Congratulations, President Joko Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kala of Republik Indonesia


October 20, 2014

Congratulations, Republik Indonesia

MY COMMENT: Congratulations to my Indonesian friends, associates and the people of Indonesia, Malaysia’s good friend, on the occasion of the inauguration of your President and Vice President today.

Joko and JusufPresident Joko Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla of Republik Indonesia

Despite some controversies during the last Presidential election, Indonesia has shown that it is a viable democratic state and a worthy leader of the ASEAN community.

To new President and Vice President I extend my warm wishes and congratulations on their inauguration. Not to be forgotten, we must say a big thank you to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for ensuring that his country remains a democracy and for promoting excellent relations with my own country. The outgoing President worked well with our Prime Minister. The good relations we enjoy today with Indonesia under SBY will continue in strength with the Joko Widodo-Jusuf Kalla administration in Jakarta.

There will be occasional glitches and strains, no doubt, but none seriousZahrain_Mohamed_Hashim enough to strain bilateral relations severely. I am in touch with our Ambassador Dato’ Seri Zahrain Hashim who has been working hard to improve relations with the Indonesian media and civil society since he began his tour of duty. His efforts are already bearing fruit and may he continue in an activist fashion to promote mutual understanding via dialogue and constructive engagement with opinion makers, religious leaders, and civil society activists, and think tanks and academia.

We can look forward to a further strengthening of bilateral relations under President Joko Widodo. Together, and with Malaysia in the United Nations Security Council, Indonesia in partnership with Malaysia as the ASEAN Chair in 2015 can be a positive influence on the strategic direction of ASEAN. The new President’s choice of Foreign Minister is critical though, since Foreign Minister Dr. Marty Natalegawa did a yeoman’s job of putting Indonesia’s imprint on Southeast Asia’s politics and political economy.

There are many challenges ahead for the new President, of course but one can be optimistic (certainly I am) that the new President, ably assisted by the experienced and business friendly Vice President Kalla will bring promises of a better future for the Indonesian people. Our relations with the government and people of Indonesia cannot be taken for granted. It takes a lot of effort to nip those glitches and strains in the bud.–Din Merican

The new President of Indonesia faces many challenges

by Dr. Farish M. Noor@www.nst.com.my

farish-a-noorTHE inauguration of President-Elect Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, and his vice-presidential partner, Jusuf Kalla, today marks a turning point in Indonesia’s history, as a politician with a humble civilian background and with no connections to the established elite of the country assumes the most powerful office in that country. Much is at stake in this event, as are the expectations that have been laid before the Jokowi-Kalla establishment.

Having kept his cards close to his chest all along, Jokowi was reluctant to divulge the names of the members of the cabinet, said to comprise 18 technocrats and 16 seasoned politicians, though it is widely known that much political bargaining had gone into deciding the final line-up.

This new government will face a People’s Representatives Assembly (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, or DPR) that is dominated by the opposition, and it is widely expected that many of the reforms that the new government will try to push through will be stalled on the debating floor.

Sec Gen-PPPEven then, last-minute developments may turn the tide in favour of the Jokowi-Kalla pairing. Last week, the United Development Party (PPP) went through one of its internal convulsions when the party assembly decided to make Mohammad Romahurmuziy (left) its new chairman, replacing Suryadharma Ali.

The PPP, at present, happens to be one of the parties that is part of the dominant Prabowo Subianto-led Red and White coalition, which currently stands to dominate the DPR. But at the PPP assembly, the winning faction signaled that there was now the possibility that the party might abandon the opposition coalition and jump to the Jokowi-Kalla pact instead.

Even if this were to happen, it would still not be enough to tip the balance in the President’s favour, and it is likely that the stalemate will continue unless, and until, another bigger party jumps across the political divide as well.

asean (1)

As things stand, we are likely to see a beleaguered presidency that will have to fight for every step it takes towards the ambitious reform package that it wishes to push through on a range of issues that span the public domain, from maritime policy, border issues, Indonesia’s role in the ASEAN region to tackling the problem of logistics and communication in that vast archipelago of a country.

Should the impasse remain, there is the likelihood that Indonesia’s wider ambitions will be thwarted by domestic political scrapes and scuffles, instead, as the parties and coalitions battle it out to block each other’s initiatives, and in the process, delay the transformation that would be necessary for the country’s economic take-off, that is long expected.

Jokowi and Kalla

For the neighbouring countries in the ASEAN region, the prospect of an Indonesia caught in the grip of domestic political stalemate is not a positive one, what with ASEAN Economic Integration around the corner, with the ASEAN Economic Community scheduled for next year.

For all these reasons, Indonesia will remain the country to watch in our region, this year and the year to come. And the state of Indonesia’s domestic politics is bound to have a spillover effect on the polities and economies of the region.

Malaysia in the UN Security Council with high expectations


October 18, 2014

Malaysia in the UN Security Council with high expectations

by Tan Sri Hasmy Agam@www.thestar.com.my

“The challenges are high and there is much work waiting for our team, with a heavy, complex and sensitive bundle of issues to deal with.It is not simply a matter of taking our seat in the security council but being equally mindful of the high expectations, as well as the tremendous responsibility, that lies ahead for our delegates.

To meet these high expectations, it is important that both the team in New York and the support team at headquarters work together as the issues that are being dealt by the security council are now much more numerous and complex.”-Tan Sri Hasmy Agam

anifah_amanUNMY heartiest congratulations to the Government for winning a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Coun­cil. Also, warm commendations to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Wisma Putra) for its lobbying efforts that went into overdrive in the last several months, involving not only senior officials but also the Foreign Affairs Minister and often the Prime Minister himself.

The bid for a seat on the security council is always vigorously contested, but fortunately on this as well as the last occasion, Malaysia was the sole candidate for the Asian seat, again reflecting the country’s standing and respectability among the Asian countries.

Our fourth win for a security council seat after an absence of 15 years demonstrates the continued confidence and trust that the UN membership has in Malaysia.

When we ran for a security council seat for the 1999-2000 slot, a day before the voting, I was Hasmy Agamapproached by the Permanent Representative of a country with which we had problematic relations. He told me that while the relationship between our two countries was a difficult one on account of a particular issue that divided us, nevertheless, he had been instructed by his Government to vote for Malaysia because of “your country’s principled and consistent positions on international issues.” That was a high compliment from an unexpected quarter on the way we conducted our foreign policy and diplomacy.

This latest victory on our part is a clear reflection of the continued respect for and confidence in Malay­sia and, equally important, the expectations that Malaysia would be able to once again play its constructive role during its upcoming membership in the council.

Attention should now be focused on our role and responsibility as a member of the security council in the next two years ending December 31 2016, and what Malaysia intends to do or to initiate during its membership. The challenges are high and there is much work waiting for our team, with a heavy, complex and sensitive bundle of issues to deal with.It is not simply a matter of taking our seat in the security council but being equally mindful of the high expectations, as well as the tremendous responsibility, that lies ahead for our delegates.

To meet these high expectations, it is important that both the team in New York and the support team at headquarters work together as the issues that are being dealt by the security council are now much more numerous and complex.

In the past, the team in New York was left much to themselves, being the experts on the ground, but I would hope that this time around there would be greater coordination and sharing of ideas in terms of the issues that we should take a lead on, or initiatives that we would like to promote in the security council.

The issues that are dealt with by the security council relating to international peace and security are numerous, some of which have been on its agenda for years, if not decades. Quite a number of them are intractable issues that defy solution, and new ones keep coming before the security council.

Ban_Ki-moon and PM NajibAs a responsible security council member, Malaysia will have to deal with the issues in an objective and even-handed manner, and help ensure that the council remains united so as to be able to carry out its core function of maintaining international peace and security.

Issues of concern to the security council in the last few years include the increasingly complex and tumultuous political/security situation in West Asia or the Middle East.

As a security council member, Malaysia should have a clear and unambiguous position on each of these issues, based on a set of clear principles tempered, perhaps, by a certain amount of pragmatism based on national interests.

In the past, we had been able to follow a much-appreciated balanced approach. This has always been and will remain a big challenge to members of the security council, especially those who are concerned about their integrity and credibility.

I strongly endorse the suggestion made by Professor Gareth Evans, former Foreign Minister of Australia and currently Chancellor of the Australian University, that Malaysia “should initiate efforts in the security council to push for nuclear disarmament.”

Evans made this suggestion in response to a question by Bernama, at the end of a recent Forum on Nu­­clear Non-Proliferation and Disarma­ment held at the Institute of Diplo­macy and Foreign Relations.

Other equally important initiatives that could be taken up include those relating to regional peace and security, international terrorism, the situation in Palestine and the very pertinent issue of safety of civil aviation in the light of the recent tragedies that had befallen us.

It would be good if the ministry would provide opportunities for others outside of the diplomatic profession to contribute ideas in terms of the issues to be taken up, as well as strategies and approaches to be adopted.

A lot of work needs to be done in initiating anything new in the security council so as to ensure the all-important consensus, without which it would not be possible to initiate anything, given the differing national and regional interests and positions of members of the council, aside from the vested interests of the veto-wielding permanent members.

My former colleagues in the ministry, who dealt mostly with bilateral issues, used to argue very strongly that bilateral relations were the bread-and-butter of diplomacy.But in the globalised world we live in today, and as foreign policy is as extension of domestic policy, multilateral diplomacy and bilateral diplomacy are becoming intrinsically linked.

Multilateralism has evolved and has taken centrestage on many issues. Indeed, many issues that are handled at the multilateral level have become increasingly important elements of bilateral diplomacy.

There should be a good balance between the two, one reinforcing the other in the pursuit of our overall national interests. Hence the importance of developing specialised skills among our officers so that we would be in a position to play an increasingly active, even leadership role, on certain important issues at the multilateral level so that from time to time, and on issues of vital interest to the nation, the Malaysian tiger could roar out again as in the past, even as we pursue a path of moderation in the international arena.

Tan Sri Hasmy Agam is a former diplomat who served as a member of the Malaysian Delegation to the United Nations Security Council in 1989-90 and 1999-2000. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

Without Bureaucratic Cobwebs, ASEAN cooperation can now move forward


October 10, 2014

Without Bureaucratic Cobwebs, ASEAN cooperation can now move forward

by Tunku A. Aziz@www.nst.com.my

tunku-azizWHEN ASEAN came into being on August 8, 1967, it was largely driven by considerations of peace and security among neighbours in a troubled region. We Malaysians had just emerged, with scars to show, from Indonesia’s “Konfrontasi”. There were admittedly serious concerns about countries in Southeast Asia being drawn inexorably into the Communist orbit, but Malaysia refused to be stampeded into embracing the “Domino Theory”.

Although the Malayan Communist Party-inspired insurgency was far from over, we were confident that we were in effective control of our country’s security and with the right mix of poverty eradication and industrial development policies, we could manage our own affairs without unwelcome United States intervention.

Malaysians were with their elected government. Embracing the US would have been the kiss of death for us, an emerging nation in search of a role and an identity. We had to develop our own home- grown model for regional cooperation.

We created ASEAN, then made up of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, in the confident expectation that it offered the best hope for our vision of a conflict-free region. However, ASEAN’s founding fathers, in envisioning their grand design, had not given sufficient thought to the role that their civil servants would be playing in policy formulation and implementation. The passage towards some semblance of unity of purpose was excruciatingly slow. ASEAN official inertia had to be experienced to be believed.

The private sector in ASEAN wanted to move at a much faster rate and felt that the civil servants were not only dragging their feet but were being totally obstructive. The ASEAN Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CCI) were quick to see the business potential presented by a regional market of more than 250 million people, and took to the new opportunities like duck to water, only to find that the bureaucrats had forgotten to fill up the pond.

Several industry-based working groups were formed and important trade links were made with the US and European Union chambers of commerce and industry. I remember a trip to Washington DC in the ‘70s by the ASEAN CCI and being received in the White House where a meeting with US officials and senior business leaders was arranged in the Franklin Room.

US Vice-President Walter Mondale was to host the meeting but he had to be called away on urgent state business. We were going all out to promote ASEAN to the American business community, but soon realised that we were so far ahead of the ASEAN governments that we were put in an embarrassing position. We cajoled, huffing and puffing, but to no avail. We were stuck in a bureaucratic maze.

We were running out of patience and the inevitable clash was not long coming. On Dec 12, 1979, some 12 years after the formation of ASEAN, 250 top ASEAN business leaders from all the national chambers met in Singapore. This was the opportunity I needed as chairman of the ASEAN CCI Working Group on Industrial Complementation to read the riot act.

Let The Straits Times of Singapore of December 13 echo my disappointment. Under the headline, “ASEAN civil servants rapped — ‘Too rigid an attitude towards cooperation”, it reported:

“Malaysian business leader, Tunku Abdul Aziz, yesterday lashed out at civil servants of Asean for their rigid, uncompromising and hopelessly impractical attitude towards closer regional cooperation.

Tunku Abdul Aziz said: “I have detected of late evidence of disenchantment and disquiet within the private sector with the way in which the question of economic and industrial cooperation is being handled by the economic ministers through their Committee on Industry, Minerals and Energy (Coime).

“A measure of the general euphoria prevailing throughout the ASEAN private sector is that until a few months ago, most of us were satisfied that Coime understood its role and was prepared to exercise its power and authority in a way that would satisfy private sector aspirations.

“What we did not know, of course, was that this body of hardened bureaucrats, sitting collectively in splendid isolation and insulated from the reality of a real world, was no more ready to deal with its appointed task than the Ayatollah is ready to grant the Shah of Iran the freedom of the city of Teheran.”

Questioning the effectiveness of the guidelines laid down by ASEAN civil servants on industrial complementation of regional projects, Tunku Aziz said:

“In spite of the usual pious declarations of selfless devotion to economic cooperation, these guidelines must be seen for what they are. They are rigid and uncompromising and are so obviously intended to protect the national position at all costs.

“These guidelines are a blight on the concept of regional cooperation. It is not surprising that we are beginning to wonder whether our governments are intellectually ready to cope with the rather special demands of a concept that requires a high degree of political will.

“Let us hope the governments of ASEAN will recognise the importance of private sector participation and involvement at all levels of policy formulation so that what emerges is a concerted effort distilled from the best available talents from both the government and the private sector.”

The Business Times Malaysia in its editorial, “ASEAN — useful plain speaking”, said that: “It needed to be said, sooner rather than later. But no one did until Wednesday when Tunku Abdul Aziz, in his capacity as Chairman of the ASEAN CCI’s Working Group on Industrial Complementation, hit out at the official Committee on Industry, Minerals and Energy in which rests the responsibility for reviewing ideas for reviewing ideas in these fields.”

The Asian Wall Street Journal waded in to support my “blast”, reporting my attack on the official guidelines that “are intended to regulate and control rather than promote and encourage private sector participation in and contribution to economic cooperation. These guidelines are a blight on the concept of regional cooperation”.

The tenor of my speech took ASEAN ministers and their bureaucrats by complete surprise, but it had the desired effect. Governments understood our position better and helped to remove much of the cobweb that had befuddled their collective mind.

Today, ASEAN is jogging along nicely and thriving. Successive regional leaders, 4th PM of Malaysiaparticularly Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, can take pride in nurturing ASEAN to become a regional force for good.

ASEAN has been well-served by many distinguished secretaries-general, but in my considered opinion, the best ever was undoubtedly Dr Surin Pitsuwan of Thailand, the quiet and thoughtful man of diplomacy, the United Nations Secretary-General we never had because he was in the wrong party and the government of Thailand did not support his candidature for that high office — a great loss to the world.

The ASEAN bureaucrats of my time very nearly scuttled the vision and hopes of millions of Southeast Asians for their rightful place in the larger global scheme of things. Mercifully, in spite of them, ASEAN has arrived.

Book Review: ‘Worthy Fights,’ by Leon E. Panetta


October 10, 2014

On Actions Taken, or Not

‘Worthy Fights,’ by Leon E. Panetta

by Michiko Kakutani (10-06-14)

Southeast Asia: The Bright Spark


October 8, 2014

Southeast Asia: The Bright Spark in a Gloomy World

by W. Scott Thompson@www.nst.com.my

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Bright Spark in a Gloomy World

“AROUND the world in 80 days”, or even eight days, might not be a happy trip in 2014. Start with my country: the current issue of political journal Foreign Affairs has a cover saying “See America: Land Of Decay And Dysfunction”. Head south and it’s hard to find success stories. Argentina is in a financial mess, Venezuela is moving back into the hands of the Army and Mexico is all about drugs.

For Europe, the biggest joke is that only Belgium has escaped the financial crisis, mostly because it has no real government and no prime minister during the key years. You can’t blame Germany for being thrifty and resenting to pay for the high life in Greece, Italy and Spain over the last 20 years. A compromise has yet to be found between the northern proponents of austerity and those believing that more consumer spending will get the southern countries out of their doldrums. Unemployment rates at 25 per cent don’t make for easy governance.

Africa is a mixed bag. Even the leading stars in growth, like Ghana, are in financial trouble. Fighting continues in Congo, extremists continue to move south and even if overall, Africa has an average growth rate better than most of the world, it’s too small a part to change things — CNN attempts to show the bright side, notwithstanding.

Let’s just skip the Middle East; it’s a disaster zone and it’s too early to say whether the Islamic State can be stopped — though it has to be. Suffice to say that if IS takes control of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, the best scenario indicates it would take a year or two to evict them. As usual, Iran is a shadow player and in the end, will be the most important one to stabilise the region.

In South Asia, India’s new Prime Minister has made it big at the United Nations, but it’s an open question whether he can really can open up the Indian economy for the rapid growth on which success depends. Let’s not even mention Pakistan.

All the talk about China centres on Hong Kong and what the demonstrations portend. But I would pay more attention to western China, where the Islamic Uighurs are a far bigger headache for the Politburo.

Jokowi WidodoCome to Southeast Asia and you might start smiling. Discussion is dominated by the old forces of the Indonesian military under the leadership of General Prabowo Subianto, in voting out all the moves of decentralisation that have achieved so much since 1999. President-elect Widodo will be sworn into office on October 20; he does not command a majority in Parliament but he hasn’t even begun to use presidential patronage to block Probowo’s attempts to turn the clock back. I wouldn’t bet against the new President’s powers of persuasion and presidential suasion. On balance, we should be very optimistic about Indonesia.

Now, go around the region and just about everything is moving, if slowly, in the right Thailand Democracy Protestdirection. That is, if you see the Thai coup d’état as a necessary evil that will restart the political system without the cost of long-term death to democracy that former PM Thaksin Shinawatra represents. The political establishment has regained control and let’s not forget the 60 years of transformation that the coalition has provided. Next to China, no sizeable state has grown so fast.

Malaysia provides one of the world’s best examples of a tricky balanmalaysia-truly-asia-girls11cing act in providing stability in a multi-ethnic state. It is basically because it is a strong state; even its critics must admit the remarkable success of its leaders. It is gaining ground in the middle income division of the world’s states. The economic model says that countries well-endowed with natural resources are the first ones to fail, relying too heavily on what they can get out of the ground or grow on trees. But it secured independence with strong leaders who changed all that. This is quite an oversimplification, but the bottom line is a big success story.

The PhilippinesNow, welcome to the Philippines, home of, in my experience, the world’s happiest people. Its growth rate is closing the gap with China. Critics say the rich elite is getting more than its fair share, yet, studies of wealth division show the Philippines with not much different a Gini coefficient of wealth distribution than the other countries in the region.

And if nothing else, everybody is benefiting from investments in infrastructure. Bulldozers and backhoes are everywhere, widening roads to population centres, and providing jobs for the best of the young professionals in the all but ubiquitous call centres. President Benigno Aquino III has managed two thirds of his six-year term without an agenda, but he always says the right things and leaves no taint of corruption — leaving aside consideration of some of his associates whom he’s too nice to fire.

Everyone in the region is worried about China’s claim to much territorial waters of littoral states in the South China Sea. My guess is the new President of China is too smart to let its navy push too far. Anyway, if you came from Mars and could live anywhere, you certainly wouldn’t choose Russia or China, most of Africa, and so many other places with deeply rooted problems.

Well, this is a bit subjective for me, having chosen Southeast Asia 50 years ago as a research area that was on the go — and when the world was my oyster and I could live anywhere. I’m glad I chose Bali, the Philippines, and the capital cities of Thailand and Malaysia.

Malaysia Offers to Host U.S. Navy Aircraft


October 6, 2014

Malaysia Offers to Host U.S. Navy Aircraft

by Trefor Moss at trefor.moss@wsj.com

U.S. Says Malaysia’s Offer Covers Flights From Base on Edge of Waters Claimed by China

http://online.wsj.com/articles/malaysia-offers-to-host-u-s-navy-aircraft-military-official-says-1410524618

Malaysia has offered to host U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft at a base on the edge of a disputed part of the South China Sea, a move likely to heighten Chinese sensitivities about U.S. involvement in the region.

US Navy U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon

With the Philippines and Singapore having already agreed to host rotations of U.S. forces, Malaysian support marks a further boost to the Obama administration’s policy of rebalancing toward the Asian-Pacific region as anxiety persists in Southeast Asia about China’s assertiveness over its territorial claims.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the U.S. Navy’s chief of naval operations, said that “the Malaysians have offered us to fly detachments of P-8s out of East Malaysia” in a speech delivered Monday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank based in Washington.

The P-8 is capable of long-range surveillance and anti-submarine missions.Adm. Greenert emphasized the Malaysian base’s “closeness to the South China Sea” and identified Malaysia, along with Indonesia and Singapore, as “the key” to the U.S. Navy successfully increasing its regional presence.

The facility in question is likely to be the Royal Malaysian Air Force base on the island of Labuan, off the coast of Borneo, which U.S. forces have used for exercises in the past, according to a U.S. Navy officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter.

While the ownership of Labuan itself isn’t disputed by China, it lies close to the southern end of the Spratly Islands chain, which Malaysia and China both contest.

Lt. Rebekah Johnson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said that no formal agreement had yet been signed between Kuala Lumpur and Washington, but she confirmed that an offer was on the table for P-8 aircraft to use the air base “on a case-by-case basis.”

Malaysian officials didn’t respond to questions about the arrangement. China’s foreign and defense ministries didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

While other South China Sea claimants—notably the Philippines and Vietnam—have objected vociferously to what they regard as aggressive Chinese behavior, Malaysia has kept a lower profile in the disputes, generally refraining from openly criticizing China.

Malaysia’s view of how to handle China seemed to shift, however, during the bruising experience after the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March, said Tim Huxley, executive director of the IISS-Asia, a Singapore-based think tank. Mr. Huxley said the incident not only exposed serious weaknesses in Malaysia’s air defense system, which failed to track the lost airliner effectively, but also left the country feeling bullied by China. Beijing took a keen interest in the search operation because of the 153 Chinese passengers on board and at times disparaged Malaysia’s efforts.

That episode, combined with Chinese pressure in the South China Sea, may finally have led Kuala Lumpur to see “a confluence of interest” with the U.S. and “may have provided sufficient incentives for Malaysia to further intensify defense and security relations,” Mr. Huxley said.

President Barack Obama visited the country in April and agreed to upgrade bilateral relations with Malaysia to the level of “comprehensive partnership,” signaling a broad commitment to increase collaboration in a wide range of areas, including defense.

China has repeatedly opposed the U.S.’s monitoring of its activities in the South China Sea—especially with aircraft, like the P-8, capable of tracking submarines. On Tuesday, Gen. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, told U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice, who was visiting Beijing, that the U.S. should scale back or completely halt monitoring near the Chinese coast.

Last month, a Chinese fighter jet intercepted a U.S. Navy P-8 off the coast of Hainan. The incident sparked fears that there could be a repeat of the 2001 collision between a U.S. surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter, also near Hainan, due to what the Pentagon described as dangerous maneuvers on the part of the Chinese pilot. China denied this, saying its fighter kept a safe distance during the encounter.

Write to Trefor Moss at trefor.moss@wsj.com