Who is in Charge of Malaysia, asks The Malaysian Insider


June 24, 2014

Who is in Charge of Malaysia, asks The Malaysian Insider

the-chimp-paradoxPerformance since 2009 Grade F

Who is in charge? What is happening in Malaysia? What’s going on? How can this happen?

Any of these questions or all of the above occupies the minds of many Malaysians these days, coming to the fore with vengeance every time there is a misstep by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his comrades or when the Rule of Law and provisions of the Federal Constitution are supplanted by racial and religious supremacists.

Increasingly, the sense is that these inmates are running the asylum. The PM and elected representatives are too afraid to put the extremist elements in their place because their cupboards are full of skeletons or they are unsure if their religious credentials can stand up to scrutiny. So they go with the flow directed and dictated by fringe groups and Islamic religious authorities.

hype_najib1The result: a heap of a mess and more questions than answers. Questions that keep Malaysians awake deep into the night such as:

* Who is in charge? Definitely not the man in Putrajaya. He may live in the plush residence of the Prime Minister; may have a large security detail and the use of a luxurious jet to travel around the world and may even chair cabinet meetings but Najib is not leading the country.

On any issue from conversions to body snatching to the abysmal state of education in Malaysia to the flexing of power byUMNO-ISMA-PERKASA sultans, he is a follower. Often he takes a position after the discourse has been influenced and driven by Perkasa, Isma, bit players in UMNO, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

His apologists argue that Malaysians have to expect this ambivalence because the voters did not give him the strong mandate he craved and needed at GE13.That’s a sorry excuse. Anyone who puts himself up to lead Malaysia has to lead once given the mandate, no matter the size of the mandate.

If he believes, that he can only lead with a two-thirds majority control of Parliament to function, then step aside. But as it stands today, the consensus is that Najib has abdicated decision-making to fringe groups and those who threaten him. As a result, on any given day, it seems that those who shout loudest are setting the agenda for Malaysia.

* What’s going on?

Khalid Abu BakarInspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar finally ordered the Police to go after a Muslim convert for flouting a civil court order. The Inspector-General of Police, who had earlier said police would not interfere as two court orders were in force in the interfaith custody battle, has instructed Perak Police Chief Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani to return Muhammad Ridzuan Abdullah’s daughter, Prasana Diksa, to kindergarten teacher M. Indira Gandhi .Why did it take the Police so long to get their act together? Perhaps, after 200 years of being the Police Force, they don’t know right from wrong.

That the Malaysian judiciary still has its powers and directives that must be followed. If the Police won’t take action after getting a court order, who else will respect the law? Anyone out there can just ignore the Police as much as the Police ignore the judiciary.Won’t that lead to a breakdown in law and order? Or do the authorities care? Are we going by rule of law or rule by fear of religion?

As it is, anyone can threaten to slap or behead anyone else and that is not seen as an offence. Are the politicians convinced that most Malaysians are as full as hot air as they are?There is the law. But it does not get the respect it deserves and only used when convenient.

* How can this happen?

Billions of ringgit are allocated for welfare programmes in Malaysia and there are substantial number of welfare officers and non-governmental organisations. So how come we had to read this sad story of Muhammad Firdaus Dullah who was found covered in his own faeces and so malnourished that he could not stand up or even sit down.

The 15-year-old would have died had he not been discovered by chance by Immigration officers conducting checks to nab illegal immigrants in Seremban on June 21.Yes, the boy’s mother has to bear a chunk of responsibility for leaving him in that sorry state. She has been arrested and could face up to 10 years in jail or be fined RM20,000.

But there are other questions that are troubling. Why didn’t she reach out to welfare organisations or NGOs? Did she seek help and was turned away? Are there other children out there suffering from malnourishment in the land of plenty?Did the neighbours know about his condition but choose to look the other way? This sad, sad story is an indictment of the abject state of the Malaysian system.

See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/is-anyone-running-malaysia#sthash.f9oqJXud.dpuf

US penalises Malaysia for shameful human trafficking record


June 23, 2014

COMMENT: Malaysia’s Human Trafficking Record

Congratulations to the Ministry of Home Affairs, The Inspector-General of Police of the Royal Malaysianimage Police and related agencies under the charge of Home Minister Dato’ Seri Dr. Zahid Hamidi on our human trafficking record.  Tier 3 is not bad; we could have been worse. As a reward, we deserve what is due to us in terms of likely punitive actions from Najib’s strategic partner, the Obama Administration, for doing a brilliant job that has enabled us to join the ranks of Zimbabwe, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Frankly, coming after the MH370 debacle, this downgrade is another blemish to our image. But aren’t we  known for shooting overselves in the foot! I wonder what our beloved Prime Minister would say if he should meet President Obama again. I suspect the answer would likely be: “Mr President, we are doing about our best and given this downgrade by the State Department, you can be assured that we will be double our efforts in fighting this scourge.”–Din Merican

US penalises Malaysia for shameful human trafficking record

Continued failure to curb traffickers prompts US to downgrade Malaysia in its annual Trafficking in Persons report

by Kate Hodal @ the guardian.com, Friday 20 June 2014 13.59 BST

The US has downgraded Malaysia to the lowest ranking in its annual human trafficking report, relegating the southeast Asian nation to the same category as Zimbabwe, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. The move could result in economic sanctions and loss of development aid.

Malaysia’s relegation to tier 3 in the US state department’s Trafficking in Persons (TiP) report – published on Friday – indicates that the country has categorically failed to comply with the most basic international requirements to prevent trafficking and protect victims within its borders.

Human rights activists in Malaysia and abroad welcomed the downgrade as proof of the government’s lax law enforcement, and lack of political will, in the face of continued NGO and media reports on trafficking and slavery.

“Malaysia is not serious about curbing human trafficking at all,” said Aegile Fernandez, Director of Tenaganita, a local charity that works directly with trafficking victims. The order of the day is profits and corruption. Malaysia protects businesses, employers and agents [not victims] – it is easier to arrest, detain, charge and deport the migrant workers so that you protect employers and businesses.”

According to this year’s TiP report – which ranks 188 nations according to their willingness and efforts to combat trafficking, and is considered the benchmark index for global anti-trafficking commitments – trafficking victims are thought to comprise the vast majority of Malaysia’s estimated 2 million illegal migrant labourers, who are sent to work in the agriculture, construction, sex, textile or domestic labour industries.

Many of the victims are migrants who have willingly come to Malaysia from neighbouring countries like Indonesia, Burma, Cambodia and Bangladesh, attracted by Malaysia’s large supply of jobs and high regional wages. But once in Malaysia they fall prey to forced labour at the hands of their employers, recruitment companies or organised crime syndicates, who refuse payment, withhold their documents or force them into indentured servitude.

The Malaysian government has continuously failed to provide basic rights protections to migrant workers and instead has created a system where unscrupulous labour brokers, corrupt police and abusive employers can have a field day,” says Phil Robertson, Asia’s Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch.

Refugees are particularly vulnerable to trafficking within Malaysia’s borders, the report states, as the government does not grant them formal refugee status or allow them to work legally. As a result, many of the 10,000 refugee Filipino muslim children who reside in the Sabah region are subjected to forced begging, while reports of abuse, detainment and torture by Malaysian traffickers of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in western Burma made headlines earlier this year.

“When you Google ‘Malaysia’, it’s among the five worst countries for refugees,” said Lia Syed, Executive Director of the Malaysia Social Research Insitute, which supports refugees. “There is no policy for refugees in Malaysia at all. They are not recognised, they do not have legal status, they are just considered illegal migrants. It doesn’t matter what country they come from, what their story is, they do not get any support officially from the government.”

Malaysia’s downgrade to tier 3 is an automatic relegation after four years on the tier 2 watchlist and it is the third time in seven years that the country has sunk to the lowest ranking.The downgrade is likely to be seen as a considerable blow to Malaysia’s image and is sure to strain diplomatic relations. Malaysia is a strategic US partner in President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to the east, with the US serving as Malaysia’s largest foreign investor and fourth-largest trading partner.

The downgrade could spell economic sanctions and restrictions on US foreign assistance and access to institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. However, such punishments can be waived under national security considerations.

While Malaysia has increased its preventative efforts against trafficking via public service announcements, there were fewer identifications of trafficking victims, fewer prosecutions and fewer convictions this year than in 2012, the report stated, with poor victim treatment posing a “significant impediment” to successful prosecutions. Authorities not only failed to investigate cases brought to them by NGOs, they also failed to recognised victims or indications of trafficking, and instead treated cases as immigration violations. Some immigration officials were also accused of being involved in the smuggling of trafficking victims, yet the government did not investigate any such potential individuals or cases.

“Unfortunately Malaysia’s victim care regime is fundamentally flawed,” said Luis C deBaca, the ranking state department official for combating trafficking. He pointed to Malaysia’s use of detention centres for people, mainly young women, identified as having been trafficked into the country for illegal purposes.

 “Malaysia has a strong focus on getting rid of illegal aliens rather than a progressive compassionate response to its many victims of trafficking. There has been lots of promised future action but no signs of things happening on the ground to deal with their significant problems,” he said.

 Key recommendations issued by the US included amending the current anti-trafficking law to allow victims to travel, work and reside outside government facilities, and increasing efforts to investigate, prosecute and punish any public officials who might profit from trafficking or exploiting victims.

Malaysia’s Deputy Home Minister, Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, said earlier this year that the country was in a “very difficult position” as it knew it needed to increase trafficking victims’ rights, yet it didn’t want to encourage illegal migration to its borders.”

“If we allow these people to start working, everybody will start coming here,” Wan Junaidi told reporters after a conference on human trafficking.


 

“When you Google ‘Malaysia’, it’s among the five worst countries for refugees,” said Lia Syed, executive director of the Malaysia Social Research Insitute, which supports refugees. “There is no policy for refugees in Malaysia at all. They are not recognised, they do not have legal status, they are just considered illegal migrants. It doesn’t matter what country they come from, what their story is, they do not get any support officially from the government.”

 

Malaysia’s downgrade to tier 3 is an automatic relegation after four years on the tier 2 watchlist and it is the third time in seven years that the country has sunk to the lowest ranking.

 

The downgrade is likely to be seen as a considerable blow to Malaysia’s image and is sure to strain diplomatic relations. Malaysia is a strategic US partner in President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to the east, with the US serving as Malaysia’s largest foreign investor and fourth-largest trading partner.

 

The downgrade could spell economic sanctions and restrictions on US foreign assistance and access to institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. However, such punishments can be waived under national security considerations.

 

While Malaysia has increased its preventative efforts against trafficking via public service announcements, there were fewer identifications of trafficking victims, fewer prosecutions and fewer convictions this year than in 2012, the report stated, with poor victim treatment posing a “significant impediment” to successful prosecutions. Authorities not only failed to investigate cases brought to them by NGOs, they also failed to recognised victims or indications of trafficking, and instead treated cases as immigration violations. Some immigration officials were also accused of being involved in the smuggling of trafficking victims, yet the government did not investigate any such potential individuals or cases.

 

“Unfortunately Malaysia’s victim care regime is fundamentally flawed,” said Luis CdeBaca, the ranking state department official for combating trafficking. He pointed to Malaysia’s use of detention centres for people, mainly young women, identified as having been trafficked into the country for illegal purposes.

 

“Malaysia has a strong focus on getting rid of illegal aliens rather than a progressive compassionate response to its many victims of trafficking. There has been lots of promised future action but no signs of things happening on the ground to deal with their significant problems,” he said.

 

Key recommendations issued by the US included amending the current anti-trafficking law to allow victims to travel, work and reside outside government facilities, and increasing efforts to investigate, prosecute and punish any public officials who might profit from trafficking or exploiting victims.

 

Malaysia’s deputy home minister, Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, said earlier this year that the country was in a “very difficult position” as it knew it needed to increase trafficking victims’ rights, yet it didn’t want to encourage illegal migration to its borders.

 

“If we allow these people to start working, everybody will start coming here,” Wan Junaidi told reporters after a conference on human trafficking.

 

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.

Book Review: Hillary Clinton’s Book ‘Hard Choices’


June 9, 2014

Examining ISMA’s Nam Tien Ideology


June 6, 2014

Examining ISMA’s Nam Tien Ideology

UMNO protest

Nation and national soul-searching, despite the romantic connotations behind the term, is always a painful and unsettling process.

A free nation, especially one with a colonial past, will always need to recalibrate its moral position to provide an existential standing. Therefore, a liberation story that is buttressed by a ‘good triumphs evil’ narrative is needed: a new nation sprung from the buds of history, cleansed and desanitised from its past, ready to take on a new course without any entanglements of the past; a ‘New Contract’, but not a renewed contract, so to speak.

This is until it realised, the ‘New Contract’ could not be sustained without hinging on the past, albeit a resented one. A void in history is too borderless for a nation-state with stoic and constitutional borders; be it geographical and psychological, and hence the national discourse is prone to relapse into ‘us-versus-them’ hostility expected of a liberating nation.

The familiarity of achieving a benchmark point of defeating evil (independence) was sought after to achieve cohesion and coherence for a dominating and identifying factor, and therein lies the highly emotive but not necessarily patriotic force of ultra-nationalism. Its digression from patriotism is because those who capitalised on such forces to place imaginative captivity on the masses are usually not patriots themselves. The civil wars and genocides in former African colonies are testaments to that.

Malaysia proves to be an interesting case-study of this “relapse” condition because of its relatively peaceful transition to Independence. The shouts of Tunku’s Merdeka, although invigorating in spirit, did not provide a clean slate for the national conscience to be built upon.

The peaceful transition also meant that there was no post-traumatic stress disorder that originated from a brother-in-arms resistance against invaders for the citizens of diverse origins to direct a common recuperation effort at. Instead, the infantile nation was torn between the political majority rural Malay psyche that the country will “return” to a not-explicitly defined pre-colonial order Malay feudalism and a ‘New Order’ that in practice by the nascent government made little effort in differentiation from the colonial structures.

In other words, there was, and is an expectation for “wrongs” – no matter what they were or are – to be corrected to return the country to a perfect equilibrium before any new projection to the future could be made. The little participation its citizens had in Malaysia’s Independence had left a void being created within the colonial shackles of mind and economics, and it is within this void, contestation of nationhood and identities occurred, as can be seen from the politics of race, language and subsequently, religion that arises.

Ironically, almost every imagination being thrown into the void during that time was retrospective in nature. The Malays longed for a revived domination of the nation’s politics untampered by British intervention, while the Chinese expected a return to the autonomy and free-handedness they enjoyed in commerce and education during colonial governance.

Unsurprisingly, the clash of such nostalgia produced an outcome of retributory nature; the New Economic Policy (NEP) in focus of “correcting” racial imbalances was born. It was a relapse towards the discourse of Malay special position and supremacy, a privilege that was guaranteed by colonial governance to placate Malay fears in the face of a changing nation, demographically, economically and culturally.

Understanding this, Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA)’s classification of the Chinese as being an invading force, the Nam Tien or “southbound invasion” in challenge of Malay or Islam’s indigenous position can be seen as just another episode of the relapse syndrome.

UMNO-ISMA-PERKASASoutheast Asia’s indigenous religion is not Islam to begin with since it is pre-dated by Hinduism. ISMA, however, had made significant efforts in revising of this fact. The fact is that, the invasion from China in usurping the physical or religious status of the locals, simply did not happened. Therefore, the claim that the Chinese are “wrongs that should be corrected” is merely a throwback in a sense. As the vitality of the NEP wears off following the decline of Mahathir’s developmental state, a substituting agenda was needed for “retributory justice” to continue in maintenance of the capitalist elite power structure, and it was in this light a militaristic revisionist account of the Chinese influx into Malaysia was created.

Although not entirely original, the conceived idea of the Chinese as being an “invading” force did have some salient features. Using an invasion analogy, the need to stress constitutional justifications of Malay and Islamic supremacy (a common strategy employed by right-wing ethnocratic organisations such as UMNO and PERKASA) was diminished.

The approach taken to externalise Chinese citizens of Malaysia had shifted the psychology of the siege mentality to one that is even more rudimentary, one that hardly sees co-existence as an amenable outcome. This is because as the logic goes, the threat is foreign and expansionist in nature and had to be repealed to preserve sovereignty.

Placing Islam in the centre of it, in full cognisance of the religious conservatism of the Malays as well as the outright secularist orientation of the Chinese was only a natural move. A frontier that is both distinctive and violent was enforced between the two communal groups.

The demonisation process, not unlike the “history textbook” treatment that was subjected to most colonial powers, was undertaken. A new struggle against foreign evil, the others, is to be embarked; a theme that has mythical origins, also made relatable for the Malaysian context by Islamic concepts like the jihad (although not in the Salafist jihadist sense).

As iterated above, soul-searching is a painful process, especially when history was kept like a gaping hole, filled in by State-controlled narratives that were insufficient in richness, complexity and inclusiveness. Dominated by retro-looking agendas (Mahathir’s Vision 2020 was a breath of fresh air but it collapsed in the face of growing inequality, communal integration and most importantly, the competence expected of a capitalistic developed nation).

ibrahim-ali-perkasaMalaysia’s perpetual search for divergent collective motives were vulnerable to be seized by the romanticism associated with puritanism and evil banishment, for it is these sentiments that fuelled a citizen’s anger against immigrant workers, free trade agreements and foreign cultures.

The inability of authoritative figures to put a stop to all of this, or the civil societies to provide an effective diversion, will only spell trouble for the already economically struggling nation. Despite years of official forward planning, and government mantras of a brighter future, the forward looking narratives have been undermined by the lack of credibility and authenticity of its proponents and implementers. It also makes its present proponents appear hypocritical.

It is dangerous for Malaysia to not have a credible and authentic forward looking narrative. But it is even more dangerous for the ‘Muslim Malay’ (however that is defined) – without this credible and authentic forward looking narrative – to ask the question “Dari mana datangnya saya?” (“Where do I come from?”), and to look to the pendatangs (immigrants) for an answer.

Nicholas Chan is a King’s College London graduate in Forensic Science. He is currently a socio-political analyst with the Penang Institute. He can be reached at: nicholaschan2003@penanginstitute.org

 

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.

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


Asia Pacific Bulletin
Number 265 | June 3, 2014
ANALYSIS

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

By Hayley Channer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Building on the Tun Razak Legacy


June 1, 2014

Malaysia and China: Building on the Tun Razak Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Life Remembered: Sister Juliana died as she lived – for others


May 24, 2014

A LIFE REMEMBERED

 Sister Juliana died as she lived – for others

By Terence Netto

Sister JulianaIn Catholic-Christian understanding vocations to the religious life do not arise in a void. They sprout from a bed seeded by the prayer, deeds and sacrifices of the family from which the postulant has emerged, the community of faith of which he/she has been a part, and the educational environment in which the candidate was nurtured.

 Hilary Clinton’s idea that it takes a whole village to educate a child very nearly explains the vocation of Sister Juliana Lim, the Roman Catholic nun who died last Tuesday, six days after she was beaten senseless by an unknown assailant on the grounds of the Church of the Visitation in Seremban. Juliana, 69, was getting out of her car, together with her elder confrere Sister Marie-Rose Teng, 79, when both were accosted by an intruder brandishing a crash helmet.

The sisters, belonging to the Congregation of the Infant Jesus, famed for the setting up of convent schools in the country from as long ago as 1852, were early for a daily ritual: attendance at morning mass which on Wednesday, May 14, was scheduled for 6.30.

 Little did the nuns expect that this was to be a different morning, one in which they would become victims of every urban denizen’s paranoia in a country where the police are at pains to deny what many citizens feel in their marrow – that they can at any time be targets of the random violence that could leap at them from shadowy recesses where individual pathology intersects with law enforcement decay.

 Perhaps because the church is located in a street, Jalan Yam Tuan, that has a gurdwara and a Hindu temple in the vicinity, the three places of worship lying almost cheek by jowl, the sisters would not have had an inkling of the brutal surprise that lay in furtive wait for them. But when it appeared in the form of a frenzied figure flailing away with a crash helmet, all expectation of the day getting off to a sacramental start, said to be the oxygen of religious life, was crushed under the bludgeoning blows of the assailant.

It must have taken a few moments for Juliana to come to terms with what was happening and, habituated from her childhood in Ayer Salak, an agrarian New Village 15 kilometers northeast of the city of Malacca, she moved without a thought for her safety to get between the assailant and her elder confrere, Marie-Rose.

 The younger nun took the brunt of the hammer blows rained by her attacker who was probably in dire need of the stimulants that can drive otherwise placid-seeming individuals to a manic state if they are short of the cash for their next fix.

The attacker would not have been sentient to the reality that his targets that morning, vowed to a life of evangelical poverty, would not have been in possession, between them, of more then a few Ringgit – a cruelly ironic mismatch, one might say, between his expectations and his victims’ actual capacity.

Juliana crumpled to the ground senseless from the battering she received while Marie-Rose was felled by a less intense barrage. As his victims lay prostrate, their assailant, chastened perhaps by the enormity of what he had done, vanished into the dappled darkness from which he had emerged like a sinister apparition.

 It was several minutes before regular attendees of the morning service became aware of the atrocity that had taken place within a short distance of the main entrance to the church. By the time they were alerted, Juliana was beyond saving while Marie-Rose, reprieved by the selflessness of her younger confrere, would make a fairly quick recovery at the Tuanku Jaafar Hospital where the injured nuns were admitted.

 No purely material computations of the value of a life are allowed in the Roman Catholic worldview, but in the unlikely event that such a heresy is permitted, it would have been Marie-Rose who would have reckoned her life as more expendable than Juliana’s.

The latter was a versatile member of one of the 20 communities to which ageing members of Sisters of the Infant Jesus, a Roman Catholic religious order whose charism is the education of young women, have been divided.

After losing control — through a combination of the Islamization of the national education system and slumping vocations — of the 57 convent schools the order had set up in Peninsular Malaysia since their first in Penang in 1852, the nuns have had to reinvent themselves. They moved away from their focus on education to concentrate on the care and upbringing of orphans, on providing shelter and vocational training to abandoned and battered women, and on faith education.

Juliana was good in the new roles her order has had to assume. When she took her vows in 1964, the nuns of the Infant Jesus and the convents they ran, like the Christian Brothers of the De La Salle order who also had their own schools, were renowned for the quality of the education they imparted in their institutes. But matters have steadily declined from that lofty perch so that people like Juliana, who was pushing 70 but was healthy and energetic, were viewed as anachronisms or relics of a bygone era.

Just two Sundays ago, when it was Good Shepherd Sunday in the Catholic liturgical year, a day devoted to the fostering of vocations, Juliana took leave from her community in Seremban to go back to Ayer Salak where she was born to be with 21 others – all either nuns, priests or brothers – who had returned from their stations throughout Malaysia for a celebratory gathering at the St. Mary’s Church. Three others could not make it. At 24 vocations to the religious life, the agrarian community of Ayer Salak, with a population of about 1,550 mainly Catholic Teochews, has furnished the lion’s share of the vocations to the religious state.

Perhaps a pastoral backdrop is more conducive to the flowering of religious vocations, the natural rhythms of agriculture – of herding, sowing, cultivation and harvesting — bearing similarities to the phases of life devoted to matters of the spirit.

 Her confreres at the gathering at St. Mary’s and the people of Ayer Salak remember Juliana as a strong and cheerful character. Several of them made the journey yesterday to Seremban for her funeral which was held at the church where she met her untoward fate.

Ayer Salak is unique as it is the only Chinese Catholic New Village among the 450 settlements formed in the mid-1950s at the height of the communist insurgency. Unlike most Chinese New Villages where land is held under lease or Temporary Occupation Licenses, the land belongs to the Malacca-Johor Diocese of the Catholic Church and the villagers are charged a nominal yearly rent.

It is from this hatchery that the vocation and character of Sister Juliana Lim was formed, selfless and heroic to the end.

Asia’s tomorrow has come–PM Najib Tun Razak


May 24, 2014

Asia’s tomorrow has come

by Dato Seri Najib Tun Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia

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

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

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

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

Abenomics–Resurgance of Japan

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

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

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

Tomorrow has come to Asia (and Malaysia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trans-Pacific Partnership and Integration for Economic Growth

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on the reforms needed at home

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

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

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

The Challenge of Inequality

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

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

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

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

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

Fight Against Corruption

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

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

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

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

Rise in Asian military power must deliver peace

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

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

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

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

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

Peacekeeping and Conflict Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

Defending our airspace is not a video game


By Mariam Mokhtar, FMT

May23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hishamuddin's reaction defies logic and common sense.

Hishamuddin’s reaction defies logic and common sense.

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

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

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

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

A whole nation betrayed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist

Hishammuddin defends military over failure to act on MH370


May 20, 2014

Note: What else do you expect him to say. He has to defend theHishamuddin Hussein military (in the case of MH370 it is the RMAF) since he is the Minister of Defence. That is not good enough. He must take full responsibility for this serious military foul up, that showed that in stead of being alert and responsive to any encroachment of our air space, the men in uniform were practically sleeping on the job. Hishamuddin should have directed the military top brass to conduct a full investigation on the matter and then take action.

I guess that is asking too much a Minister who is known to be inept and incompetent. He should take responsibility and resign. In stead he has been touted as the next Prime Minister of Malaysia. How low can we go than this. This video (below) makes makes  me sick. There is no remorse from the Malaysian authorities. The Prime Minister should also  explain why there is no White Paper to Parliament on the MH370 saga.–Din Merican

Hishammuddin defends military over failure to act on MH370

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com (May 19, 2014)

Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has defended the military’s failure to scramble a fighter jet after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared from civilian radar on March 8, saying “it was not deemed a hostile object and pointless if you are not going to shoot it down”.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp reported today that the defence and acting transport minister, who was interviewed on the ABC’s “Four Corners” programme tonight, had said “the plane was deemed commercial and not hostile”.

Flight 370 disappeared from civilian radar when its transponder stopped transmitting during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing around 1.21am.

The military radar tracked it after it turned in a westerly direction across the peninsula. “If you’re not going to shoot it down, what’s the point of sending it (a fighter) up?” Hishammuddin was quoted as asking on the show.

Delays in pinpointing the Boeing 777-200ER’s location led to days of searching in the South China Sea before analysis from British satellite firm, Inmarsat, pointed its likely course as the Indian Ocean.

Hishammuddin had defended the military and was quoted as saying that had the jet been shot down with 239 passengers and crew on board, “I’d be in a worse position, probably”. He said he was informed of the military radar detection two hours later and relayed it to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who then ordered a search in the Strait of Malacca.

The other guest on tonight’s “Four Corners” was Asuad Khan, the brother-in-law of missing pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah. Asuad told the Australian news network that the 53-year-old had been the subject of rumours and inaccurate reporting since the day the jetliner disappeared on March 8.

“From what I can see, a lot of people are saying a lot of things about him which are untrue,” he was quoted as saying, speaking on behalf of Zaharie’s wife, Faizah Khan.

ABC News also quoted Asuad as saying the allegations levelled against Zaharie regarding his personal life and professional activities were untrue. Asuad also denied that the captain could have been a rogue pilot on a suicide mission and said the authorities might be using Zaharie as a scapegoat.

Some 26 countries were initially involved in the search for the missing jetliner.The search has is now focused underwater.

In a statement issued by Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre today, Chinese, Australian and Malaysian authorities agreed that the Chinese ship Zhu Kezhen will conduct a bathymetric survey of the Indian Ocean floor as directed by Australian air crash investigators.

The ship will sail for the survey area on Wednesday, weather permitting. After an initial air and seabed search failed to find any trace of the plane, authorities this month announced a new phase of the search would be conducted over a vastly expanded area of seabed measuring 60,000 sq km.

The new phase also involves mapping the seabed, where depths and topography are often unknown.

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

 

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


May 16, 2014

Asia Pacific BulletinNumber 263 | May 15, 2014

ANALYSIS

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

By David Brewster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____________________

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

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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.

 

Malaysia: One Year after GE 13, lost in sea of politiking


May 6,2014

Malaysia: One Year after GE 13, lost in sea of politiking

Bridget-Welsh-2by Bridget Welsh@http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: Today marks the one year anniversary of the historic 13th General Election. This election was pivotal in the country’s history as the incumbent BN coalition held onto power, with the Opposition calls for ‘change’ unfulfilled.

Scholars have highlighted the fundamental shifts in the power of UMNO, the imbalance of the opposition parties, the rise in influence and political awakenings of East Malaysia and the electoral irregularities, among many profound structural changes.

In other ordinary ways, Malaysian politics has also changed, with greater cynicism, insecurities and anger more prominent in public life. This is across the political divide. News reports feature troubling reports of increased racial tensions, political polarisation and continued shortcomings in governance.

This article highlights some of the ongoing dynamics in contemporary Malaysian political life, which are both worrying and offer promise ahead.

Hisham, Najib, and Muhiyuddin MH370 Heroes

There is no question the last year has been a difficult one for Malaysia.  Globally, the country came under the full glare of the international spotlight in what arguably will be the story of the year – the loss of MH370. Now everyone in the world knows where Kuala Lumpur is, and the seas and oceans around it.

The persistence of this issue in international headlines for over two months is a reminder of the lack of closure for the families of loved ones on board the missing plane and the country as a whole.

Malaysia has been blessed historically by a comparative lack of crises but MH370 shows the need for better preparation and the need to learn. What is of concern in the failure to properly release even the preliminary investigation report of the tragedy is an apparent unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes and strengthen the country’s responses in future.

The context of post-GE13 contributes to this childish stubbornness to embrace improvements. Political wrangling and insecurities are dominating the terrain, with those in power obsessed in staying there and those in the opposition myopically focused on getting there.

Even one year later, the country is still electioneering, with the focus on power rather than the people. This is perhaps one of the most serious losses of GE13 – a distancing of the interests of citizens and political leaders.

Even basic needs are being ignored, as evident by the water rationing. This issue is being used in a seemingly never-ending political game of blaming and one-upmanship. When will the federal and government leaders sit down and figure out a proper solution to the country’s water shortages? The sense one gets is: when the dams freeze over.

The impression is statesmanship is sorely lacking. It is not only MH370 that is missing. Some of this is a product of Prime Minister Najib Razak doing a disappearing act when a controversial issue emerges. When he reappears – usually well after an issue has evoked tensions and frustrations – his interventions are too little too late.

Power at all cost

For its part, the opposition has continued focusing on bringing out the country’s problems, with little attention to solutions to these problems. Many of their messages are often stale, and returning to old solutions. Their main goal aims at changing the government, a refrain that only perpetuates the sense among ordinary citizens that leaders are focused on power, not people. Quality leadership is lost in the sea of politicking.

This void has been enhanced by the loss of important national leaders from political 1Malaysialife, from the tragic deaths of Karpal Singh and Irene Fernandez to the quiet voices of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and other leaders who can bridge the divided communities.

This lack of statesmanship is enhanced by the fact that both political sides are wracked in ongoing internal struggles for power.

For UMNO, united it its desire to hold onto power at any cost, Najib continues to navigate challenges inside his party, led by none other than his mentor, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

While the current premier appears to have neutralised any immediate challenge, the sense of competition for position is ongoing in UMNO, with shifts in positions a constant dynamic.

Najib has proved adept at managing the levers of this party with offers of projects, contracts and other rewards regularly used as appeasement. The reality is that Najib and his associates continue to watch their backs, distracted from governing.To accommodate the need for funds, Najib has opted to implement the Goods and Service Tax (GST), a measure that has widespread public opposition as shown in recent polls.

While some recognise the need to improve the country’s revenue position, especially given the rising debt the country is absorbing and questions arising from that debt (as shown in the 1MDB scandal), ordinary people are only seeing the impact of rising inflation on their already strained finances.

UMNO knows that the GST has the potential to be its death knell – a reason it is doing everything it can to break up the opposition through hudud and other religiously divisive issues and the use of institutions such as the Judiciary to marginalise political opponents and parties alike.

UMNO rightly fears that the GST will undercut the base of its political support, effectively betraying its base by imposing a higher cost of living and greater suffering. In their fancy cars behind guarded houses, they have lost perspective, unaware of even the price of kangkung.

Hudud returns–PAS Kelantan

If UMNO is violating its promise of rising incomes and improved welfare, the Opposition has also moved down the road of disillusionment. This is occurring with PAS’ Kelantan government’s call for hudud.

pas-keadilan-untuk-semuaIn GE13 the Opposition offered the promise of a multiracial country, a place for everyone under the Malaysian sun. The exclusionary path of Kelantan PAS has already lost the trust of non-Malays as shown with recent polling, as decades of trust building have evaporated. Many non-Muslims feel a sense of betrayal.

The party has effectively signaled that it is no longer interested in being a leader of the nation as a whole, but appears focused on securing its base in the rural heartland, especially in Kelantan where its performance under the new state leadership has been lackluster.

Its public rationale is that the move is for political power, to win support among Muslims. History has shown in that when PAS opts for a more exclusionary path, it is punished at the polls as occurred in 1986 and 2004.

By turning to religious law before better governance and the welfare of the broader community, Kelantan PAS has taken a path that is appealing to its core and distancing itself from the middle ground, especially younger voters.

More attention could be centred on deliverables, increasing jobs and welfare in the state to allow Kelantanese the means and opportunities to stay away from the crimes hudud is supposed to prevent. As shown in Egypt, the party would be better served by working on providing jobs and raising incomes, but this lesson appears not to be have been absorbed.

As in UMNO, party divisions in PAS have contributed to this undemocratic move. There appears to be ongoing positioning people in the party, especially by those that did not do well in the party polls last November.

While clearly provoked by UMNO, PAS has taken a parochial, exclusionary route that not only threatens the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition, but has the potential to tear at the fabric of Malaysian society in a way that will only bring greater tensions and conflict.

In falling for Umno’s bait, DAP has also escalated tensions. The Opposition is now struggling to move away from zero-sum politics, as ordinary Malaysians look on in dismay or glee depending on their side of the political divide.

Kelantan PAS’s exclusionary path severely weakens the Opposition’s ability to represent the nation, as does Najib’s similarly divisive move to implement an unpopular policy that will erode his political base, sharpen class and generation divisions (as the young are the most affected), and has the potential to deepen the trend that has featured in Najib’s tenure – the continued politicisation of political institutions to maintain political power, from the Election Commission to the judiciary.

Concerns are particularly acute in that both PAS’ and UMNO’s moves place strain on the ability of institutions to govern fairly for all Malaysians. Pressures are already clearly evident. The rule of law especially is being challenged, with now multiple incidents of the police failing to uphold judicial decisions.

Wake-up call from youth

Given the worrying trajectories, is there any reason for hope? Increasingly the frustrations of citizens have featured centre stage, with the silent majority deafened from the political noise – much of it lacking decency and direction. The answer is a yes, but one couched in realism and caution.

GST Rally
The GST rally last week was full of young people urging change signals the expansion of a political awakening in Malaysia. GE13 did not mark the end of this process, but rather served as a marker for new paths and patterns of engagement.

Neither side did a good job of mobilising young Malaysians as shown in the split voting patterns among younger voters, but nevertheless the youth are finding their voice. The anti-GST rally was less about one side or another of the divide, but a loud wake-up call for fairer governance, one in which a younger generation is now leading.

Amidst the 50,000 crowd are leaders for the future, joined by a growing cohort of younger leaders in the political divide that are putting forward important issues such as education, security and the Rule of Law.

It is important to note that amidst the politicking are voices that are indeed focusing on meaningful issues and appear less obsessed about who is holding what position, be in the chief ministership of Selangor or a cabinet post.

My faith lies most with the young in Malaysia, who along with the sage wisdom of leaders who were socialised in the post-Mahathir era and national oriented civil society leaders, are speaking out and engaging important issues. They offer light in the darkness of the current political scene.

In 2008, I wrote that Malaysians were ahead of their politicians. I also wrote that change would not be a linear process. We continue to see these observations in current political life.

The opposition has the responsibility to move beyond focusing on attaining power and developing capacity to solve the nation’s problems by working together and forming a shadow cabinet. Even Cambodia’s Opposition coalition that has refused to sit in parliament due to election irregularities have one. If the opposition is going to focus on its divisions it might as well get out of the business for running for national office.

For Najib, who has yet to become the label of reformer he has portrayed himself to be, Malaysians are awaiting your reforms, meaningful changes. Your clock is ticking, and already half of the country have decided you have passed your prime. Many in the other half were on the streets last week.

Malaysians on the whole deserve better than they have at the moment, and are rightly frustrated by the exclusionary turns of their leaders, but the fact that they are speaking out and sending clear messages of dissatisfaction offer promise, even if it is less promising than many hope for.

DR BRIDGET WELSH is Associate Professor of Political Science at Singapore Management University. She can be reached at bwelsh@smu.edu.sg .