long had a relatively liberal visa policy toward Muslims from other countries, in part because it needed foreign workers and in part because this policy had traditionally been popular. (That policy, in part, is why Osama bin Laden recommended Malaysia as a place for terror operatives to meet and for wounded fighters to recover.)

But at the same time Malaysia has maintained a relatively liberal visa policy, it has cooperated closely with Britain and the U.S. on intelligence and security matters. This cooperation has always been extremely unpopular with the majority of Malaysians, and so successive Prime Ministers have worked hard to conceal it from public discourse. Unfortunately for the relatives of the vanished plane, the prime minister’s natural secrecy seems to have become so normal, for him and other government officials, that he cannot break the habit even in times of horrible tragedy.

Kurlantzick is Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government.

Anwar Ibrahim’s Conviction: State Department’s Reaction is mild and muted

March 8, 2014

Anwar Ibrahim’s Conviction: State Department’s Reaction is mild and muted

by http://www.themalaysianinsider.com


The United States yesterday voiced concern over what it says are politically motivated charges brought against Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, urging Malaysia to ensure fairness and transparency.

In a long-running case which stretches back to the late 1990s, the Malaysian Court of Appeals yesterday overturned Anwar’s acquittal on sodomy laws and sentenced him to five years in jail. He was freed pending appeal.

“The decision to prosecute Mr Anwar, and his trial, have raised a number of concerns regarding the rule of law and the independence of the court,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

“In this high-profile case, it is critical for Malaysia to apply the rule of law fairly, transparently and apolitically in order to promote confidence in Malaysia’s democracy and judiciary.”

She also raised the case of the conviction of opposition figure Karpal Singh, who was found guilty of sedition even though Kuala Lumpur had vowed to abolish the law.

The outspoken, wheelchair-bound 73-year-old parliamentarian faces up to three years in prison.

Yesterday’s ruling against Anwar, 66, overturns his 2012 acquittal onpresident-barack-obama-calls-atlantis-sts-125 charges he sodomised a male former aide – in a case which has dragged on since 1998 and cut short his promising career during a bitter power struggle with his rival then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Anwar’s case was loudly condemned at the time as politically motivated, and when asked whether this was still the US stand, Psaki replied “It is.”

Sodomy remains illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia and punishable by up to 20 years in jail. – AFP, March 8, 2014.

Kennedy, the Elusive President

November 24, 2013

Kennedy, the Elusive President

by Jill Abramson* (10-22-13)

*Jill Abramson is the executive editor of The Times.

…John F. Kennedy remains all but impossible to pin down. One reason is that his martyrdom — for a generation of Americans still the most traumatic public event of their lives, 9/11 notwithstanding — has obscured much about the man and his accomplishments.

JFKThe 35th President of USA

Was Kennedy a great president, as many continue to think? Or was he a reckless and charming lightweight or, worse still, the first of our celebrities-in-chief? To what extent do his numerous personal failings, barely reported during his lifetime but amply documented since, overshadow or undermine his policy achievements? And what of those achievements — in civil rights and poverty, to name two issues his administration embraced. Weren’t the breakthroughs actually the doing of his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson?

Even the basic facts of Kennedy’s death are still subject to heated argument. The historical consensus seems to have settled on Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin, but conspiracy speculation abounds — involving Johnson, the C.I.A., the mob, Fidel Castro or a baroque combination of all of them. Many of the theories have been circulating for decades and have now found new life on the Internet, in Web sites febrile with unfiltered and at times unhinged musings.

Of course the Kennedy fixation is hardly limited to the digital world. An estimated 40,000 books about him have been published since his death, and this anniversary year has loosed another vast outpouring. Yet to explore the enormous literature is to be struck not by what’s there but by what’s missing. Readers can choose from many books but surprisingly few good ones, and not one really outstanding one.

It is a curious state of affairs, and some of the nation’s leading historians wonder about it. “There is such fascination in the country about the anniversary, but there is no great book about Kennedy,” Robert Caro lamented when I spoke to him not long ago. The situation is all the stranger, he added, since Kennedy’s life and death form “one of the great American stories.” Caro should know. His epic life of Johnson (four volumes and counting) brilliantly captures parts of the Kennedy saga, especially the assassination in Dallas, revisited in the latest installment, “The Passage of Power.”

Robert Dallek, the author of “An Unfinished Life,” probably the best single-volume Kennedy biography, suggests that the cultish atmosphere surrounding, and perhaps smothering, the actual man may be the reason for the deficit of good writing about him. “The mass audience has turned Kennedy into a celebrity, so historians are not really impressed by him,” Dallek told me.

“Historians see him more as a celebrity who didn’t accomplish very much.” Dallek also pointed to a second inhibiting factor, the commercial pressure authors feel to come up with sensational new material. His own book, as it happens, included a good deal of fresh information on Kennedy’s severe health problems and their cover-up by those closest to him. And yet Dallek is careful not to let these revelations overwhelm the larger story.

Dallek is also good on the fairy-tale aspects of the Kennedy family history, and he closely examines the workings of the Kennedy White House. So enthralled was he by this last topic that he has written a follow-up, “Camelot’s Court,” which profiles members of Kennedy’s famous brain trust and is being released for the 50th anniversary. This time, however, it is Dallek who doesn’t offer much fresh material.

This in turn raises another question: How much is left to say about Kennedy’s presidency? The signature legislative accomplishments he and his advisers envisioned were not enacted until after his death. Then there is the Vietnam conundrum. Some maintain that Kennedy would not have escalated the war as Johnson did. But the belief that he would have limited the American presence in Vietnam is rooted as much in the romance of “what might have been” as in the documented record.

Indeed, a dolorous mood of “what might have been” hangs over a good deal of writing about Kennedy. Arriving in time for November. 22 is the loathsomely titled “If Kennedy Lived. The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History,” by the television commentator Jeff Greenfield, who imagines a completed first Kennedy term and then a second. This isn’t new territory for Greenfield, who worked for Kennedy’s brother Robert and is the author of a previous book of presidential “what ifs” called “Then Everything Changed.” (Dallek’s “Camelot’s Court” and Greenfield’s “If Kennedy Lived” are reviewed here.)

Thurston Clarke, the author of two previous and quite serviceable books on the Kennedys, also dwells on fanciful “what might have beens” in “JFK’s Last Hundred Days,” suggesting that the death of the presidential couple’s last child, Patrick, brought the grieving parents closer together and may have signaled the end of Kennedy’s compulsive womanizing.

What’s more, Clarke makes a giant (and dubious) leap about Kennedy as leader, arguing that in the final 100 days he was becoming a great president. One example, according to Clarke, was his persuading the conservative Republicans Charles Halleck, the House minority leader, and Everett Dirksen, the Senate minority leader, to support a civil rights bill. Once re-elected, Kennedy would have pushed the bill through Congress.

Kennedy as Arthurian hero is also a feature of what has been called “pundit lit” by the historian and journalist David Greenberg. The purpose of this genre (books by writers who themselves are famous) is, in Greenberg’s words, “to extend their authors’ brands — to make money, to be sure, and to express some set of ideas, however vague, but mainly to keep their celebrity creators in the media spotlight.”

The champion in this growing field is Bill O’Reilly, who has milked the Kennedy assassination with unique efficiency. O’Reilly’s latest contribution, “Kennedy’s Last Days,” is an illustrated recycling, for children, of his mega-best seller “Killing Kennedy.” This new version, it must be said, distinctly improves on the original, whose choppy sentences, many written in the present tense, lose nothing when recast for younger readers. “He is on a collision course with evil,” O’Reilly declares.

No less elevated is his discussion of Kennedy’s decision to visit Dallas despite warnings of roiling violence, including the physical assault on his United Nations ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, who had given a speech in the city in October 1963. “J.F.K. has decided to visit Big D,” O’Reilly writes. “There is no backing down.” Happily, the wooden prose is offset by the many illustrations. My favorite is a spread on the first family’s pets, including puppies and a pony.

Bad books by celebrity authors shouldn’t surprise us, even when the subject is an American president. The true mystery in Kennedy’s case is why, 50 years after his death, highly accomplished writers seem unable to fix him on the page.

For some, the trouble has been idolatry. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who wrote three magisterial volumes on Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, attempted a similar history in “A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House.” Published in 1965, it has the virtues of immediacy, since Schlesinger, Kennedy’s Harvard contemporary, had been on the White House staff, brought in as court historian. He witnessed many of the events he describes. But in his admiration for Kennedy, he became a chief architect of the Camelot myth and so failed, in the end, to give a persuasive account of the actual presidency.

In 1993, the political journalist Richard Reeves did better. “President Kennedy: Profile of Power” is a minutely detailed chronicle of the Kennedy White House. As a primer on Kennedy’s decision-making, like his handling of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis, the book is fascinating.

What’s missing is a picture of Kennedy’s personal life, though Reeves includes a passing mention of Marilyn Monroe being sewn into the $5,000 flesh-colored, skintight dress she wore to celebrate the president’s birthday at Madison Square Garden in 1962. (This is the place to note that Reeves edited “The Kennedy Years,” The New York Times’s own addition to the ever-­expanding Kennedy cosmos, and I wrote the foreword.)

Balancing out, or warring with, the Kennedy claque are the Kennedy haters, like Seymour M. Hersh and Garry Wills. In “The Dark Side of Camelot,” Hersh wildly posits connections between the Kennedys and the mob, while Wills, though he offers any number of brilliant insights into Kennedy and his circle of courtiers, fixates on the Kennedy brothers’ (and father’s) sexual escapades in “The Kennedy Imprisonment.”

The sum total of this oddly polarized literature is a kind of void. Other presidents, good and bad, have been served well by biographers and historians. We have first-rate books on Jefferson, on Lincoln, on Wilson, on both Roosevelts. Even unloved presidents have received major books: Johnson (Caro) and Richard Nixon (Wills, among others). Kennedy, the odd man out, still seeks his true biographer.

Why is this the case? One reason is that even during his lifetime, Kennedy defeated or outwitted the most powerfully analytic and intuitive minds.

In 1960, Esquire magazine commissioned Norman Mailer’s first major piece of political journalism, asking him to report on the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles that nominated Kennedy. Mailer’s long virtuoso article, “Superman Comes to the Supermarket,” came as close as any book or essay ever has to capturing Kennedy’s essence, though that essence, Mailer candidly acknowledged, was enigmatic.

Here was a 43-year-old man whose irony and grace were keyed to the national temper in 1960. Kennedy’s presence, youthful and light, was at once soothing and disruptive, with a touch of brusqueness. He carried himself “with a cool grace which seemed indifferent to applause, his manner somehow similar to the poise of a fine boxer, quick with his hands, neat in his timing, and two feet away from his corner when the bell ended the round.” Finally, however, “there was an elusive detachment to everything he did. One did not have the feeling of a man present in the room with all his weight and all his mind.”

Mailer himself doesn’t know “whether to value this elusiveness, or to beware of it. One could be witnessing the fortitude of a superior sensitivity or the detachment of a man who was not quite real to himself.”

And yet Kennedy’s unreality, in Mailer’s view, may have answered the particular craving of a particular historical moment. “It was a hero America needed, a hero central to his time, a man whose personality might suggest contradiction and mysteries which could reach into the alienated circuits of the underground, because only a hero can capture the secret imagination of a people, and so be good for the vitality of his nation.” Those words seemed to prophesy the Kennedy mystique that was to come, reinforced by the whisker-thin victory over Nixon in the general election, by the romantic excitements of Camelot and then by the horror of Dallas.

Fifty years later we are still sifting through the facts of the assassination. The Warren Commission concluded in 1964 that Kennedy had been killed by a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald. Edward Jay Epstein and Mark Lane were among the first writers to challenge that finding, and their skepticism loosed a tide of investigations. The 50th anniversary has washed in some new ones. Among the more ambitious is “A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination,” a work of more than 500 pages. Its author, Philip Shenon, a former New York Times reporter, uncovered a new lead, in the person of a heretofore overlooked woman who may have had suspicious ties to the assassin. But when Shenon finds the woman, now in her 70s, in Mexico, she denies having had a relationship with Oswald, and Shenon’s encounters with her prove more mysterious than illuminating.

Kennedy’s murder was bound to attract novelists, and some have approached the subject inventively, if with strange results. Stephen King’s “11/22/63,” a best seller published in 2011, takes the form of a time-travel romp involving a high school English teacher who finds romance in Texas while keeping tabs on Oswald. At more than 800 pages, the novel demands a commitment that exceeds its entertainment value.

I rather like Mailer’s “Oswald’s Tale,” published in 1995. It is, like his earlier masterpiece “The Executioner’s Song,” a work of “faction,” which is Mailer’s term for his hybrid of documented fact and novelistic elaboration. Mailer and his colleague, Lawrence Schiller, spent six months in Russia examining Oswald’s K.G.B. files, and the huge quasi novel that came out of it contains a good deal of engrossing material about Oswald and his Russian wife, Marina, as well as the odd assortment of people the couple mixed with in Texas. Mailer’s narrative skills are prodigious, but in the end he has little to tell us that wasn’t already uncovered by Priscilla Johnson McMillan in “Marina and Lee,” her nonfiction portrait of the troubled couple from 1977. (Mailer properly credits McMillan’s book.)

Most critics seem to think the outstanding example of Kennedy assassination fiction is “Libra,” Don DeLillo’s postmodern novel, published in 1988. The narrative is indeed taut and bracing. But the challenge DeLillo set for himself, to provide readers with “a way of thinking about the assassination without being constrained by half-facts or overwhelmed by possibilities, by the tide of speculation that widens with the years,” exceeds even his lavish gifts.

It is telling that DeLillo reverts to the shadowy realm of “half-facts.” Their persistence raises the question of just how many secrets remain, not only about Kennedy’s death but also about his life. And if there are secrets, who is guarding them, and why?

One clue has been furnished by the historian Nigel Hamilton, whose book “JFK: Reckless Youth,” published in 1992, was the first in a planned multivolume biography that promised to be a valuable addition to the current literature. (He has since dropped the project.) While the book was gossipy, especially on the subject of the young Kennedy’s sexual adventures, Hamilton also provided a vivid and lively account of Kennedy’s successful 1946 campaign for Congress. But when Hamilton began work on the next volumes, he said he came under a sustained barrage by Kennedy loyalists. “The family leaned upon well-known historians such as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Doris Goodwin to write protest letters to the press,” Hamilton wrote in 2011 in The Huffington Post. “I was warned that no Kennedy-era official or friend would be ‘allowed’ to speak to me for my proposed sequel.”

Kennedy may have enjoyed the company of writers, but the long history of secrecy and mythmaking has surely contributed to the paucity of good books. The Kennedys — especially Jackie and Bobby — were notoriously hard on authors whose books they didn’t like. And they enlisted Schlesinger, Theodore Sorensen and other intimates to act as a kind of history police, not only withholding primary materials but also bullying writers.

A prominent historian recently told me he was once warned by Schlesinger, with whom he had been friendly, that because he had invited Hamilton to a meeting of the American Historical Association he might himself be banished from the organization. In recent years, the protective seal seems to have loosened. The Kennedy family, including Edward Kennedy and his sister Jean Kennedy Smith, gave unfettered access to their father’s papers to David Nasaw, the author of “The Patriarch,” a well-received biography of Joseph P. Kennedy that appeared last year.

Caroline Kennedy has been even more open to the claims of history. She herself was involved in the publication of two books and the release of accompanying tapes. One of them, “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy,” contains the transcripts of the first lady’s interviews about her husband with Schlesinger, conducted in 1964 but kept secret until 2011. They are revealing and mesmerizing. The other, “Listening In,” offers White House conversations captured in a secretly installed taping system in the Oval Office.

Since Kennedy controlled the device, these conversations are more guarded, but the book includes at least one memorable moment, when the president hilariously loses his temper over unflattering press about the $5,000 cost of Mrs. Kennedy’s hospital maternity suite — “Are they crazy up there? Now you know what that’s gonna do? Any congressman is going to get up and say, ‘Christ, if they can throw $5,000 away on this, let’s cut ’em another billion dollars.’ You just sank the Air Force budget!”

Jack and JackieThe most disturbing case of the family’s attempts to control history came early on, and it involved William Manchester, the historian chosen by the Kennedys a few weeks after the assassination to write the authorized account, “The Death of a President.” Manchester was selected because of a previous, and fawning, book he had written about Kennedy, “Portrait of a President.” (In a bizarre twist, this was one of the books Lee Harvey Oswald checked out of a New Orleans public library just months before the assassination.)

Manchester was given sole access to almost all the president’s men as well as to his widow and virtually every principal figure. (Lyndon Johnson submitted answers in writing through his staff.) It seemed the ideal arrangement — until Manchester presented a manuscript to the Kennedys.

In a gripping piece from his 1976 collection of essays, “Controversy,” Manchester described what happened next. First there were the many insertions and deletions made by various Kennedy minions, who applied so much pressure that Manchester became a nervous wreck. An especially low point came when Robert Kennedy hunted Manchester down in a New York hotel room and banged on the door, demanding to be let in to argue for still more changes.

Next, Jackie Kennedy, who had not bothered to read the manuscript, accepted the view of her factotums that many of its details, like the fact that she carried cigarettes in her purse, were too personal. Further angered by the $665,000 Manchester had received from Look magazine for serial rights, Mrs. Kennedy went to court to enjoin the author from publishing the book. Eventually, she settled out of court and finally read “The Death of a President” when it was published in 1967. She deemed it “fascinating.”

Nevertheless, the Kennedy family, which controlled publication rights to “The Death of a President,” allowed it to go out of print, and for a number of years copies could be found only online or at rummage sales. The good news, maybe the best, of the 50th anniversary is that Little, Brown has now reissued paperback and e-book editions.

It’s good news because, remarkably, and against all odds, Manchester (who died in 2004) wrote an extraordinary book. There are obvious defects. Predictably, he blares the trumpets of Camelot, and he has a weakness for melodrama. It’s hard to believe, even at the time of Kennedy’s murder, that to the world it was “as though the Axis powers had surrendered and Adolf Hitler and Franklin Roosevelt had died in the hours between noon and midafternoon in Washington of a single day in 1945.” But these excesses don’t really matter, thanks to Manchester’s vivid reporting, masterly narrative and authentically poetic touches.

It is in small, quiet scenes that Manchester’s chronicle accumulates its greatest force. When it is time for Dave Powers, the slain president’s aide and sidekick, to pick out the clothes Kennedy will wear to his grave, he selects from eight suits and four pairs of shoes brought out by Kennedy’s valet, George Thomas. Powers settles on a blue-gray suit, black shoes and “a blue tie with a slight pattern of light dots.”

An embroidered “JFK” on the white silk shirt is hidden from view. The valet remembered that Kennedy’s “dislike of flamboyant monograms had extended to handkerchiefs,” Manchester writes. The president “had carefully folded them so that the initials would not show, and Thomas did it for him now, slipping the handkerchief into his coat pocket.”

Of all that has been written and that will be read on this 50th anniversary, it is the last paragraphs of “The Death of a President” that deserve to stand out from everything else. Manchester describes viewing the bloodstained pink suit Jackie Kennedy wore on November. 22, 1963, which had since been stowed in a Georgetown attic:

Unknown to her, the clothes Mrs. Kennedy wore into the bright midday glare of Dallas lie in an attic not far from 3017 N Street. In Bethesda that night those closest to her had vowed that from the moment she shed them she should never see them again. She hasn’t. Yet they are still there, in one of two long brown paper cartons thrust between roof rafters. The first is marked “September 12, 1953,” the date of her marriage; it contains her wedding gown. The block-printed label on the other is “Worn by Jackie, November 22, 1963.”

Inside, neatly arranged, are the pink wool suit, the black shift, the low-heeled shoes and, wrapped in a white towel, the stockings. Were the box to be opened by an intruder from some land so remote that the name, the date and photographs of the ensemble had not been published and republished until they had been graven upon his memory, he might conclude that these were merely stylish garments which had passed out of fashion and which, because they were associated with some pleasant occasion, had not been discarded.

If the trespasser looked closer, however, he would be momentarily baffled. The memento of a happy time would be cleaned before storing. Obviously this costume has not been. There are ugly splotches along the front and hem of the skirt. The handbag’s leather and the inside of each shoe are caked dark red. And the stockings are quite odd.

Once the same substance streaked them in mad scribbly patterns, but time and the sheerness of the fabric have altered it. The rusty clots have flaked off; they lie in tiny brittle grains on the nap of the towel. Examining them closely, the intruder would see his error. This clothing, he would perceive, had not been kept out of sentiment. He would realize that it had been worn by a slender young woman who had met with some dreadful accident. He might ponder whether she had survived. He might even wonder who had been to blame.

Unfortunately, the tapes of Manchester’s two five-hour interviews with Jackie Kennedy, who seems to have regretted her frankness, remain under seal at the Kennedy Library until 2067. This is a final sadness for a reader sifting through these many books. Taken together, they tell us all too little about this president, now gone 50 years, who remains as elusive in death as he was in life.


A version of this article appears in print on October 27, 2013, on page BR1 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: The Elusive President.


A People-Centered ASEAN is Malaysia’s Mission in 2015

July 22, 2013

ASEAN IN 2015′

Anifah Aman2Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Dato’ Sri Anifah Aman

It gives me great pleasure to be with you today. I hope to be able, within the next few minutes, to share with you some of my thoughts, views and vision related to Malaysia’s Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015. I believe that this theme is fitting, given the historic responsibility that Malaysia will shoulder as we assume the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015, when the ASEAN Community will be established. At the same time, I believe that this theme dovetails with the overall theme of this forum – ‘ASEAN at a Crossroads – Towards a Common Future, Shared Prosperity and Regional Stability’.

I mentioned that Malaysia’s Chairmanship of ASEAN is a historic responsibility thrust upon us all. I do not use the term ‘historic responsibility’ lightly, for during that time:

  • Malaysia will have to lead the effort to develop a new post-2015 vision and action plan. This new vision and action plan will chart our collective cause and common destiny;
  • We will need to ensure that the action lines contained in the ‘Roadmap for an ASEAN Community’ (2009-2015) is implemented in the fullest possible measure. The achievement of these action lines is what is meant by ‘establishing the ASEAN Community';
  • With our ASEAN partners, we must ensure that this ASEAN Community, the culmination of our founding fathers’ collective vision, is felt and appreciated by all of our peoples.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before proceeding, I believe that it would be useful to outline briefly the regional scenario in the post-2015 period. History does not move in a straight line. From Kant we know that ‘from the crooked timber of humanity, nothing straight was ever fashioned’. The best that we can do is to forecast the future by extrapolating current trends, which we assume will hold true in the medium term.

On this basis, I believe that the most probable post-2015 scenario for our region is as follows:

  • Firstly, notwithstanding potential areas of conflict, our region will continue to experience general peace. The risk of armed conflict among members of ASEAN is so small so as to be negligible. The altercation between Cambodia and Thailand over the Preah Vihear temple in 2011 shows that, on the one hand, we should never ever take peace for granted. On the other hand, it proved that the culture of peace is well-entrenched in the region and that formal and informal regional structures to preserve peace are robust. At the same time, internal conflicts within countries of the region are a continued cause for concern, not only for the bloodshed caused, but also for their potential spill-over effects. A recent case is the violence targeted against Muslims in Myanmar. While unlikely to destabilise the whole region, conflicts such as these must be addressed if South East Asia is to experience true peace and therefore sustained growth. I believe that the Global Movement of Moderates proposed by the Prime Minister of Malaysia has a critical role to play in addressing internal conflicts in the region. In this connection, I am heartened that this initiative has been endorsed by ASEAN, and the principle of moderation has been identified as a key ASEAN value. Malaysia will continue to play a facilitative role in addressing these conflicts, should a request be made. The South China Sea continues to command the attention of the media. For obvious reasons, this issue certainly is of concern to the international community. However, it is sufficient for me to say that my ASEAN and Chinese colleagues are working hard to ensure progress on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (COC). The COC is the key instrument in ensuring the proper management of these vital sea lanes. At the same time, confidence building measures are proceeding apace.
  • Secondly, economically, South East Asia will continue to be vibrant and will continue to contribute significantly to global growth. Present evidence supports this. For example, according to the Asian Development Bank, our region was the only sub-region within Asia to experience accelerated growth year-on-year in 2012. Regional GDP is expected to grow by 5.4 percent this year and 5.7 percent in 2014. It is expected that growth will continue to be sustained by robust consumption, rising investment and increased interregional trade. The creation of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 will enlarge trade volumes within our region, which will help to diversify export markets.
  • Thirdly, ASEAN member states will continue to move towards greater political, economic and socio-cultural integration. More intense global economic competition means that countries of South East Asia have no choice but to integrate further. Only then can we have the necessary economies of scale, leverage on the size of our collective market and take advantage of each country’s strengths. I also believe that there will continue to be appetite at the national level for further regional integration. However, we should never take public support for regional integration for granted. Regional economic integration will promote competition. Greater competition means that there will be winners and losers. In such a situation, those who lose may come together to derail the regional integration project. To avoid this from happening, governments must ensure that there are sufficient market flexibilities, that those who lose out are adequately compensated and explain that while there are those who are negatively affected, overall, regional integration produces overall gains for society as a whole;
  • Fourthly, ASEAN will continue to be at the heart of the evolving regional architecture. The major players in our region will continue to accept ASEAN’s leadership role in regional institutions. At the same time, ASEAN will continue to promote a rules-based approach in managing inter-state relations in our region; and
  • Fifthly, but perhaps most importantly, the peoples of ASEAN will demand better governance, improved performance by governments and more democratic space. This is what I would call the ‘New Politics of South East Asia’. All over the region, including in Malaysia, rising prosperity has resulted in an even more critical electorate. In our case, the government is well aware of this development. We have put in place various transformational programmes, emphasising of performance and delivery. It is therefore clear that for the regional integration process to progress further, it must ride on the wave of this development.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For this reason, one of the main planks of Malaysia’s Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015 is the creation of a truly ‘People-Centred ASEAN’. This will be a step-up from the ASEAN Charter which speaks of a ‘People-Oriented ASEAN’. A ‘People-Centred ASEAN’ means that ASEAN will be an even more powerful vehicle for the realisation of our peoples’ aspirations – good governance, transparency, higher standards of living, sustainable development, the empowerment of women and greater opportunity for all. A ‘People-Centred ASEAN’ also means the greater and deeper involvement of all sectors of society in ASEAN’s work. It also means that ASEAN will no longer be the domain of the political and bureaucratic elites. An ASEAN which is people-centred will truly be ‘an ASEAN for all’.

But the demand for greater democratisation and more effective governance is not the only impulse for the creation of a ‘People-Centred ASEAN’. There is a political and economic impulse as well. For the first four and-a-half decades or so, governments of the region have signed agreements, treaties. We have issued communiqués and statements. Progress has been achieved and an infrastructure for regional integration has been created.

Moving forward however, it is clear that only the more direct involvement of the peoples of ASEAN will move the regional integration process forward. All of the instruments adopted will not be useful if various stakeholders do not take advantage of them, to promote trade, to better protect human rights and to help preserve the environment.

What are the implications of a ‘People-Centred ASEAN’?

  • It implies that governments will consult more closely than ever before with stakeholders on issues of concern to them – chambers of commerce on economic integration, human rights activists on promoting regional human rights instruments and youth groups on fostering stronger links among ASEAN youths.
  • It implies that at the Summit level, Leaders must meet, as a matter of course, with various groups such as Parliamentarians, youth groups and leaders of industries. These meetings must be substantive and inclusive;
  • It implies that ASEAN sectoral bodies must also institutionalise their meetings with their stakeholder groups;
  • It implies that stakeholder groups must be prepared to organise themselves.

Involving stakeholder groups in ASEAN’s activities requires not only for ASEAN documents to be circulated more widely, but the goals contained in these documents are expressed clearly. Only then can our stakeholders see clearly what ASEAN has on offer and act on them. I note that this has not always been the case. For example, in terms of promoting Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) development, one of ASEAN’s present action lines in the Roadmap for an ASEAN Community is to ‘promote best practices in SME development, including SME financing’. Without clear and precise targets, action lines such as these are mere aspirations. They are not concrete targets.

For this reason, I believe that in the future, our aspirations must be expressed in more concrete terms. They must be targets and goals rather than action lines. They must be expressed in a manner consistent with the principles of SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

At the same time, targets and goals must be organised in such a manner that would facilitate their implementation. As you are all aware, at present, ASEAN’s action lines are grouped into three broad clusters, or ‘pillars’ in ASEAN-speak. These pillars are the political-security, economic and socio-cultural. For one reason or another, environmental issues are included in the socio-cultural pillar! This means that there is no synergy between environmental issues and other issues in that pillar. Further, attention to environmental issues is diffused. I believe that there environmental issues deserve a stand-alone pillar. Only then can we strengthen regional cooperation in critical issues such as climate change and the haze problem.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our vision of ASEAN in the future must be of an organisation which reflects the dreams of our peoples, is at ease with itself, outward-looking and hence at peace with the wider world.

To support efforts to realise this vision requires that ASEAN institutions, including the ASEAN Secretariat, is sufficiently funded and resourced. At present, each ASEAN member country contributes US$1.6 million for the running of the Secretariat. This means that the total budget is US$16 million. There are now more than 1,000 ASEAN related meetings a year; ASEAN is at the heart of the evolving regional architecture; the list of countries requesting to be more engaged with ASEAN grows ever longer – reflecting the burden of expectation on us. Juxtaposed against these, US$16 million is a small sum. ASEAN’s institutions need to be strengthened. The creation of strong, robust and efficient ASEAN institutions will be a priority for Malaysia.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me address head-on some of the common criticisms made against ASEAN.

A common criticism made against ASEAN is that implementation lags far behind aspiration. Indeed, many here in this room will dismiss any progressive and ambitious vision of ASEAN for this reason. However, the facts on the ground refute this argument. Take the example of the action lines constituting the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint. It is estimated that by the 31st of December 2015, fully 90 to 95 percent of these action lines would have been implemented. This is a significant figure by any standard. Of course, the progress of implementation is uneven, but on those aspirations which matter, great progress has been achieved. This is progress of which those involved in can be very proud of.

At the same time, it must be acknowledged that ASEAN has traditionally set a very high level of ambition for ourselves. History is replete with examples. But I want to recall just one, namely that we had brought forward the establishment of the ASEAN Community from 2020 to 2015. This was done while retaining all of the targets.

Another criticism made against ASEAN is that ASEAN’s achievements and significance is not known to the general public. Certainly, the lack of ASEAN awareness is a major obstacle towards fulfilling the vision of a ‘People-Centred ASEAN’. A study undertaken by the ASEAN Secretariat entitled ‘ASEAN Community Building Efforts’ published in October last year showed a very low level of ASEAN awareness amongst Malaysians. It showed that only 34 percent of Malaysians have heard of the ASEAN Community. In comparison, 96 percent of Laotians know of the ASEAN Community. It is therefore my intention to rectify this situation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs intends to embark on a very aggressive campaign to promote ASEAN in Malaysia. Towards this end:

  • We will have a much larger budget dedicated to ASEAN outreach efforts;
  • We must have different approaches for the different segments of society, businesses, activists and youths. We must speak to each segment of society in a language that they identify with and which appeals to their interests;
  • We must also use means and approaches that appeal to the hearts of the peoples of ASEAN. For example, at a seminar organised to commemorate ASEAN Day last year, I spoke of a reality TV series on a subject of common interest to ASEAN youths, such as how they prepare for exams or cope with school life. The appointment of Goodwill Ambassadors from among celebrities popular among youths is another means of achieving this.

Ladies and gentlemenIn the course of this speech, I have attempted to sketch out a vision of Malaysia’s Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015. I have tried to outline our dreams and aspirations, fears and challenges. Where necessary, some details have been given. Let me leave you with a summary of what Malaysia hopes to achieve:

  • A ‘People-centred ASEAN’ in which ASEAN is a vehicle for the achievement of the potentials of our people;
  • A clear expression of ASEAN’s goals in the post-2015 period; and
  • Strong and robust institutions to help us achieve our aims, goals and aspirations.

I hope that all of you here will join me in this collective endeavour as Malaysia fulfils our historic responsibility.

Thank you.


No comments on Malala Yousufzai from Malaysian Ulamas

October 13, 2012

No comments on Malala Yousufzai from Malaysian Ulamas

Huffington Post UK  |  By Felicity Morse

Schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai (left) was only 11 when the Taliban banned girls’ education in the Pakistan’s Swat valley in 2009.

More than 4,000 girls’ schools were razed to the ground by the Islamist militant group. Girls who attempted to study lived in fear of being kidnapped, having acid thrown in their faces or even being killed.

At a time when even political leaders were terrified of criticising the Taliban, an 11-year-old schoolgirl found the courage to speak out.

“The decision to ban girls from going to school was shocking for me and I decided to stand against the forces of backwardness,” she told news agency APP in January.

Malala began writing a blog for BBC Urdu, documenting what life was like in the Taliban-controlled state. Her courage was remarkable. In 2009 the militant group were committing brutal punishments for the most minor of infractions.

Beheadings were performed in public and the butchered bodies of male and female detractors thrown onto the streets. Although Malala initially blogged under the name Gul Makai, she later revealed her secret to her friends.

“They told me I was endangering my life, but they were happy that there was someone to speak up for them,” she told Newsline earlier this year.

Her simple language belies the veil of fear that hung over her daily life. “On my way from school to home I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you,’ ” she wrote in her BBC Urdu blog.

“I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.”

The schoolgirl described how she and her classmates were told not to wear uniforms to school because it would make them targets for the Taliban.

Writing for the BBC she said she instead “decided to wear my favourite pink dress”. However even this was not permitted.

“During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taliban would object to it,” she wrote.

The reaction to Malala’s blog in Pakistan as well as internationally reveals how remarkable the schoolgirl’s actions were.

She was the first Pakistani girl to be nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize, and though she did not win, she was awarded the first National Peace Award by the Pakistani government in December.

A ceasefire was signed between the Pakistan and the Taliban in 2009 and though conditions have undoubtedly improved, the Swat Valley continues to be a focus for pro-Taliban fundamentalists.

Malala has continued to campaign for girls’ right to education and revealed the full extent of the oppression of women under Taliban rule.In 2011, she described how women were forbidden from shopping and forced to wear the shuttlecock burka, a garment that covers the entire body with a fabric grill to allow women to see through. Malala wrote for the BBC in 2011:

“When the Taliban came to Swat they banned women from going to the market and they banned shopping, but they did not know that women, whether from the East or West love shopping.

“My mother also used to come to this market and one day she was scared by a Talib. The Talib said to her: ‘Why are you coming here and why are you not wearing the specific burka which we have told you to wear?’

“My mother rushed home because of the fear she felt.”

Malala has appeared on news channels, spoken to international media and continued to campaign for the rehabilitation schools damaged by the Taliban.

She has said she wants to “become an honest and hard-working politician” when she finishes her schooling. By reflecting the fears of many living in Pakistan and summoning the courage to speak out and be heard, Malala has become a symbol of hope for a region living in fear.

Her shooting has caused outrage in Pakistan despite the country’s violent history. The President of Pakistan has condemned the “cowardly” and “deplorable” act and activists have been vocal in calling for her recovery.

Doctors in Pakistan have managed to remove a bullet from Malala’s head and her condition is reportedly stable.

What Dr Mahathir told war survivor Soros

September 27 ,2012

What Dr. Mahathir told War Survivor Soros

by Steven Gan of Malaysiakini. com

EXCLUSIVE: Former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad told billionaire financier George Soros, a survivor of the Second World War, how he had personally witnessed a British soldier being killed by Japanese troops.

In a three-page personal letter he wrote to Soros six years ago to seek the support of his then-nemesis for his Perdana Leadership Foundation’s global anti-war efforts, Mahathir recalled the unforgettable incident in Alor Setar during the Japanese invasion of Malaya.

“The bayoneting death of a young British soldier by the Japanese in my hometown had left a lasting impression on me,” Mahathir wrote in his January 11, 2006 letter, a copy of which is with Malaysiakini.

“It may seem a minor incident but I cried for this young boy, 8,000 miles from home and family, feeling the bayonet piercing his body. And he screamed two or three times. And then there was silence. I was a teenager and I could not help imagining the thing happening to me. How could we kill people so cruelly and feel no sense of guilt.”

According to author Barry Wain in his book, Malaysia Maverick, this was one of the traumatic events that shattered Mahathir’s teenage innocence, and “thoroughly politicised him and changed the course of his life”.

Horrors of war

Soros himself is no stranger to the horrors of war. Born in Budapest, Hungary, to a Jewish family, he survived the Battle of Budapest, where German and Soviet troops fought house-to-house during the last days of the Second World War. In 1947, still a teen, Soros migrated to post-war England.

Mahathir had written to Soros to urge the much-maligned currency speculator to join him in his Global Peace Forum, which sought to criminalise war and outlaw it as an option to settle international conflicts.

“I write to invite you to lend your name to this effort to achieve the ultimate human rights – the right to life,” Mahathir says in his January 11, 2006 letter.

Both Octogenarians – Mahathir is 87 and Soros, 82 – have had a bitter war of words, with Mahathir calling Soros a “moron” and blaming the currency speculator for igniting the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, while Soros hit back by describing the Malaysian Premier as a “menace to his country”.

Mahathir also says in the letter: “We regard killing a person as a crime punishable with the most extreme punishment.It seems to me hypocritical – on the one hand, regarding killing as murder and a serious crime, and at the same time training our young men to kill people, ordering them to kill and glorifying their deeds.”

‘Identical views’

In highlighting their common war-time experiences both men had witnessed when they were in their teens, Mahathir had hoped that the billionaire philanthropist would “lend his name” to the global anti-war movement.

“Whatever may be the differences between us, we seem to have identical views on war, i.e. on killing people in the pursuit of a national agenda.”

It is not known what Soros had said in his response to Mahathir, but it is likely to have been a polite “no”, given that he did not join the Global Peace Forum.

Mahathir met with Soros in Kuala Lumpur 11 months after his letter to the billionaire financier, during which the two foes buried the hatchet.

Following the meeting, Mahathir said he accepted that Soros was not involved in the devaluation of Malaysia’s currency. However, four days ago, Mahathir dug up the hatchet and took another stab at Soros, claiming that the international financier was seeking regime change in Malaysia.

The enmity between Mahathir and Soros can be traced back to the early 1990s when Bank Negara Malaysia – then considered by financial observers as a rogue central bank for dabbling heavily in high-risk currency speculation – lost a whopping RM5.7 billion to the likes of Soros.

Yesterday: Dr M asks for Soros’ help in peace project

Mubarak in Jail for Life and who’s next?

June 2, 2012

Dictator Hosni Mubarak sentenced to life in jail and who’s next?

by AFP

An Egyptian court has sentenced former President Hosni Mubarak to life in prison after convicting him of involvement in the murder of protesters during the uprising that ousted him last year.

Also given a life term for the killings was Mubarak’s former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, while six former Police commanders were acquitted.

Corruption charges against Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, were dropped due to the expiry of a statute of limitations.

Scuffles broke out soon after the verdicts were delivered on Saturday, and chants of ‘‘void, void’’ and ‘‘the people want the Judiciary purged’’ could be heard.

Lawyers inside the courtroom were furious over the acquittals and told AFP they feared that Mubarak and Adly would be found innocent on appeal.

The former strongman, wearing dark classes and a beige tracksuit, showed no emotion as Judge Ahmed Refaat read out the sentence.

His two sons, Alaa and Gamal, looking tired with dark circles under their eyes, appeared close to tears on hearing the verdict. Clashes erupted outside the court following the sentencing, as Police used stun grenades to control the crowds.

Mubarak, the only autocrat toppled in the Arab Spring to be put in the dock, former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and six others were on trial over their involvement in the deaths of some of the estimated 850 people killed during the uprising that toppled the strongman.

Mubarak, his sons Alaa and Gamal and business associate Hussein Salem, who fled to Spain, were also on trial over an alleged bribe.

‘Time to Start Thinking,’ by Edward Luce

April 10, 2012

Ny Times Sunday Book Review (April 3, 2012)

The Big Bang
‘Time to Start Thinking,’ by Edward Luce

By Jonathan Rauch (04-03-12)

In 1990, Japan was at the peak of its prosperity. It seemed an unstoppable force. But the boom turned out to be a bubble. Remember MITI, Japan’s economic planning agency? It’s now defunct, but then it was the envy of “competitiveness” gurus the world over. MITI, plus public-private cooperation, plus thrifty citizens and dedicated workers, plus demanding schools and diligent students, plus a sheltered domestic economy, plus ferociously competitive exporters — all worked together to create a new variety of capitalism, one destined to eat America’s lunch. Or so it seemed.

If you stepped into any bookstore in Tokyo, however, you saw stacks, veritable towers, of a discordant book. “The Sun Also Sets,” by Bill Emmott, sold spectacularly in Japan. The Japanese felt that something was amiss; they (and Emmott, later the editor of The Economist) were right.

So now, two Japanese lost decades later, a generation has passed. Again Americans are worried about decline; again we fear that an Asian economic superpower — now China, of course, not Japan — will eat our lunch. For those old enough to have lived through the competitiveness debate of 20 years ago, Edward Luce’s new book, “Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent,” will seem awfully familiar.

As with Japan then, so with China today. Its advantages include a nimble government, a shrewd industrial policy, enormous investment in infrastructure, motivated and diligent students and workers, piles of savings. Meanwhile, the United States hobbles itself with laissez-faire dogma and ­government-bashing ideology.

America is hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs. Bad enough that we no longer have a shoe industry; worse yet that we are handing our competitors the industries of the future — computer chips (a generation ago), clean energy (today). “If America is to restore its competitiveness,” Luce writes, “it will need to do many things, few of which will be possible without a much more effective federal government. In today’s world, smart government is a critical ingredient of national competitiveness. Unless America can address government’s role in a more pragmatic light, it may doom itself to continued descent.”

Luce is British, but he has lived and worked in the United States for years (as a columnist for The Financial Times and a speechwriter in the Clinton administration’s Treasury Department). He knows the country well, and he wishes it well, too. A result is that he leavens his yearning for smarter, more nimble government with a realism not always found among Europeans. He recognizes that the accumulation of interest groups guarding the status quo, and the remarkable increase in partisan polarization (especially on the right), are structural changes, difficult, at best, to reverse.

No politician wielding cries of “Change!” — whether that politician is named Obama or Gingrich — can make decades’ worth of governmental and political sclerosis go away.So where does that leave the country? Not in a great place, if Luce is right. Jobs are disappearing, median household income is declining, skills are in short supply, health costs hobble competitiveness, outsourcing and offshoring and automation marginalize working-class men, and through it all political leaders either sit by helplessly or actively oppose remedies.

And that’s just in Chapter 1. Later sections bring us dysfunctional schools, demoralized government, burdensome debt and deficits, failing innovation, hidebound regulation, crumbling infrastructure, a paralyzed Congress, a broken campaign-finance system and more, much more.

Luce (left) is a good writer with a vacuum-cleaner for a notebook. His book could not be bettered as a compendium of American problems, at least as filtered through the center-left sensibilities of a pro-American European. But a narrower, more focused approach would have gone a long way. As I marched through the list of failures and obstacles, I began to think a better title for the book might be “Time to Start ­Drinking.”

Still, out of Luce’s mass of stuff, two parallel but distinct diagnoses of “descent” emerge. One is the case for American relative decline: relative to emerging economies in general, and especially relative to China. No one can doubt that this is happening. But can it be stopped? Not by nimble MITI-style bureaucrats collaborating closely with pliable private-­sector executives; that is not how America works, as Luce himself acknowledges. A generation ago, the journalist James Fallows got it right: If America rises to the Asian challenge, it will be by being “more like us,” not more like them.

In any case, China’s relative economic rise is a good thing, certainly compared with the alternatives. True, China’s geopolitical power will grow, and that will be a nuisance. If we want to worry, however, the more appropriate worry is not that China will succeed but that it will fail.

As was true of Japan a generation ago, only much more so, China’s obvious strengths cover underlying flaws and weaknesses. Its government is corrupt, rigid and (of course) authoritarian. Its economy is rife with politically imposed distortions. Its schools, like Japan’s, rely heavily on rote instruction, good for playing economic catch-up but not so good for taking the lead. Its infrastructure buildup, also like Japan’s, feeds on an unsustainable diet of political cronyism and environmental depredation. And its message to the rest of the world is less “Give us your huddled masses” than “Give us your precious minerals.” If I had to bet on one system being in decent working order a generation from now, it would be ours, not theirs.

No, this is not an argument for complacency. Luce is right: America’s economy and political system are both in worse shape than they have been in a long time, and their dysfunctions seem to feed on one another. His more compelling case, and the country’s bigger worry, concerns absolute decline.

True, declinism has been wrong in the past (and I was among those who said so). America has an almost miraculous capacity for self-renewal. Right?

This time, however, that’s not so clear. In recent years, productivity improvements have decoupled from incomes, so that between 2000 and 2007, as the economist Robert J. Shapiro notes, “for the first time on record, the incomes of most Americans stagnated or fell through ostensibly good times.” Men have seen their earnings drop and have been withdrawing from the work force. Inequality has grown markedly, with not only the incomes but the lifestyles and lifetime prospects of the top and bottom bifurcating.

No one is really confident of what to do about these things, any one of which would be a challenge. Pile them atop one another, then layer over them the recession and a growing debt that will take years to dig out of, and spice liberally with political polarization and Republican looniness. Even optimists need to wonder if this time America is entering its own lost decade, or two.

For all its overkill, “Time to Start Thinking” raises the right questions at the right moment, which is what books are supposed to do. It deserves an audience in America. And I wouldn’t be surprised, too, if it ends up stacked on the best-seller tables in China.

Jonathan Rauch, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, is the author of “Government’s End: Why Washington Stopped Working,” among other books.

A version of this review appeared in print on April 8, 2012, on page BR1 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: The Big Bang.

Unofficial Results: Aung San Suu Kyi wins

April 2, 2012

Unofficial Results: Aung San Suu Kyi wins

Myanmar (Burma) Rising

YANGON, April 1 — Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in parliament on Sunday, her party said, after a historic by-election that is testing Myanmar’s nascent reform credentials and could convince the West to end sanctions.

Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party announced to loud cheers at its headquarters that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate had won in Kawhmu, south of the commercial capital Yangon, paving the way for her first role in government after a two decade struggle against dictatorship.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has won,” an NLD official announced, referring to Suu Kyi by her honorific title. Myanmar’s Election Commission had yet to confirm any results from the by-elections for 45 legislative seats.

The United States and European Union have hinted that some sanctions – imposed over the past two decades in response to human rights abuses – may be lifted if the election is free and fair, unleashing a wave of investment in the impoverished but resource-rich country bordering rising powers, India and China.

The charismatic and widely popular Suu Kyi, had complained last week of “irregularities”, though none significant enough to derail her party’s bid for 44 of the seats. Suu Kyi made no immediate comment on her victory.

From dawn, voters quietly filed into makeshift polling stations at schools, religious centres and community buildings, some gushing with excitement after casting ballots for the frail Suu Kyi, or “Aunty Suu” as she is affectionately known.

Among her supporters who voted early Sunday in Suu Kyi’s rustic constituency of bamboo-thatched homes in Kawhmu, there was little doubt she would win. “My whole family voted for her and I am sure all relatives and friends of us will vote for her too,” said Naw Ohn Kyi, 59, a farmer from Warthinkha.

“So far as my friends and I have checked, almost everyone we asked voted for Aunty Suu,” added Ko Myint Aung, 27-year shop owner from Kawhmu. To be regarded as credible, the vote needs the blessing of Suu Kyi, who was freed from house arrest in November 2010, six days after a widely criticised general election that paved the way for the end of 49 years of direct army rule and the opening of a parliament stacked with retired and serving military.

President Thein Sein, a General in the former military junta, has surprised the world with the most dramatic political reforms since the military took power in a 1962 coup in the former British colony then known as Burma.

In the span of a year, the government has freed hundreds of political prisoners, held peace talks with ethnic rebels, relaxed strict media censorship, allowed trade unions, and showed signs of pulling back from the powerful economic and political orbit of its giant neighbour China.

It was rewarded last November when Hillary Clinton made the first visit to the country by a US secretary of state since 1955. Business executives, mostly from Asia but many from Europe, have swarmed to Yangon in recent weeks to hunt for investment opportunities in the country of 60 million people, one of the last frontier markets in Asia.


Voting took place under the watch of small numbers of observers from the European Union and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), who were given only a few days to prepare inside Myanmar. Some said they considered themselves “election watchers” rather than observers.

The last election, in November 2010, was widely seen as rigged to favour the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the biggest in parliament.

The NLD boycotted that vote. But as Myanmar changes, so too is Suu Kyi. At 66, many see her now as more politically astute, more realistic and compromising. She has described President Thein Sein as “honest” and “sincere” and accepted his appeal for the NLD to take part.

Her top priorities, she says, are introducing the Rule of Law, ending long-simmering ethnic insurgencies and amending the 2008 constitution ensuring the military retains a political stake and its strong influence over the country.

While her party may end up with only a small number of seats, many expect her to exert outsized influence. Some Burmese wonder if conservatives would dare oppose her ideas in parliament given her popularity, especially ahead of a general election in 2015. Many MPs want to be seen aligned with her, sharing some of her popular support.

But the election has not gone smoothly. Suu Kyi has suffered from ill health and accused rivals of vandalising NLD posters, padding electoral registers and “many cases of intimidation.”

Some of these infractions, however, have been quite minor and are typical of elections across Southeast Asia, where vote-buying and even assassinations are commonplace.

The NLD on Friday said a betel nut had been fired by catapult at one of its candidates and a stack of hay had been set on fire close to where another was due to give a speech.

It made fresh claims of irregularities on Sunday and said some ballots papers had been covered in wax to make it tricky to write on. It accused the USDP of waiting outside some polling stations and telling voters to back their party.

Sceptics in the democracy movement say Suu Kyi is working too closely with a government stacked with the same former generals who persecuted dissidents, fearing she is being exploited to convince the West to end sanctions and make the legislature appear effective. Others have almost impossibly high hopes for her to accelerate reforms once she enters parliament.

It was not clear when the election results would be officially announced. The full result has been promised within one week.

Some US restrictions such as visa bans and asset freezes could be lifted quickly if the election goes smoothly, diplomats say, while the EU may end its ban on investment in timber and the mining of gemstones and metals. — Reuters

Malaysia’s Chosen Path:Moderation

January 19, 2012


Moderation has always been Malaysia’s Chosen Path

by Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak(01-17-12)

Here in Malaysia, moderation has always been our chosen path. It is a testament to how we gained our independence from the British back in 1957; how we restored our relations with Indonesia in 1965; and how we helped build ASEAN in 1967, recovered from the tragic events of May 1969, engaged with China in 1972, and forged the ground-breaking ASEAN security and economic communities in 1993 and 2009. Each was a significant moment for our country, and all were gained through reasoned discussion and debate.

But over and above Malaysia’s own achievements, moderation is the fitrah, or essence, of humanity’s greatest heights; the solid bedrock on which all of the world’s civilisations have been built – for without it, we would long ago have succumbed to epicurean pleasures and delights! Yet moderation stands not just in the defence of willpower, discipline and restraint but of acceptance, freedom, tolerance, compassion, justice and peace.

Being moderate is not about being weak, about appeasement or about institutionalising mediocrity. And it is not about doing half-heartedly those things that are worthy of our fullest measure of devotion. Far from being an ideology of enfeeblement, as some would have us believe, moderation empowers us to go forward and to leave a mark for good – attending to the needs, frustrations and anxieties of others at the same time as attending to our own.

In the words of Robert F. Kennedy, “it is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

That is the current we are here to build today – and let us make no mistake, we come together at a particularly troubled juncture in our global history. New faces of war, the global financial crisis and natural disasters on a previously unseen scale present us with challenges the like of which we have never had to face before. But face them we must, and the way we choose to deal with these changes will have a crucial bearing on the future of our shared civilisation.

The scale and speed of the events that unfolded across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 at times felt almost overwhelming, but as the chaos and confusion gives way to calm the whole world is united in the hope that – rather than falling victim to an extremism and intolerance that closes in to fill the void – these countries and peoples can forge a peaceful, democratic moderation that will grant them more freedom of expression, not less.

Elsewhere, Nigeria has recently borne witness to deadly clashes between its Christian and Muslim communities. But the Nigerian government has made it quite clear that such behaviour will not stand and that there will be consequences for those who seek to hijack faith for violent ends. Because the real divide is not between Muslims and non-Muslims, or between the developed and developing worlds, it is between moderates and extremists.

So we have, each one of us, a choice to make: the choice between animosity and suspicion on the one hand and a sustained attempt to apprehend each other’s world views on the other. Certainly, we should never assume that the oceans and gulfs that divide us grant us immunity to the conflicts of others. Tensions in Africa or harsh words uttered in the Americas can have consequences not only for those who live there but for us all. In today’s world of the information superhighway such conflicts travel quickly – and no-one has a monopoly on truth.

Of course – much as it would be nice to claim the credit! – calls such as my own for a Global Movement of the Moderates are nothing new. Moderation is an age-old value, and one that runs right to the heart of the great religions. In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad counsels that “moderation is the best of actions”; in Christianity, the Bible says “let your moderation be known unto all men”; and in Judaism, the Torah teaches that moderation in all things is a “way of life” in the truest sense of Jewish custom.

But if moderation has long had a home within the world religions, then the reverse is also true: extremism has never been welcome inside our mosques, churches, synagogues and temples. Perpetuating hatred is, by its very nature, a lonely pursuit, flying in the face of widely held morality – and it is this dangerously untethered animus, coupled with a head-in-the-sand refusal to acknowledge the views and the values of others, that makes extremism such a potent threat.

And yet, time and again the side of righteousness has triumphed. History has been made not by those who espoused extremism but by those who, without surrendering their beliefs, stayed true to the path of moderation. We are all familiar with the extraordinary strength of will and leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, but you don’t have to be a world leader to be an inspiration. Moderates can make a difference wherever they make a stand – and it is time for the massed ranks of the moderates everywhere to stand up and to say to the extremists with a single breath a firm, resounding “no”.

Because one thing is clear: we cannot rid the world of extreme views by force. Violence begets violence – so we can best foster tolerance and understanding not by silencing the voice of hatred but by making the voice of reason louder. Persuasion, negotiation and co-operation: these must be our weapons in the face of enmity and malice.

The range of speakers and delegates here today is diverse in every sense, embracing experts and thought leaders from all continents and walks of life. This can, I think, mean just one thing: that extremism has at some point affected every country, every profession and everyone. No-one is immune, nowhere is out of bounds and nothing is off limits – for the simple reason that extremists, with their totalising world views, are reluctant to leave any institution, sacred or secular, untouched.

Extremists, we know, are driven by orthodoxies – a set of messianic ideals characterised by crass simplifications, misrepresentations and outright lies. Rather than celebrating the sanctity of life, as is required by all religions, extremists emphasise the glory of the afterlife. Rather than seeking out and embracing difference they espouse ignorance, intolerance and introspection. And rather than embracing change they fear it and all who drive it, turning their backs on progress and seeking refuge in an idealised world that always stays the same.

The essence, and perhaps the attraction, of extremism is its apparent simplicity – so it falls to movements and gatherings like this one to interrogate these easy truisms with subtlety, intelligence and vigour.

Talk of extremism and extremist acts conjures up terrible images of murder, mayhem and human suffering, but extremism isn’t always violent – and I believe we literalise it at our peril. Take, for example, one of the most extreme yet ostensibly non-violent events in recent history: the global financial crisis.

Compared to the shockingly violent images that were beamed around the world in the wake of 9/11 – scenes of devastation on an epic scale that scarred a generation and seared the collective conscience of the world – the pictures taken outside Lehman Brothers on another September morning some years later were much more ordinary, familiar even. A young woman, tense and anxious, carries her belongings out of the firm’s headquarters in a box. A disgraced executive, walking quickly, climbs into his luxury car and speeds away.

Nothing too unusual or untoward – and yet, without a single bullet fired, the extremes and excesses of Wall Street would in a matter of days take the world as we knew it to the brink.

Fast forward four years and it is clear there is no end in sight. The eurozone is still in crisis. Countless millions have lost their jobs, their homes and their security. And in addition to the human cost, some US$14 trillion has so far been spent on the rescue plan – ten times the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq combined.

So if my call for moderation is idealistic, it is hard-headedly realistic too. Many great Islamic scholars have been concerned with how Islam as a religious, cultural, political, ethical and economic worldview can help solve some of the biggest challenges we face today, and these are also questions that interest me – how moderation can solve not only the problem of violent extremism but can guide us through this global economic crisis.

Thomas Jefferson once said that “the selfish spirit of commerce knows no country, and feels no passion of principle but that of gain.” It is a sentiment that has been revisited many times in the years and months since Lehman’s fell.

No less a figure than the Pope has blamed the global financial crisis on “the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity.” Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has written of the need for employers, bankers and shareholders to be “guided, even if no-one is watching, by a sense of what is responsible and right.” And for Muslims like myself, the structures and principles of Islamic finance have long put public good ahead of individual gain.

So how do we create a truly moderate global economy that works in the interests of the many not the few? How can we devise a system that delivers fairness for “the 99 per cent”, not just those at the top? Quite simply, we can no longer allow the workings of the markets to be value-free or value-neutral. Markets, we all know, are the only route to rising global prosperity and sustained, stable growth – but we must do away with the unjust, unfair outcomes they can produce when left unchecked, and with the kinds of reckless economic practices that brought our global financial system to its knees.

Massive over leveraging. Mind-boggling credit default swaps. Sub-prime lending. Like the monstrous creation of some crazy scientist, these new and poorly understood financial practices rampaged out of Wall Street and left the devastated lives of millions in their wake.

But what of the men and women, the bankers and the traders, who went about their work with such abandon and with so little thought for anything beyond their own enrichment? A line of mug shots of the culprits would look very different to the “rogues gallery” of extremists we have grown accustomed to in recent years – sharp-suited, desk bound and clean shaven rather than dark skinned, bearded and combat-trained.

This flies in the face of everything we have been told about extremism – but it also raises the important question: what do extremists look like? How can we come to know them? The answer, of course, is that extremists, like extremism itself, take many forms – and we can only know them by their acts.

It is something I believe the world would do well to remember, for too often in recent times we have seen extremism and Islam discussed in the same breath. In the aftermath of 9/11, for example, Southeast Asia came to be regarded as a ‘second front’ simply because it had the highest number of Muslims in the world. And yet terrorism has never gained the same grip here that it has secured in other parts of the world.

And when a great evil visited Norway last year, so-called experts filled the airwaves to assert that the attack bore all the hallmarks of Muslim extremists. We swiftly discovered that the awful truth was very different, yet around the world politicians, journalists and commentators remain committed to the idea that terrorism and Islam are two sides of the same coin.

After Timothy McVeigh brought mass slaughter to the streets of Oklahoma City, nobody suggested that all Christians were somehow responsible. To do so would rightly have been seen as absurd, yet that is the situation the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims find themselves in today.

How did this happen? How did acts of extremism by a tiny minority of Muslims come to be seen as a true reflection of the whole of the Islamic faith – and to overshadow the extremism that is being perpetrated right across the world, day in day out, by people of all faiths and none? Such pernicious views cannot be left unchallenged – and it is not enough to say, as many have done, that the solution to extremism is simply for more Muslims to speak up and speak out. We need to hear from moderates of all religions in all countries and from all walks of life – and when we do, the prize of peace is there for all to see.

Malaysia has long been synonymous not with extremism but with moderation, tolerance , inclusivity and even acceptance.In a predominantly Muslim country with substantial communities of Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Taoists and Sikhs, we know well the “dignity of difference”. We have many ethnic groups, many religions, but we continually strive to be a harmonious and truly united nation predicated on the values of moderation and the spirit of 1Malaysia.

We know that we are best and we are strongest when we actively embrace our differences rather than just putting up with them – and it is in that spirit that we come together at the first ever meeting of the Global Movement of the Moderates. But a truly global movement cannot be imposed from above – so we must awaken in all our countries and communities the triumph of truth over ignorance, falsehood and fear.

To advance our common cause, I am pleased to announce today the formation here in Malaysia of an Institute of Wasatiyyah, operating as part of the Prime Minister’s Office, to further the pursuit of moderation and balance in all its aspects – respect for democracy, the rule of law, education, human dignity and social justice. In the words of the great scholar Al-Imam Ibnul Qayyim, wasatiyyah – moderation or ‘balance’ – “neither being too lenient nor too extreme is like an oasis between two mountains”, and to encourage many more such scholars in the future we will also be creating an academic Chair of Wasatiyyah, operating under Universiti Malaya, with the postholder to be announced in due course.

To spearhead this work at an international level, I am delighted to announce the launch of a new Global Movement of the Moderates Foundation as a centre of first resort for the consolidation and dissemination of information and campaign materials to all those who want to join the fight against extremism, governmental and non-governmental bodies alike. Certainly it is essential that, rather than being an exclusive initiative by Malaysia, the GMM complements other initiatives for global dialogue and co-operation such as the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations.

It will not be a campaign for the faint hearted, but we cannot allow this moment to be overtaken by extremists, with those who shout loudest gaining the most. In the words of that great advocate for peace, Mahatma Gandhi, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” – so it is for moderates everywhere to stand firm and stand proud, to dissipate the pull of the extremes and to deny those at the margins a foothold on the middle ground, ensuring that frustrations, wherever they are felt, are heeded and that voices, wherever they speak out, are heard.

Certainly, I hope this inaugural conference will provide an opportunity for us to brainstorm, debate and explore some of the practical challenges ahead – questions like: What does it take for a set of ideas and values to become a truly global movement? How can we inject moderation into our foreign policy decisions and domestic economic measures? And what can we learn from each other in the promotion of understanding, tolerance and peace?

Maybe I am naïve to hope for a world without terror, intolerance and all of the hatreds and miseries that man inflicts on man – but the price of failure if we dream too small is simply too high to pay. So let us dare to dream big, let us dare to imagine what was once thought unimaginable, and yes, let us dare to answer the clarion call to action. Oppression and tyranny can only win out if good men and women stand idly by, unwilling to turn rhetoric into action and opinions into deeds.

So let us here, today, together, commit ourselves to change and begin the task of building a new coalition of the moderates for our times – and may I thank you once again for coming and wish you well in your discussions over the next few days. There has never been a more important conversation, and it is one that we must undertake with temperance, fortitude and courage.

Keynote Address by YAB Dato Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak, Prime Mnister of Malaysia at Global Movement of Moderates Conference, at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur (January 17-19, 2012)

The Economics of Strategic Containment

November 18, 2011

The Economics of Strategic Containment: US Trade and Good Governance Agenda in Asia

by Sanjaya Baru (11-14-11)

At their recent summit in Cannes, the G-20 shelved, if not buried, the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s moribund Doha Development Round of multilateral trade negotiations. Crisis-weary Europe and America face a rising tide of protectionism at home, and are trying to find ways to blunt the edge of China’s non-transparent trade competitiveness.

Turning his attention from the Atlantic to the Pacific, US President Barack Obama – with his eye, once again, trained on China – has now unveiled a new regional trade initiative. Why was the US unwilling to move forward on the Doha Round, but willing to pursue a regional free-trade agreement?

The answer lies in the fact that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), launched by Obama and the governments of eight other Pacific economies – Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam – is not just about trade.

While Obama chose to stick to the economic factors driving the TPP, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (right), on the eve of the just-concluded Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering in Hawaii, laid out the initiative’s wider strategic context. “The United States will continue to make the case that….[the region] must pursue not just more growth, but better growth,” which “is not merely a matter of economics,” Clinton said. “Openness, freedom, transparency, and fairness have meaning far beyond the business realm,” she continued. “Just as the United States advocates for them in an economic context, we also advocate for them in political and social contexts.”

Following up on these remarks, Obama drew attention to persistent US concern about China’s exchange-rate policy, inadequate protection of intellectual property, and impediments to market access. “For an economy like the United States – where our biggest competitive advantage is our knowledge, our innovation, our patents, our copyrights – for us not to get the kind of protection we need in a large marketplace like China is not acceptable,” Obama observed.

The TPP initiative should be viewed against this background, and not just in the context of the collapse of the Doha Round. The TPP’s nine sponsors have resolved “to establish a comprehensive, next-generation regional agreement that liberalizes trade and investment and addresses new and traditional trade issues and twenty-first-century challenges.”

These leaders also agreed to fast-track the TPP initiative, and to consider opening it to other members – most importantly Japan, a late convert to the idea of a Pacific region free-trade agreement.

The TPP’s agenda is divided into three categories: core, cross-cutting, and emerging issues. The core agenda is to stitch together a traditional free-trade agreement focused on industrial goods, agriculture, and textiles. The agreement would also have provisions for intellectual-property protection and what are dubbed the social and environmental issues. In short, the TPP’s core agenda will offer the region a “Doha Round-type” agreement that includes the social and environmental agenda that developing economies have been resisting within the WTO.

Going beyond the core, the cross-cutting issues include investor-friendly regulatory systems and policies that enable “innovative” or “employment-creating” small and medium-size enterprises to operate freely across borders within the TPP region.

Finally, the TPP seeks to bring into the ambit of a trade and investment agreement “new and emerging” issues. These include “trade and investment in innovative products and services, including digital technologies, and ensuring state-owned enterprises compete fairly with private companies and do not distort competition in ways that put US companies and workers at a disadvantage.”

In short, the US has moved to bring together all of the economies in the region that are worried about China’s beggar-thy-neighbor trade and exchange-rate policies. For the US, the eight other TPP countries, with a combined population of 200 million, constitute its fourth largest export market, behind only China, the European Union, and Japan. If Japan joins, the TPP’s importance would rise dramatically.

While the economics of the TPP is important, the strategic component is even more so. This is the second leg of America’s new “Pacific offensive,” aimed at offering nations in the region an alternative to excessive and rapidly growing dependence on a rising China.

The first leg of the offensive was the idea of the “Indo-Pacific” region, which Clinton developed a year ago and followed up this year with an essay called “America’s Pacific Century.” There, she defines the new region of US strategic engagement as “stretching from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas.”

Extending east from the Indian Ocean and west via the Pacific, the US is creating a new strategic framework for the twenty-first century. The TPP is just one of the pillars of that new edifice.

Sanjaya Baru is Director for Geo-Economics and Strategy, International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), and the author of The Strategic Consequences of India’s Economic Performance.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

Revisit Sam Huntington’s The Clash of Civilisations

posted by din merican- May 8, 2009


Samuel Huntington misunderstood?
Amina Chaudary
April 30, 2009

I am the only Muslim to whom Huntington granted a formal interview during his lifetime. My interactions with him led me to believe that what many people thought of him and his ideas – especially many people in the “Muslim world” – probably misrepresented what he actually believed.

samuel huntingtonThe late Samuel Huntington will probably be best known for his controversial thesis, The Clash of Civilizations, in which he set forth the idea that civilisations – as opposed to just nations – would be an important factor in shaping the future of global politics. While his thesis addressed several different civilisations, it was perhaps most famous for its assertion that “Islamic civilisation” constituted a coherent and opposing force to the Western world.

I attended one of Huntington’s final classes at Harvard in 2005, during which a heated class discussion took place about United States’ involvement in Iraq. Huntington argued against the Bush administration’s efforts at nation-building in the Middle East – an ironic position, since many of the war’s supporters cited his thesis as a rationale for “restructuring” the Muslim world. As I watched students question how his thesis was used to justify policies he now disagreed with, I wondered whether Huntington remained committed to the basic arguments of his theory so many years after they were first published.

After much persistence for an interview, he agreed to meet with me at his home. I recall his warm, friendly personality but also slightly sceptical demeanour, as if he was probing to understand whether the interview would in anyway misrepresent what he had to say. I would later understand why he might have been concerned: he mentioned how often he felt his name was used to justify purposes of which he would never approve.

Huntington was controversial for a reason. In Clash of Civilizations, he wrote, “Current global politics should be understood as the result
the clash of civilization and the remaking of world orderof deep-seated conflicts between great cultures and religions of the world…” Huntington erected a new Iron Curtain after the fall of the Soviet Union – “several hundred miles east… separating people of Western Christianity and Muslim people.” For many, this perspective created a context for that conflict. Economic, social and political issues all fell to the margin; it was the Islamic faith that drove Muslims to rise up in anger and fight.

Totally wrong implication drawn

Yet, during the interview Huntington struck a far more conciliatory tone. When asked to clarify the quote, Huntington answered:

“The implication, which you say some people draw, is totally wrong. I don’t say that the West is united. I don’t suggest that. Obviously there are divisions within the West and divisions within Islam – there are different sects, different communities, different countries. So neither one is homogenous at all. But they do have things in common. People everywhere talk about Islam and the West. Presumably that has some relationship to reality, that these are entities that have some meaning, and they do. Of course the core of that reality is differences in religion.”

He further argued, “Western countries collaborate with Muslim countries and vice versa. I think it’s a mistake, let me just repeat, to think in terms of two homogeneous sides starkly confronting each other.”

It is impossible to tell how much of an impact Huntington’s thesis had on such events as the decision to go to war in Iraq or the execution of the so-called “war on terror” after 9/11. However, it was very clear that Huntington had little patience for the misappropriation of his ideas in policy circles. He never shied from criticising the Bush administration during his last series of lectures at Harvard.

I believe that Huntington felt as misunderstood and maligned by Muslims and the rest of the world as many Muslims felt by his thesis. It was almost as if he wanted an opportunity to clarify his ideas in his own voice to the community that had associated him for so many years with the dark side of American foreign policy. He wanted a chance to define himself rather than be defined by others, something Muslims, and other communities, all around the world can understand.

While not straying from his roots as a realist, Huntington introduced nuances and qualifications to his thesis during our discussion. He qualified the need for conflict, and clarified the possibility of cooperation. Perhaps he was even sympathetic to the way his thesis was used to demonise Islam in the post-Soviet era.

During the interview, Huntington explained how he recognised the misappropriation of his theory into various policy circles to further their own agendas for a division between the “West” and the “Muslim world”. He argued that “Western countries collaborate with Muslim countries and vice versa.” An example he provided was the partnership between the United States and Pakistan in issues related to global security.

I thought the highlight of the interview was the final question I asked Huntington: “What is one thing about you that most people would be surprised to know?”

His response: “Well, I guess, maybe you people…no, that would be unfair about you… but a lot people tend to think I’m a dogmatic ideologue – but I’m not.”

In an interesting twist of fate, it turned out that Huntington and the Muslim world shared something in common: the frustrating feeling that what many people believe about them is simplistic at best, and at worst, untrue.

AMINA CHAUDARY is a PhD candidate studying Muslim-Western relations at Boston University and a regular contributor to Islamica Magazine. This abridged article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the author. The full text can be found at Washington Post/Newsweek’s Post Global.