The Regional Octopus to merge with rivals to create mega Islamic bank


July 11, 2014

The Regional Octopus to merge with rivals to create mega Islamic bank

by Reuters-www.themalaysianinsider.com

OctopusCIMB Group Holdings Bhd is seeking to acquire two lenders to create the country’s biggest bank in a move that is likely to push larger rival Maybank and others in the region to bulk up too.

CIMB, the nation’s second-largest bank, is likely to offer an all-stock deal to buy RHB Capital Bhd and Malaysia Building Society Bhd although details have yet to be hammered out, a source familiar with the matter said

The three banks confirmed today they had obtained approval from Bank Negara Malaysia to begin merger talks.

The “three parties have entered into a 90-day exclusivity agreement to negotiate and finalise pricing, structure, and other relevant terms and conditions for a proposed merger of the three entities and the creation of a mega Islamic bank,” the three banks said in a statement.

The statement came after shares in all three banks were suspended on Thursday pending an announcement. Shares will resume trade on Friday. The proposal comes ahead of a planned partial integration of Southeast Asian economies that is due to begin by the end of next year, with countries in the 10-nation alliance keen to build national champions to bolster their banking systems.

CIMB has been the most acquisitive of Malaysia’s banks and a deal would be the last major move by CEO Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, brother to the Prime Minister, before he relinquishes the helm in September after 15 years.

A successful deal would see CIMB’s assets climb to RM614 billion, 6% bigger than Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank), and could help with pricing power in an intensely competitive domestic market.

“We believe that we can structure a value creating combination between our three groups and that is worth taking the next steps,” Nazir told employees according to an internal memo.

“I would urge everyone to look forward to the possibility of a significant scale change for us overall, but specially in Malaysia and Singapore, with the caveat that we have only just begun negotiations.”

But some analysts warned CIMB may pay too much and that there could be too much overlap between CIMB and RHB – the nation’s No. 4 bank, as they have similar portfolio mixes and strengths. RHB and Malaysia Building Society have a combined market capitalisation of around US$9 billion (RM28.5 billion), almost half of CIMB’s US$19 billion market value.

“We opine that such a merger could be value destructive to the merged entity given the degree of operational and revenue duplications between CIMB and RHB Capital,” brokerage UOB KayHian said in a client note.

Representatives for CIMB did not respond to requests for comment while RHB said there was no further update at this stage. Representatives for Malaysia Building Society were not immediately available for comment.

A deal would make CIMB the fourth-largest bank in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) after Singapore’s three biggest lenders. By comparison, the largest, DBS Group Holdings, has assets of US$337 billion.

CIMB's Nazir3Malaysia’s Top Banker in ASEAN

Nazir is the architect of the bank’s expansion over the past decade that saw it buy domestic rival Southern Bank, the Asia equities and investment banking business of RBS as well as lenders in Indonesia and Thailand.

A new deal is bound to heap pressure on Maybank to acquire a rival too, analysts said, with some speculating that Public Bank Bhd could fall within its sights.

“Maybank might want to take over Public Bank, which compared to RHB Capital, is much better in terms of asset quality, and is well-managed and well-capitalised. This makes Public Bank a vulnerable target,” said Ei Leen Tan, an analyst with Affin Investment.

A key player in any acquisition by CIMB of its two smaller rivals will be the Malaysian state pension fund, Octo2the Employees Provident Fund (EPF). It owns 41.3% of RHB and 65% of Malaysia Building Society. The fund also owns a 14.5% stake in CIMB, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Another will be Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investment which bought a 25% stake in RHB for RM10.80 per share in 2011 – regarded as a particularly high valuation.

Both CIMB and Maybank walked away from a deal to buy RHB in 2011 after failing to secure support from Aabar. The state fund currently owns nearly 22% of RHB. The EPF said in an email it would not be able to comment on the matter as it is very preliminary in nature and specific details are still pending.

A spokesman for Aabar said it doesn’t comment on any of its investments.While plans for ASEAN integration are widely expected to suffer delays, bankers and analysts expect more deals done as the banks from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia prepare for a more competitive landscape.”This will give impetus to other countries in the region to think of something similar,” said a M&A banker who advises on bank deals. – Reuters, July 10, 2014.

China’s James Shoal Claim: Malaysia the Undisputed Owner


July 4, 2014

RSIS Commentaries

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

No. 122/2014 dated 1 July 2014

China’s James Shoal Claim: Malaysia the Undisputed Owner

By B.A.Hamzah

Synopsis

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

Commentary

James Shoal

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

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

James Shoal and International Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contiguity not an issue

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

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

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

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

The British discovered James Shoal

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

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

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

Malaysia’s extensive activities on James Shoal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malaysia in 2014–a perspective from Singapore


June 30, 2014

Malaysia in 2014–a perspective from Singapore

MALAYSIA-SINGAPORE-DIPLOMACYFor Singapore, due to history, geography, demography, economy and recent political experiences, Malaysia has perpetually been its lynchpin concern and preoccupation. In the past, S Rajaratnam, the Republic’s first foreign minister, had described Singapore’s relations with Malaysia as ‘special’ and there is nothing to suggest that this has changed in anyway.

If anything, the ‘specialness’ has been intensified and further reinforced due to a whole array of factors, not least being the imperatives of national, regional and international economics. A weakening United States, an assertive China, an unstable Thailand and a new nationalistic leader in Indonesia can change the political and security architecture in the region to the detriment of both states and hence, their bilateral ties.

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

For Singapore, continuity rather than change remains its key perspective on Malaysia. This was especially true after the May 2013 general elections where the Barisan Nasional (BN: National Front) was returned to power albeit with a weaker majority. Still, Prime Minister Najib, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and the BN are in power and that is what matters even though the winds of change must also be disconcerting. The disquiet would be more, not so much from the economic aspect as it would be from the rising racial and religious polarisation of Malaysia in the last few years that was brought to the forefront during the last general elections. The ‘Allah’ issue has not been helpful and the recent firebombing of a church in Penang has merely raised the ante of what this will mean for Malaysia and possibly, even multiracial and multi-religious Singapore.

All that aside, the single most important development of late has been the rising warmth in Singapore-Malaysia bilateral ties under Lee Hsien Loong and Najib Tun Razak. While past imperatives of history, geography and demography remain relevant, most dominant in the new narrative has been the personal warmth of the two prime ministers and the strategic nature of their bilateral ties.

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

ST-Iskandar

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

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

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

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

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

Roaring on the Seas


June 19, 2014

Taipei, Taiwan

The Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL

Roaring on the Seas

Few aspects of China’s dynamic emergence as a global power have generated as much insecurity and danger in its neighborhood as its mounting campaign to control the South China Sea, a vital waterway for international commerce. On Wednesday, at a high-level meeting in Hanoi, China’s top diplomat scolded his Vietnamese hosts for complaining about an oil rig that Beijing planted in early May in waters that Vietnam claims, as its own.

Chinese Naval ShipsChina’s Blue  Water Navy in the South China Sea

The sharp back-and-forth represented one of the lowest points in relations between the two countries since a brief territorial war in 1979, and it added to worries in Washington and elsewhere about Beijing’s continued bullying in energy-rich waters that not only Vietnam but other small Asian nations lay claim to.

he sharp back-and-forth represented one of the lowest points in relations between the two countries since a brief territorial war in 1979, and it added to worries in Washington and elsewhere about Beijing’s continued bullying in energy-rich waters that not only Vietnam but other small Asian nations lay claim to.

In addition to installing the rig, Beijing’s efforts to assert sovereignty over the many specks of rock dotting the South China Sea now includes a novel twist: the piling of sand on isolated reefs and shoals to create what amount tonew islands in the Spratly archipelago.

Vietnam, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations that also claim sovereignty in the Spratlys have watched this island-building with growing alarm, but despite their protests — and a strongly worded statement last month by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel condemning China’s “destabilizing, unilateral actions” in the South China Sea — Beijing is showing no intention of changing its ways.

The Spratly Islands are uninhabited and of no economic value in themselves. But the archipelago covers rich fishing grounds and is believed to harbor large oil and gas reserves, and China could claim an exclusive economic zone within 200 nautical miles of each of the three or four islands it is creating. The new islands, projected to reach 20 to 40 acres in area, would also serve the projection of Chinese military power by providing bases for surveillance and resupply.

China insists that the Spratlys, Paracels and other islands have always belonged to China. But Vietnam also claims sovereignty, and parts of them are claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. In 2002, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China signed a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, agreeing to resolve territorial disputes “without resorting to the threat or use of force.” That declaration is not legally binding, and China has argued that Vietnam and the Philippines have already developed some facilities in the islands, though without adding acreage.

The real problem, in any case, is not the muddled question of sovereignty, but the way China appears to believe that its expanding military and economic power entitle it to a maximalist stance in territorial disputes. Certainly the smaller nations abutting the South China Sea are no match for China in a fight, but the fear and anger that China’s aggressive actions have generated among its maritime neighbors, and the tensions they have raised with Washington, hardly seem to be in Beijing’s interest, or in keeping with the image China’s president, Xi Jinping, tried to project when he said in Paris in March that “the lion that is China has awoken, but it is a peaceful, amiable and civilized lion.”

That is not the lion now roaring over the waters of the South China Sea, threatening the stability and security that have benefited, above all, China. That is all the more reason for Beijing to heed the 2002 declaration’s call for self-restraint in activities that would complicate disputes or disturb the peace.

Dissonance in Malaysia-Japan Relations


June 4, 2014

Dissonance in Malaysia-Japan Relations

Abe-NajibBamboo Diplomacy–Look East Again?

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

Wither “Second Wave of LEP”?

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

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

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

Dominant party systems in decay: experience of LDP and BN

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

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

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

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

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

Stalled structural reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japan’s security agenda and Malaysia’s ambiguity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Critic Returns to Malaysia


A Critic Returns to Malaysia

by John R. Malott

27 MAY 2014

After the long journey from Washington, DC, I approached the immigration officer at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It was Friday, May 16, 2014, and the moment of truth was at hand. Would they let me, a former US Ambassador to Malaysia, into the country? Or was I – someone who Asia Sentinel calls one of the Malaysian Government’s severest foreign critics – going to be barred from entering, when all I wanted to do was attend a wedding?

Despite concerns, former US Ambassador allowed past KL immigration to attend an Anwar family wedding

Despite concerns, former US Ambassador allowed past KL immigration to attend an Anwar family wedding

In February 2011, I wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal-Asia (here).The basic theme was that the international image of Malaysia as a harmonious, multi-racial, multi-religious society was no longer valid. Instead, the Malaysian government was condoning and sometimes even provoking racial and religious tensions in order to shore up its political base among the Malay population.

I explained that many Malaysians, and especially the Chinese minority, were tired of being treated like second-class citizens in their own country and were leaving for better opportunities abroad. In fact, according to government statistics I cited, almost 500,000 Malaysians left the country between 2007 and 2009, more than doubling the number of Malaysian professionals who live overseas.

I thought it was important to tell the world to wake up and pay attention. Things were changing in Malaysia, and not necessarily for the better. The Journal editors attached the headline, “The Price of Malaysia’s Racism.” I knew that the article would be controversial, because it ran counter to the government’s carefully cultivated image promoted by a multi-million dollar public relations campaign in America and Europe. So the op-ed was well-documented.

Then all hell broke loose. While I was accustomed to being attacked by the so-called UMNO cybertroopers who stalk the internet, this time the comments were especially vile and even obscene. A few days later I read that Nazri Aziz, then a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said he would propose to the cabinet that I be banned from entering Malaysia. Nazri said that because I had not visited Malaysia in years (actually I had been there just a few months before), I did not know the true situation. So his cure for my ignorance was to prevent me from ever visiting Malaysia again.

Two months later, the World Bank published a major 150-page report on Malaysia’s brain drain. It confirmed in great detail what I had said about Malaysian migration and its consequences. The Bank said that one million Malaysians (over 3 percent of the country’s population) were living overseas, including two out of every ten college graduates.

These people had the skills that Malaysia needs to escape the so-called middle income trap and take their country to a new level of development. The World Bank survey showed that the migrants still felt a strong personal attachment to their country, but their talents were no longer available to Malaysia.

When the Bank asked members of the Malaysian diaspora why they were working overseas, 66 percent cited career prospects and 54 percent said compensation. But the second most cited reason was social injustice (60 percent). When asked what might entice them to return to Malaysia, the No. 1 answer, cited by 87 percent of the respondents, was there would have to be a change in Malaysia’s affirmative action policies from a race-based to a needs-based approach.

Three years later, racial and religious tensions continue to rise in Malaysia. If I were to update my Wall Street Journal op-ed today, there would be even more examples, which the Asia Sentinel has reported so well. There is the ban on the word “Allah” and the confiscation of Bibles. There is Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’sreference to the “Chinese Tsunami” that voted against his party in the last general elections, and his party newspaper’s screaming headline, “What More Do the Chinese Want?”

The government has admitted that it has provided funds to the Malay chauvinist group Perkasa. While it has charged a Chinese-Malaysian Member of Parliament with sedition over a satirical video, the government has done nothing about the far more serious (and dangerous) anti-Chinese, anti-Indian, and anti-Christian remarks of ISMA, a Malay Muslim organization.

After Nazri said in 2011 that I should be barred from Malaysia, I sometimes wondered whether he carried through on his threat. But because I had no intention to travel there, it did not matter.

But a month ago Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the wife of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, emailed me to say that one of her daughters would be getting married, and that I was invited to the wedding. Over the past 15 years, after I retired from the US Department of State, my wife Hiroko and I grew close to Anwar, Azizah, and their family, especially during the time that they lived here in Washington, DC. Their six children called us Uncle and Auntie, and they were frequent visitors at our home. Hiroko wrote a biography of Wan Azizah, and the two women – a Malaysian and a Japanese – grew very fond of each other. When Hiroko died in 2012, Azizah flew to Washington to speak at her funeral.

Hiroko wrote a biography of Wan Azizah, and the two women – a Malaysian and a Japanese – grew very fond of each other. When Hiroko died in 2012, Azizah flew to Washington to speak at her funeral.

Hiroko wrote a biography of Wan Azizah, and the two women – a Malaysian and a Japanese – grew very fond of each other. When Hiroko died in 2012, Azizah flew to Washington to speak at her funeral.

I knew it was a long way to go for a wedding, but Azizah had travelled those thousands of miles for Hiroko. I thought of Nurul Iman, the beautiful bride-to-be, and how she had studied Japanese in high school here, due to Hiroko’s influence. I thought it might be my last chance to see Anwar before the government locked him up again, this time for five years. There were many things going through my mind, but overriding everything was one basic concern: if I travel halfway around the world to Kuala Lumpur, will the government let me in the door?

I called the Malaysian Embassy in Washington and informed them that I was going and why. In the interest of total transparency, I gave them my flight details and told them where I would be staying. I said I would do “nothing political” during my time in KL. The officer said he would check with KL to see if there was a problem. I then made a comment for the record: “I hope they understand that if they bar a former American Ambassador, who only wants to go to a wedding and visit with friends, it will be very bad publicity for Malaysia around the world.”

Meanwhile, American friends in Malaysia also were making inquiries, but they never got a straight answer whether I was on a blacklist or would be admitted. They were told, however, that if the decision were made to bar me, “We will not put him in a cell. We will put him in a nice room until we can arrange for a flight to take him out of the country.” I thought what a remarkable commentary that was – they would not lock up a former US Ambassador in a jail cell.

I told my children and friends about my decision to go, and the risk that the trip involved. I explained that this was not some paranoid fantasy on my part; in 2013, the Malaysian government had banned an Australian senator, Nick Xenophon, from entering, detaining him for eight hours at the airport. Later that same year the Sarawak government deported Clare Rewcastle Brown, the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and an environmental activist, who had come to Malaysia to defend herself in a lawsuit.

Nevertheless, a common reaction among friends was that the Malaysian government would not be so foolish as to prohibit the entry of a former American Ambassador, especially just two weeks after the visit of US President Barcak Obama. In reply, I quoted a Malay proverb, katak bawah tempurong, about the frog who lives under a coconut shell and comes to believe that that his coconut shell is the entire world. There have been so many cases where the UMNO government gets a black eye internationally but doesn’t seem to care (although in reality they do). The most important thing for them is to assert their power and authority inside their own little world, their own coconut shell.

So on Friday, May 16, I approached the immigration officer and waited, looking like any other elderly foreign tourist. He scanned my passport, and then his eyes got big as something appeared on the computer screen. He started reading, and reading more, and then went to get his supervisor. So yes, I was in the system. After 5 or 10 minutes, the supervisor told his officer to write down my passport number, and then they stamped me into the country.

When I left Malaysia four days later, a similar incident took place at the immigration departure counter. After five minutes, I was permitted to leave the country.

I am grateful to the Malaysian government for letting me do what I said I wanted to do – go to a wedding and visit with friends. I was happy to see KL again and be reminded what a beautiful country Malaysia is, and how wonderful its people are.

I am grateful to the Malaysian government for letting me do what I said I wanted to do – go to a wedding and visit with friends. I was happy to see KL again and be reminded what a beautiful country Malaysia is, and how wonderful its people are.

But at the same time, to stand before a Malaysian immigration officer and realize that the UMNO regime has placed a red flag next to my name has only strengthened my resolve to carry on. If this is the kind of government it is, then the world needs to hear more about it.

John R. Malott was the US Ambassador to Malaysia from 1995 to 1998.

Asia’s tomorrow has come–PM Najib Tun Razak


May 24, 2014

Asia’s tomorrow has come

by Dato Seri Najib Tun Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia

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

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

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

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

Abenomics–Resurgance of Japan

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

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

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

Tomorrow has come to Asia (and Malaysia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trans-Pacific Partnership and Integration for Economic Growth

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on the reforms needed at home

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

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

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

The Challenge of Inequality

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

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

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

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

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

Fight Against Corruption

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

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

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

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

Rise in Asian military power must deliver peace

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

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

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

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

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

Peacekeeping and Conflict Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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


May 17, 2013

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

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

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

Scs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Hamzah,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

41

 

Book Review: ‘Asia’s Cauldron,’ by Robert D. Kaplan


May 13, 2014

Sea Change

‘Asia’s Cauldron,’ by Robert D. Kaplan

by Ian Morris (04-17-14)

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/books/review/asias-cauldron-by-robert-d-kaplan.html?_r=0

This is the latest in a series of insightful books, like “The Revenge of Geography” and “The Coming Anarchy,” in which Robert D. Kaplan, the chief geopolitical analyst at the global intelligence company Stratfor, tries to explain how geography determines destiny — and what we should be doing about it.

“Asia’s Cauldron” is a short book with a powerful thesis, and it stands out for its clarity and good sense from the great mass of Western writing on what Chinese politicians have taken to calling their “peaceful development.” If you are doing business in China, traveling in Southeast Asia or just obsessing about geopolitics, you will want to read it.

Asia's Cauldron2Kaplan starts out from some basic economics. More than half of the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage (including four-fifths of all the oil burned in China) passes through the South China Sea. This commerce, Kaplan says, has turned that waterway into “the throat of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans — the mass of connective tissue where global sea routes coalesce,” investing its straits, shoals and islands with extraordinary strategic significance. At the heart of Kaplan’s book is a striking analogy that aims to explain what this will mean in the 21st century: “China’s position vis-à-vis the South China Sea,” he suggests, “is akin to America’s position vis-à-vis the Caribbean Sea in the 19th and early 20th centuries.”

The parallel Kaplan draws is straightforward and convincing. Between 1898 and 1914, the United States defeated Spain and dug the Panama Canal. This allowed Americans to link and dominate the trade of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, transforming the meaning of geography.

“It was domination of the Greater Caribbean Basin,” Kaplan concludes, “that gave the United States effective control of the Western Hemisphere, which, in turn, allowed it to affect the balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere.” In a rather similar way, he suggests, the South ­China Sea now links the trade of the Pacific and Indian Oceans; consequently, “were China to ever replace the U.S. Navy as the dominant power in the South China Sea — or even reach parity with it — this would open up geostrategic possibilities for China comparable to what America achieved upon its dominance of the Caribbean.” ­Because of this, the South China Sea is “on the way to becoming the most contested body of water in the world.”

Throughout the book, Kaplan tempers hard-nosed geopolitics with an engaging mix of history and travelogue (no reader is likely to forget his evocative comparisons of Hanoi and Saigon or his description of Borneo’s water villages) and also stresses the differences between the two cases as well as the similarities. Probably the biggest of these differences is that in the 1890s the revisionist power in the ­Caribbean — the United States — was militarily stronger than Spain, the status quo power, whereas in the 2010s the revisionist power in the South China Sea — China — is militarily weaker than America, the status quo power.

Kaplan is surely right to conclude from this that Beijing is unlikely to risk a military showdown involving Washington any time soon. Instead, he tells us — mixing historical analogies slightly — that China will “Finlandize” Southeast Asia. Confronted by the same kind of pressure that the Soviet Union applied to its Scandinavian neighbor during the Cold War, Southeast Asia’s governments “will maintain nominal independence but in the end abide by foreign policy rules set by Beijing.” Because Finlandization is so different from the way the United States threw Spain out of the Caribbean in 1898, the outcome will differ too. “But,” Kaplan concludes, “the age of simple American dominance, as it existed through all of the Cold War decades and immediately beyond, will likely have to pass. A more anxious, complicated world awaits us.”

These sentences might tempt readers to lump Kaplan into the company of “declinists,” writers who rejoice in announcing the imminent fall of the American Empire, but that would be too simple. ­Kaplan is in fact a leading proponent of the theory of international relations known as realism, which traces its ancestry back nearly 2,500 years to Thucydides. Kaplan is explicit about his intellectual debt to this tough-minded ancient Greek and, like him, glories in stripping away fondly held illusions to reveal the harsh reality of governments nakedly pursuing their own self-interest without concern for values, beliefs or ideology.

It is realism that keeps Kaplan’s book so refreshingly free of the breathless “oh my God it’s worse than you think” prose style that mars so much Western writing on the rise of China. In its place, however, realism encourages a Thucydidean detachment that some readers will find even more alarming. But that, Kaplan says, is the way it has to be, because the struggle over the South China Sea is going to be detached and unemotional. America’s struggle with the Soviet Union raised great moral issues and fired the passions of all involved; but it has proved hard to invest the South China Sea with the same philosophical freight as the Berlin Wall, despite the best efforts of some. (While writing a column for a newspaper — not this one — a few months ago, I was firmly informed that the editor wanted “less history, more scary stuff about China.”) “The fact is,” Kaplan observes, “East Asia is all about trade and business.”

The heroes in Kaplan’s story are hard, pragmatic men who recognize this, men like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew (“head and shoulders above most other leaders worldwide in the 20th century”) and China’s Deng Xiaoping (“one of the great men of the 20th century”). Realists to their core, both regularly turned on a dime, ditching what had once seemed to be deeply held convictions. Neither had much time for democracy; nor, it seems, does Kaplan. Admitting that such thoughts are “heretical to an enlightened Western mind,” he writes that “if you left the South China Sea issue to the experts and to the elites in the region, the various disputes would have a better chance of being solved than if you involved large populations in a democratic process, compromised as they are by their emotions.”

The solutions that would be reached, though, might not be the ones that most people around the South China Sea would want. In the course of his travels, Kaplan found the spirit of Lee and Deng much in evidence. One realist after another told him that they did not wish to be Finlandized or to replace America’s embrace with China’s; but realism teaches us that history is driven more by necessities than desires. “At the end of the day,” one Singaporean said, “it is all about military force and naval presence — it is not about passionate and well-meaning talk.” Since 2011, there has been much passionate American talk of a pivot toward Asia; but Vietnamese officials, realists to a man, respond by quoting a proverb — “A distant water can’t put out a nearby fire.”Poor Southeast Asia. So far from God, so close to China.

Correction: May 11, 2014

A review on April 20 about “Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific,” by Robert D. Kaplan, referred incorrectly to “Finlandization,” a concept the author applies by analogy to China’s relations with its neighbors. The term describes the Soviet Union’s influence on Finland during the Cold War, not Russia’s pressure on the country during the czarist period.

 

MH370 Preliminary Report: Not a Good Day to a Malaysian


May 2, 2014

MH370 Preliminary Report: Not a Good Day to a Malaysian

by  Lim Kit Siang

Hisham, Najib, and MuhiyuddinToday is not a good day to be a Malaysian as the world wakes up to critical and adverse media headlines on the Malaysian preliminary report on the missing MH370 Boeing 777-200 completing its eighth week of vanishing into the air with 239 passengers and crew on board without leaving any wreckage or clue as to what had happened on the fateful morning of March 8.

The Four Hour Gap

It took 17 minutes for air traffic controllers to realise that Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 had disappeared from their screens - and four hours to launch a rescue operation.

It took 17 minutes for air traffic controllers to realise that Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 had disappeared from their screens – and four hours to launch a rescue operation.

All over the world, the media splashed the shocking headlines of the admission from the first Malaysian official report that nobody noticed that Flight MH370 was missing for 17 minutes and no search was launched for another four hours.

Instead of answering the many questions that have been raised in the past eight weeks of the MH 370 disaster, both the preliminary report and the statement by the Acting Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein accompanying it have only provoked more questions.

Firstly, the five-page preliminary report on the missing MH 370 had been described as “scant at best” in contrast to the preliminary report into Air France 447 which was released one month after the plane disappeared and which was 128 pages long, while a preliminary report into the Qantas engine explosion over Singapore in 2010 was more than 40 pages with diagrams and charts.

The table below is based on recorded communications on direct lines, summarising the events associated to MH370 after the radar blip disappeared until activation of the Rescue Coordination Centre.

The table above  summarising the events associated to MH370 after the radar blip disappeared on the first day .

The Malaysian government preliminary report makes one safety recommendation, for real-time air tracking to be installed on all commercial aircraft, viz:

“There have now been two occasions during the last five years when large commercial air transport aircraft have gone missing and their last position was not accurately known. This uncertainty resulted in significant difficulty in locating the aircraft in a timely manner.”

The same recommendation was made after the Air France jet crashed into the Atlantic in 2009, though nothing was done to satisfy the proposal.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia’s democracy is best in the world.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia’s democracy is best in the world.

More pertinent, however, is why the preliminary report which was dated three weeks ago on April 9 was not made public earlier, and why the relatives of the passengers and crew on board the missing plane had not been briefed on its contents before its public release.

For the first time in 56 days, Malaysians are told that the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had on the very same morning of the missing MH370, ordered the search and rescue operations to be extended to the Straits of Malacca, alongside that being carried out in the South China Sea.

Was this true that right from the very beginning of the search-and-rescue operation for the MH 370 on the morning of May 8, the search area had been extended from South China Sea to the Straits of Malacca?

If so, why didn’t Hishammuddin announce it earlier, instead of waiting for 55 days until yesterday in a statement accompanying the publication of the government’s preliminary report on the missing MH370?

It is to be noted that this new and hitherto unknown information to the public that the SAR operation area had right from the beginning on the same morning of the missing Boeing 77 been extended from the South China Sea to the Straits of Malacca was not disclosed in the preliminary report dated April 9 but in Hishammuddin’s statement dated May 1, 2014!

Furthermore, Najib himself did not seem to know that he had ordered the search area to be extended from the South China Sea to the Straits of Malacca the very same morning of the missing aircraft, for he made no mention of such extension in his press conference on May 8 held just after 7 pm where he announced the expansion of the search area after the SAR mission team found no wreckage in the plane’s last location before it disappeared from radar at 1.21 earlier in the morning.

Najib had said then that the first phase of the search efforts focused on the area where the plane’s signal was last picked up, had proved unsuccessful in locating it, and the search area was being “expanded as wide as possible”.

Civil Aviation Department Director-General Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman (pic–on Hishamuddin’s left), mh370-hishammuddinwho was present at Najib’s press conference, spelt out the meaning of this expansion of the search area by saying that “we are searching in Malaysian and Vietnamese waters”.

The next day, on Sunday, 9th March, Azharuddin told the press that the search operation had been expanded further from the initial 20 nautical miles in the South China Sea to 50 nautical miles – no mention whatsoever of its expansion to the Straits of Malacca.

Unless Hishammuddin can give satisfactory explanation for these new additional discrepancies in the latest official accounts of what happened in the first crucial days of the SAR for the missing MH 370, he has only himself to blame if the government preliminary report and his statement accompanying it suffer a serious credibility gap.

This is why a report by an Opposition-headed Parliamentary Select Committee on the MH 370 disaster would have greater credibility than a unilaterial statement by Hishammuddin, especially when new facts suddenly surface as if to embellish the government’s version of what happened in the crucial first few days of the MH 370 disaster.

Fatal omissions

Chief of the RMAF, Rodzali DaudThere are many fatal omissions in the government preliminary report – for instance, the failure to explain the many flip-flops, contradictions and confusions in the information given out by the various authorities, for instance, the initial information that MH 370 had lost contact at 2.40 am when it was subsequently established that the aircraft disappeared from the Malaysian air traffic controllers’ radar at 1.21 am Malaysian time.

But the most fatal error which still cries out for explanation is why it took another four hours before the search-and-rescue (SAR) operation was launched, when time is of the essence in such cases as the sooner a SAR mission is initiated, the greater the possibility of finding the wreckage and casualties.

Under civil aviation emergency standard operating procedures, an Uncertainty Phase (INCERFA) should be invoked within 30 minutes when there is concern about the safety of an aircraft or its occupants.

An Alert Phase (ALERFA) should be invoked when there is apprehension about the safety of an aircraft and its occupants, or when communication from an aircraft has not been received within 60 minutes.

A Distress Phase (DETRESFA) should be invoked when there is reasonable certainty that the aircraft or its occupantsw are threatened by grave and imminent danger – or when following an Alert Phase, further attempts to establish communications with the aircraft are unsuccessful

All these emergency standard operating procedures were violated in the MH 370 case, for ALERFA should have been declared at 1.51 am, ALERTA at 2.21 am and DETRESFA before 3 am to lauch a full-scale SAR operation instead of delaying until 5.30 am that day!

Another grave omission is the role of the Royal Malaysian Air Force and the military radar in the MH 370 disaster.

Lim Kit Siang is the DAP Adviser & MP for Gelang Patah

 

Cambodia Realigns Its Foreign Relations


May 1, 2014

Cambodia Realigns Its Foreign Relations

Facing political opposition and diminished Chinese support, Hun Sen government seeks greater regional integration

barack-obama-and-hun-senPresident Barack Obama and Prime Minister Hun Sen Of Cambodia

Cambodia’s foreign relations map has undergone dramatic shifts in the past six months. In the aftermath of Cambodia’s elections in July 2013, Beijing promptly recognized the results and congratulated Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party for their victory.

However, as anti-government protests led by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party grew in the weeks that followed, with protesters condemning the elections as fraudulent and calling on Hun Sen to step down, China has since largely remained silent and kept the prime minister at arm’s length.

At the same time, the Cambodian government in the past few months has moved to consolidate its relations with Vietnam following several years of deteriorating ties between the two neighbors. Phnom Penh made this move despite the anti-Vietnamese sentiment in Cambodia fed by Opposition Leader Sam Rainsy that has gained traction since the elections.

An ongoing political crisis and China’s apparent hedging on Hun Sen are behind this emerging geostrategic realignment.

Hun Sen is struggling to deal with growing opposition to his rule and grievances from the public on labor rights and governance at a time when Cambodia is at a critical political and economic crossroads. The country is seeking to become more integrated with the rest of Southeast Asia and the world in the years ahead. Cambodia’s youth are increasingly more educated and exposed to democratic norms and the outside world.

Hun Sen, whose strong-arm tactics largely worked in the past, now faces what is perhaps the most serious challenge to his rule in decades and is seeking outside recognition to boost his domestic legitimacy. The truth is, even if his party manages to win the next elections, Hun Sen must continue to deal with growing demands for greater transparency, better rule of law and more democracy.

China, until recently Cambodia’s most important patron, has not been willing to offer Hun Sen much political backing. While the two governments continue to maintain high-level meetings and exchanges, there has been a shift in Beijing’s policy toward Cambodia. Shortly after Hun Sen announced he would not step down in the face of opposition-led protests, an article in China’s state-controlled Xinhua in late December quoted Khmer analysts calling for national referendum on whether to organize new elections.

Chinese leaders probably will not give Hun Sen the cold shoulder anytime soon, but they seem to be charting a middle course and slowly moving away from their past policy of wholeheartedly endorsing his government.

The social and political changes taking place in Cambodia have not been lost on Beijing. Chinese leaders could be hedging their bets on Cambodia’s political future to avoid the kind of strategic blunders they made in Myanmar in recent years. Beijing long threw its support to Myanmar’s military regime and was taken unaware by the sweeping reforms President Thein Sein launched in 2011. Chinese leaders did not begin to face up to the new political reality in Myanmar until Thein Sein suspended construction of the multibillion dollar Chinese-backed Myitsone dam.

As part of its new policy, China is engaging different actors in Myanmar’s emerging political scene, from parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann and army chief Min Aung Hlaing to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Chinese leaders who have largely given Thein Sein the cold shoulder are now considering an official invitation for Aung San Suu Kyi to visit China. Neither President Xi Jinping nor Premier Li Keqiang made a stop in Myanmar during their diplomatic blitz across Southeast Asia in 2013. Interestingly, Cambodia was not included in that itinerary either, despite being a staunch ally and a popular investment destination for Chinese businesses.

Meanwhile, relations between Vietnam and Cambodia have blossomed during the past few months. Hanoi has provided Hun Sen with much needed outside recognition and a boost to his legitimacy. In late December, Hun Sen visited Vietnam ahead of the 35th anniversary of the ouster of the Khmer Rouge by Hanoi’s troops, and Vietnamese leaders lavishly congratulated him for his role in rebuilding Cambodia.

Two weeks after Hun Sen’s trip, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited Cambodia, where the two leaders co-chaired a bilateral trade and investment conference – the largest since 2009 – and pledged to boost economic ties in banking, finance, agribusiness, tourism and telecommunications. At the end of 2012, Vietnamese businesses had invested around $3 billion in nearly 130 projects in Cambodia, making Vietnam one of the country’s top foreign investors. China, in comparison, invested a total of $9.17 billion in the country between 1994 and 2012.

Hanoi is closely watching the political turmoil in Cambodia, but still jumped at the chance to patch up ties with Phnom Penh following several years of irritation over border demarcation and Cambodia’s siding with China over the South China Sea disputes. In the foreseeable future, Hanoi still has an interest in sustaining regime stability in Cambodia and the ruling party’s grip on power given how overtly anti-Vietnamese Sam Rainsy has shown himself to be.

For instance, Rainsy has recently declared that Vietnam is encroaching on Chinese territory in the South China Sea, in the same fashion that he alleges the nation is grabbing Cambodian territory.

Offering Hun Sen political support when he most needed it, as well as strengthening bilateral economic ties, seemed like a logical choice for Vietnamese leaders. Hanoi is also concerned about the increasingly anti-Vietnamese rhetoric among the Cambodian population. Launching the new Cho Ray Phnom Penh Hospital, a joint venture between Vietnam’s Saigon Medical Investment and Cambodia’s Sokimex, was perhaps an effort to soften anti-Vietnamese sentiment through joint cooperation in the health sector.

But realistically, Hanoi’s support alone is insufficient to assure Cambodia’s and Hun Sen’s autonomy among foreign powers. Beijing’s noncommittal stance in recent months might also have prompted Hun Sen to look for support beyond his traditional patrons. For instance, he shrewdly used Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Cambodia in November 2013 to boost his domestic legitimacy – by asking Abe for advice on electoral reforms – and his position vis-à-vis China.

Hun Sen and Abe issued an unusual statement on bilateral maritime security cooperation, underscoring the need to settle disputes peacefully and according to international law. The two countries agreed to boost military ties, with Japanese experts, including those from Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, expected to provide training to Cambodian military personnel for future United Nations peacekeeping operations. And in stark contrast to what happened at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phnom Penh in 2011, Cambodia did not object to tabling a discussion on China’s Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea during the Japan-ASEAN summit in Tokyo in December 2013.

Cambodia is evolving quickly, both politically and economically, and it remains to be seen whether Hun Sen can retain power for several more election cycles. Beijing’s new strategic calculus in Cambodia has suddenly left Hun Sen feeling vulnerable, at least for the moment. This has prompted Hun Sen to work to boost his standing among other regional actors, particularly Japan, Vietnam and ASEAN, by offering them his support on issues of contention with China such as territorial disputes in the East and South China seas.

(Murray Hiebert is senior fellow and deputy director of the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. Phuong Nguyen is a research associate with the CSIS Sumitro Chair.)

ASEAN-US Security Relations Moving to a New Level


 
east-west-center-asia-pacific-bulletin
Number 256 | April 15, 2014
ANALYSIS

ASEAN-US Security Relations: Moving to a New Level

by Mary Fides Quintos and Joycee Teodoro

Chuck Hagel -The United States has just completed hosting a three-day forum with the ten ASEAN Defense Ministers in Hawai’i, fulfilling US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s invitation to his ASEAN counterparts during last year’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. The agenda of the US-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Forum included a roundtable discussion on humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HA/DR), site visits to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and the USS Anchorage–an amphibious transport dock ship designed to respond to crises worldwide–and discussions on various pertinent security issues in the region.

The US-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Forum marked the beginning of Secretary Hagel’s ten-day trip to Asia which included visits to Japan, China, and Mongolia and is his fourth official visit to the region in less than a year, all part of the ongoing US rebalance policy to Asia. This event was the first meeting that the US hosted, as previous gatherings were conducted on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) Retreat and ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) Summit.

The US-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Forum was conducted under the ambit of the ADMM-Plus which was established in 2007 to serve as a venue for ASEAN to engage with eight dialogue partners–Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, and the United States–in promoting peace and security in the region. To date, ADMM-Plus has established five working groups for practical cooperation covering maritime security, counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster management, peacekeeping operations, and military medicine.

This most recent meeting was held amid another wave of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea. For ASEAN, a recent water cannon incident near Scarborough Shoal involving Filipino fishing vessels and Chinese Coastguard ships, the standoff at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal again between the Philippines and China, and China’s naval exercises at James Shoal which is claimed by Malaysia are all issues of concern.

Indonesia’s strengthening of its military presence in the Natuna Islands which China included in its nine-dash line is another indication of the increasing insecurity and instability in the region. The meeting provided a good opportunity for informal dialogue on the overall security environment in Asia and the possible implications of developments in Ukraine for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity within the international order. It also served as an opportunity for the United States to reemphasize that it can be relied upon by ASEAN members in supporting the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law and in upholding the freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.

With regard to humanitarian assistance and disaster response, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines Hishamuddin Husseinlast year and the ongoing search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has demonstrated the lack of capacity of individual ASEAN countries or ASEAN as a bloc to immediately respond to a crisis. Not disregarding the efforts made by the governments of the Philippines and Malaysia, these incidents highlighted the need for the participation of other states particularly in terms of sharing of expertise, technology, and information. The US-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Forum explored areas where cooperation in these areas can be further strengthened. It was a reiteration of the need for multilateral cooperation in non-traditional security challenges that do not respect territorial boundaries.

The increased frequency of high-level visits by US officials to Asia, the provision of resources to its allies in the region, the reallocation of military hardware, along with ongoing military activities demonstrate that the US intent is to have a closer engagement with the region over the long term. These actions are also manifestations of the US commitment to Asia despite fiscal restraints and the looming crises in other regions where the US is also expected to be involved.

Moreover, they send a strong signal that the United States remains the region’s security guarantor regardless of doubts on its capacity to perform that role. However, the US-led hub-and-spokes alliance security model can be perceived as an act of containment against a particular country, hence the importance that bilateral alliances are supplemented by a multilateral institution that is open and inclusive such as ASEAN in shaping the regional security architecture.

The conclusion of the first US-initiated US-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Forum highlights the growing importance of ASEAN to the United States, especially if the event becomes more institutionalized. The message is that the United States views ASEAN as a central and strategic player, not only in the US rebalance to Asia but more importantly in the building of a strong and credible regional security architecture for the Asia-Pacific.

The move by the United States to actively engage ASEAN in its rebalance also shows the maturation of ties between them. By acknowledging ASEAN as an important regional actor, the relationship between the two has clearly been elevated. This also raises a key point with regard to respecting ASEAN’s centrality in the region. Economic power and military size notwithstanding, major powers need to recognize that any credible regional security architecture must include ASEAN.

These deliberate and sustained efforts involving ASEAN in devising the region’s security architecture are clear manifestations that the United States is actively engaging more actors in the region for maintaining peace and stability. More importantly, by involving ASEAN, there is the added assurance that the region’s security environment will work under a framework that is not dominated by a single power.

ASEAN, for its part, should see changes in the regional security environment as both opportunities and challenges. While ASEAN has been successful in engaging the major powers in the region, its centrality must continuously be earned. First, it needs to maintain unity amid differences; it should not be influenced by any external actor that seeks to advance its national interests at the expense of regional interests. ASEAN members must learn how to pursue their respective interests not only through national strategies but also through regional unity.

As a community, ASEAN is expected to act as a bloc championing the group’s interests and not only those of the individual member-states. Second, there should be greater commitment to cooperation not only in HA/DR but also in other non-traditional areas of security. Non-traditional security challenges are often transnational in scope and include multiple stakeholders. ASEAN must continuously enhance regional cooperation and coordination in times of crisis, although individual countries must also develop domestic capacity to respond to security challenges.

ASEAN should start addressing this deficit now otherwise institutional mechanisms will remain only on paper. These challenges will force ASEAN to build and improve on its usual practices and move beyond its comfort zone, in the long run benefitting the bloc as it matures institutionally.

About the Authors: Ms. Mary Fides Quintos and Ms. Joycee Teodoro are both Foreign Affairs Research Specialists with the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies at the Philippines Foreign Service Institute.

The views expressed here belong to the authors alone and do not reflect the institutional stand of the Philippines Foreign Service Institute. Ms. Quintos can be contacted at fides.quintos@gmail.com and Ms. Teodoro at joyteodoro@gmail.com.

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Mishaps Mar Malaysia’s Handling of Flight Tragedy


Mishaps Mar Malaysia’s Handling of Flight Tragedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stand Up for Democracy And Stand By Anwar Against Kelptocracy


March 7, 2014

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

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

by Josh Hong@wwww.malaysiakini.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk of reconciliation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


February 24, 2014

http://www.nst.com.my

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malaysia in 2014–A Perspective from Singapore


February 22, 2014

Malaysia in 2014–A Perspective from Singapore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


February 22, 2014

Malaysia’s Foreign Policy: Promoting Peace and Moderation

by Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Dato’ Seri Anifah Aman

http://www.nst.com.my

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

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

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

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

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

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

The objectives of Malaysia’s Foreign Policy are:

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

The evolution of Malaysia’s Foreign Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coordination with ministries and agencies

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

 ASEAN

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

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

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

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

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

THE capacity of ASEAN’s institutions must be strengthened;

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

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

UN Security Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent achievements in bilateral relations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Promoting moderation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Palestinian cause

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

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

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

Malaysia’s role in the international community

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

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

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

 Service and assistance to Malaysians

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

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

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

Malaysia’s future direction in the international arena

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

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

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

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

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

 Malaysia’s voice

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