The Devil You don’t know

August 31, 2012

The Devil You don’t know

by Neil

COMMENT: In this second part of my article in response to the growing criticism of Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s “devil you know” remarks, Pakatan Rakyat can counter the BN’s war of ideas by describing to Malaysians what sort of government we will get post-BN.

Here are five major issues that we hope Pakatan will address as part of their key policies.

First, making society more equitable, yet more educated and competitive globally. The BN, the Pakatan said, has failed. There are pockets of wealth, education is on the decline in standards and Malaysia is generally not competitive if subsidies are removed.

How will Pakatan better the BN in making society more equitable? Higher spending on education has not worked so long as education is not managed rationally and with a merit-based system in place. More importantly, who in the Pakatan will lead this initiative?

Second, race and religion will continue to be thorny issues. More so when coupled with economic development or the lack of it, as in the case of certain segments of the Indian Malaysian community.

Cross-Generational poverty

Hindraf leaders are correct when they ask the BN and PR to explain their strategies to alleviate cross-generational poverty and its associated social ills that have plagued certain segments of the Indian Malaysian community. I dare say that there are also equally serious pockets of poverty in Sabah and Sarawak.

Ultimately, effective and sustainable policies to deal with this problem have to take into consideration how Malaysia is predicated on ethnicity and religious divisions.

Inherited from the British, ethnic categorisation has given rise to ethnic profiling. This has resulted in certain ethnic groups getting the rough and short-end of the “stick”. In what way will Pakatan deal with this problem that is more systematic and effective than the BN?

Can Pakatan describe these policies and how it will ensure that policies are ultimately translated into practice? The BN also has a raft of very good policies but they are not implemented. If the BN’s failure is systemic, meaning that its ethnic-based policies are part of the problem, what is Pakatan’s solution?

Ultimately, the real measure of success will be the end of movements like Hindraf, when Malaysians of whatever ethnic complexion find little need to support ethnic-based affirmative action.

Third, it has to do with the transformation of the Malaysian economy. There is no doubt that we cannot continue to rely on Petronas to subsidise everything from Proton to sugar. We must get productivity up without spending our children’s legacy.

Here, corruption is only one reason why there is widespread anger against the BN. But how will Pakatan get to grips with the underlying problem? Malaysia is just not as efficient and productive as it should be.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng will be the first to tell you that there is only so much cost-cutting measures and savings from corruption will go. After the honeymoon period is over, how will Penang move forward into the post-industrial era?

Services will be one answer, but how to up standards when three-quarters of the workforce is not properly trained or educated? Penang suffers from a huge brain-drain: so, how to turn the situation around and create brain-gain?

Whatever happens to Penang will happen to Malaysia, except that Malaysia will not do as well. It was so during the days of trade and commerce; and it was so during the manufacturing period where Penang’s growth was on average 2% points higher than that of Malaysia.

So, here is a problem that involves both short- and long-term policy changes. Can someone in Pakatan please tell us how they are going to deal with it? Once again, who will lead the charge?If the ‘angel’ turns out to be worse?

Next comes the question of BN legacy issues. Pakatan has gone to town listing a raft of BN wrong-doings. From independent power-producers to the judiciary; how will Pakatan overhaul the system to make sure that the goose is not killed in the process of reform?

In most countries that experience regime change for the first time, there are two ways that things pan out. First, like in Kenya, the “angel you don’t know”, turns out to be worse than the regime you kicked out. It is “our turn to eat” as they say in Kenya.

With former UMNO elements in PKR, including Anwar Ibrahim, this is a very real concern. Next, things turn really bad before they get any better. One sees this in most European countries in the early modern period. Again, how will Pakatan go about instilling discipline among its ranks and making sure that all its members follow the new rules and standards it intends to set?

Finally, democratisation is key to making sure items one to four are kept in good order. The BN is now doing window dressing, replacing odious laws that regulate individual freedom with ones that are worse and even more draconian.

Even the BN’s own rank-and-file are not happy with newly passed legislation. Pakatan has highlighted this and a lack of local level democracy like local elections as part of it public manifesto, the Buku Jingga.

How will Pakatan go about guaranteeing the freedoms of its own critics without resorting to the law, the courts and Police to silence them? Even if they are as “extreme” as PERKASA, how will Pakatan deal with demonstrations, student activism and civil society movements?

If it reintroduces local elections and a strong opposition to it emerges, what will Pakatan vow not to do to make sure that local elections and local government truly become a third level of democratic representation?

Devolving of power from Putrajaya

Equally important and related to democratisation is the devolving of power from Putrajaya to the state capitals. This involves giving states more incentives to balance their budgets and putting greater pressure on non-performing state governments to become more efficient.

At the same time, those states that are doing better should be rewarded with more fiscal autonomy. Will Pakatan make the necessary sacrifices at federal level to give away power to the states?

The five issues above are all inter-related and Pakatan should make a systematic effort to describe how a government it leads can do better than the current BN on all these matters. Of course, there is one thing that Mahathir said, which may be true – if Pakatan comes to power, the BN may never recover.

This is not so much because Pakatan will use its authority to crush the BN but because the BN is a coalition of convenience. Once power is removed, the reason for being dissolves. It is not that Pakatan will use extra-constitutional means to prevent the BN from coming back, it is the BN that, without power, will disintegrate.

That is also an outcome that we do not want for Malaysia. It is best to keep the two political camps alive, competing and in perpetual “gratefulness” to the electorate.

If politicians are all power-hungry and corrupt feral beasts, it is better to have two groups of thieves jealously guarding against each other, rather than being dependent on any one. In the end, there are no angels in politics, just whiter devils.

Part 1: The devil you know

A Truly Inclusive Narrative Needed for Malaysia

August 31, 2012

A Truly Inclusive Narrative Needed for Malaysia

by Zairil Khir Johari (via e-mail)

Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to notice the obvious, even when it has always been staring us right in the face.

My moment of epiphany came during a Tariq Ramadan lecture in Penang last month. The Oxford don was in the midst of expounding on his pet topic — socio-cultural identity conflict — when he began to veer into the sensitive Malaysian racial debate.

Now, Tariq Ramadan is no stranger to identity issues. He is, as he describes himself, both a European and a Muslim, two labels which he does not wear loosely. If anything, he is an unabashed Westerner and an unapologetic Islamist — an oxymoronic concept if one subscribes to Samuel Huntington’s dichotomous paradigm. However, Ramadan has proven that both identities are not only reconcilable, but inherently compatible. Battling this polemic has been his lifelong raison d’ĕtre, hence it is no surprise that he could immediately recognise and make sense of the patterns of identity politics in our country.

“Malaysia,” Ramadan surmised, “is a multicultural society based on mutual mistrust.”In one simple sentence, he had succinctly framed the Malaysian dilemma. As the realisation of his remarks began to set in, Ramadan goes on to point out the underlying source of our nation’s malady: “What your country lacks is a truly inclusive national narrative.”

“It is not enough,” added the grandson of Hassan Al-Banna, “to be a citizen by law. It is more necessary to be part of a national narrative that integrates everyone.”

In essence, Ramadan was describing what he perceived to be a country with split, if not divergent, identities. We may all call ourselves Malaysians, but not all of us have been truly embraced as members of a Malaysian nation. This is due to the fact that, beyond empty sloganeering and expensive public relations campaigns, our leaders have not really expended real efforts to craft a unifying narrative and a common understanding of what being part of a Malaysian nation actually means and entails.

After 55 years of nationhood, one would think that we would have a clear idea of what it means to be Malaysian. Unfortunately, what we have is a hodgepodge of varying concepts defined in narrow communal terms. This was admitted to even by the longest-serving prime minister of our country when he said that the 1 Malaysia slogan created by this present government “clearly means different things to different races.” This trend can in fact be traced back to our country’s genesis.

August 31, 1957 saw the birth of two different countries. For one half of the newly-independent people, the country was called Persekutuan Tanah Melayu. Meanwhile, the other half saw it as Malaya. Two names for one country, and both with vastly divergent connotations. These differences were then institutionalised, resulting in the precarious situation that we have today, in which there are some Malaysians who are considered to be more Malaysian than others.

Now, I do not doubt the motivations behind the crafters of our Constitution. Certainly, our former colonial masters felt the need to make amends for all their injudicious meddling. After a century and a half of exploiting our land, resources and people, and not to mention drastically re-engineering the local demography, some quick fixes were needed to allay their guilt.

Hence, the Malays (its modern definition being in actuality a colonial construct) were constitutionally accorded a “special position” in order to protect them from a large and economically more developed immigrant population. For the sake of unity and convenience, this was agreed to by all stakeholders, including the non-Malay leaders. Economic equality for the Malays in exchange for political equality for the non-Malays. At the time, it seemed like the best compromise for everyone.

However, this arrangement also meant that if national development was a race, then the competitors had been lined up facing opposite directions. As the race got under way it was inevitable that the socio-cultural gap would widen as each raced further and further away from the other.

Today, while other nations around the world grapple with globalisation and compete for a share of the global economic pie, we are still stuck in an anachronistic quagmire. The imperial legacy of divide and rule continues to be our national ethos. We are led by race-based political parties. Our national policies are guided by a racial framework.

Our public rhetoric revolves around narrow socio-cultural issues. We can’t even decide what language should be used to teach our children.We need to move beyond this.

The fact is that nearly every Malaysian is, at some point in their lineage, of immigrant background. Some are merely older immigrants. To claim — or worse, to institutionalise — racial superiority based on such loose and meaningless foundations is disingenuous, especially when our country has now produced three generations of pure Malaysians. What is needed now is to bring all of us together in a common cause towards a common destination. To paraphrase Tariq Ramadan, we should no longer ask about where we came from but focus on where we are going together.

This is the new national narrative that is needed. One that enjoins us together as Malaysians; equal before the law, dignified as citizens and collectively contributing towards national development. But in order to achieve this, we have to first unshackle ourselves from the subjugating chains of racial stratification.

And so, as we celebrate our 55th National Day, we must necessarily ask ourselves: do we want to spend the next 55 years struggling to compromise and tolerate one another, arguing over language, over racial superiority, over who deserves special rights, over who is more Malaysian?Or are we prepared to press the reset button?

Geo-Politics of US-China Rivalry and South China Sea

August 31, 2012

Geo-Politics of US-China Rivalry and  South China Sea

by B A  Hamzah

The great powers in Asia are redefining their strategic interests as they interact with each other and other states in the Asia-Pacific region. Key players are the United States, China, Japan and India. Russia under Putin is slowly but surely regaining its influence.

The background of a renewed US-China rivalry  is well documented. However, with regard to the South China Sea, the rivalry became more intense following Obama administration decision to return to the region (2010) and more recently (2012) by its  policy to redeploy troops to the region following the decision to disengage from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US policy to pivot to Asia Pacific is a deliberate attempt to rebalance its worldwide military deployment with an eye on China. In seeking greater access to the region, the US has sent more marines to Darwin on rotation basis; it has conducted exercises with some ASEAN states in the South China Sea without due regard for the volatile military environment.

Washington has also agreed to station some littoral combat ships in Singapore, presumably to protect its interests in the South China Sea and in the Straits of Malacca. This policy is very much in line with President Barrak Obama’s speech of reassurance at the Australian Parliament (November 2011) that America remains a Pacific power. The world will judge its actions: whether it is going to be a pacific power, a benign power or a destructive power.

US new enemy in the Asia Pacific Region: China?

Despite denials to the contrary by various policy makers, every step that the US has undertaken bears the mark of a deliberate policy to contain China’s rise. Kissinger, in his book (China, 2011) elaborates why China fears encirclement.

In the long- run, it will be difficult for the US to manage China’s rise in ways that do not diminish US interests in the region. The following reasons are among the reasons offered:

•China views US in a decline mode. The US in undergoing a phase in strategic decline in terms of ability to influence international events. Various writers gave alluded to this inevitability. Johan Galtung, who forecast the breakup of the Soviet Union, has predicted in 2004 that the US would fall apart in 2020.  Norman Davies’ statement that “All states and nations, however great, bloom for a season and are replaced” is prophetic and applicable to any power, including the US.

•China views geo-economics and domestic politics are at odds with US expansive foreign policy.

•The US strategic overreach has economic cost. Today the US is the most indebted nation in the world estimated at US $ 16 trillion and despite quantitative exercises(QE) over the years, it has failed to stop the economic rot, which may now undermine Obama’s chances of retaining the Presidency this November.

•The US economic malaise has caused Washington to cut its military spending by more than $100 billion over a decade. This cut will affect the US ability to project power beyond its shores.

•The unfavourable global economic situation has a debilitating impact on the US economy and limits its power projection capability.

•Geography favours China. The South China Sea waters wash China’s southern shores; Hawaii, the home port of the 7th Fleet is 8,000 nautical miles away. All military operations have to factor in distance and geography. China is not Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, or Pakistan.

US-Sino Rivalry in the South China Sea

The US-China rivalry has caused temperatures to rise in the South China Sea.  The Nation of Bangkok warns in a recent editorial that: “If the current tension continues in South China Sea, especially between the Philippines and China, it could lead to an all-out war. This is not an alarmist’s warning but a real concern. With poisonous rhetoric and growing tension, there is a possibility that conflicting parties would cross the line. This could be a result of miscalculation.”

This editorial refers to the impasse over the Scarborough Shoal. While the impasse would not lead to an “all out-war”, the likelihood of a miscalculation is scary. In the opinion of the Nation, it (war) “can be the most dangerous game in town.”

China has been accused of stoking tensions on the South China Sea.It has received bashing over the Scarborough Shoal standoff and over the establishment of a military garrison and formation of Sansha City on Woody Island.

The hype over Sansha City and the military garrison is unnecessary. The City was formalised in 2007. The Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) occupied the Paracels archipelago since 1974 and since then it has troops on the islands.

Many have accused China of hidden hands during the 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting at Phnom Penh. When the Ministers failed to issue a Joint Communiqué, the blame was put on China .

No one denies that China has been assertive in the South China Sea since it removed the South Vietnamese troops from the Paracels (including the Woody Island) on January 19. 1974. In April 1988, it fought a brief naval war with Vietnam and in 1995, it occupied the Mischief Reef.

Like China, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines have garrisoned their territories in the South China Sea. Taiwan has the biggest military garrison on Itu Aba. Brunei is the only claimant that does not send troops to occupy any island or rock feature.

Incident at Scarborough in April 2012

On  April  10, 2012, Manila sent its largest warship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar (former US Coast Guard Cutter USS Hamilton) to arrest Chinese fishermen at the Scarborough Shoal for “breaching Philippines sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction”- an euphemism for illegal entry, illegal fishing and poaching.

Two Chinese civilian vessels from the Bureau of Fisheries Administration rushed to the scene just in time to stop the seizure of eight fishing vessels; the catch was, however, impounded.Of course, this was not the first arrest of Chinese fishing vessels for illegal fishing and poaching in the area. For example, in July 1997 the PI Navy arrested 21 Chinese fishermen for illegal entry in the vicinity of the Scarborough Shoal.

Manila has based its claim of the Scarborough Shoal on “effective occupation and effective jurisdiction since independence”. Manila has discounted proximity as the basis of its claim. On April 2012, the Department of Foreign Affairs admits that its sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Monsiloc) is NOT premised on proximity or “the fact that the rocks are within its 200 nautical miles or continental shelf under UNCLOS.”

ASEAN must not allow the indecisiveness over a phrase to undermine the peaceful process that ASEAN has assiduously developed over the years with China. The Code of Conduct (COC) negotiation should not become hostage to some inflexible internal politics. ASEAN has more pressing larger geo-strategic issues to worry.

Driven by strategic considerations and the prospects for maritime resources, all claimants have been expanding their military and enforcement capabilities in the disputed South China Sea. Buoyed by nationalist sentiments, some claimants have sought outside help. The presence of external forces could undermine the military power equilibrium in the region. In that sense, US-China rivalry may complicate issues

Without some confidence- building mechanisms like the proposed COC, Incidents-at- Sea Agreements or Joint Development Projects between the claimants, the maritime security situation in the South China Sea may take a turn for the worse.  So, claimant states bordering the South China Sea must seek fresh solutions to their divergent interests.

Scarborough Shoal & ASEAN Unity

ASEAN is divided on the Scarborough Shoal. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Ian Storey criticised ASEAN’s failure to close ranks over the Scarborough Shoal incident. He pointed out in the article that  ASEAN member states were divided due “to differing national interests, including the value they place on their relationships with China.” This has resulted in a lack of cohesion and inaction in dealing with China in the South China Sea.

Singling out China for the impasse does not explain the entire story. Before May 2010, the security situation in the South China Sea was tolerable, despite China’s assertive policy.

In 1995, for example, following the Mischief Incident, Manila and Beijing signed a code of conduct pledging to solve their dispute by peaceful means. A year later (November 1996), President Fidel Ramos of the Philippines agreed with President Jiang Zemin that both parties would settle their disputes in the South China Sea, including the Scarborough Shoal via joint development.

The tipping point was June 2010 in Singapore. Robert Gates’ statement in Singapore in June 2010 and Hillary Clinton’s reaffirmation of the US policy of returning to the region after a long period of neglect at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi on July 23, 2010 introduced a new element in regional security dynamics.

Beijing views the US return to the Asia Pacific and military engagement in the South China Sea as containment. In response to the US containment policy, China has become more defensive. Beijing has started to upgrade its military capabilities in the South China Sea to oppose the US military presence.

US-China rivalry and ASEAN

The US-China rivalry has caused some states to take sides. This action will have a long-term consequence on the power equilibrium in Southeast Asia. The impasse at Scarborough has ramifications beyond China and the Philippines; it has brought non-claimant parties into the fray. The conflict will more difficult to resolve with the involvement of the others who are using the South China Sea conflict to undermine China’s security interests.

Claimant states can become pawns in the US-China rivalry. The rivalry can ultimately undermine ASEAN security and cohesiveness if the matter is not handled properly.

It would appear that the 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting at Phnom Penh has put ASEAN’s credibility on line. Some say ASEAN has lost its centrality, others think ASEAN will become irrelevant after the Foreign Ministers failed to issue a Joint Communiqué, the first in forty-five years. Many have ridiculed ASEAN’s credibility.

So what if ASEAN cannot coble a consensus? Does it mean ASEAN will close shop after it failed to agree on a communiqué? Is the communiqué so vital that without it, the entire ASEAN cooperative effort will fall apart?

It is puzzling how critics could ignore the record of ASEAN since its founding in 1967, including forging a community by 2015.  Everything must be seen in the proper context. A small window makes sense only in the context of the overall architecture . Looking at the Scarborough Shoal without the benefit of the larger geo-strategic design and landscape including the US-China rivalry would distort the story.

ASEAN is not a single-issue organisation. The Scarborough Shoal impasse between China and the Philippines will resolve itself and it will not dent ASEAN unity. Both Philippine and China will patch up soon if third parties stop instigating.

ASEAN has weathered worst storms in its existence and it gets stronger after each crisis. The Philippines -Malaysia relations was bedeviled by the former claim to part of Sabah soon as Malaysia was formed in 1963.The lingering claim has not caused ASEAN to collapse.

In 1968, for example, critics cried foul when Singapore hanged two Indonesian marines for the bombing of the MacDonald House in 1965.The nationalists in Indonesia demanded retribution. Diplomatic relations were ruffled.

In 1991, the Philippines recalled its Ambassador from Singapore for hanging a maid who confessed to the crime. When situation cooled down, diplomatic relations resumed. I hope that the recall of the Cambodian Ambassador from Manila in August 2012 will not permanently damage diplomatic relations between the two ASEAN states.

In 1979, Vietnam reoccupied Amboyna Cay that Malaysia included in its 1979 continental shelf map. In the same year, the Philippines troops also reclaimed Commodore Reef in the South China Sea from Malaysia.

ASEAN has overcome more serious territorial disputes between its neighbours. Indonesia and Malaysia went to the International Court of Justice to determine who own Sipadan and Ligitan. The ICJ in 2002 awarded the two islands to Malaysia.

Singapore and Malaysia took their territorial disputes for litigation twice. In September 2003, for example, Malaysia sought provisional measures from the International Tribunal on Law of the Sea (ITLOS) at Hamburg on Singapore’s land reclamation in and around the Straits of Johor. In May 2008, the ICJ rendered a decision on Pedra Branca (Pulau Batu Putih). When the Court found that Singapore has sovereignty over Pedra Branca, it brought to a closure a problem that has been a thorn in the relations between both states.

In February 1979, Thailand and Malaysia agreed to jointly develop a disputed area in the Gulf of Thailand; similarly, in 1992, Vietnam and Malaysia signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly exploit for mineral resources in an overlapping maritime area.

In 2009, Malaysia and Vietnam made a joint submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf for their continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in the South China Sea. Both joint development agreements have withstood time and now all parties are reaping the returns from their commercial ventures.

Because territories are sacrosanct, many would have thought that claimant parties in the South China Sea would come to blows. Malaysia maintains cordial relations with the Philippines despite the Sabah claim and the occupation of the Commodore Reef. Likewise, Malaysia and Vietnam have opted for a joint development project and agreed to shelve their territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The Scarborough Shoal incident is insignificant compared with the territorial problems. The Scarborough Shoal impasse is between China and the Philippines and it could be amicably resolved. In 1996, in Manila President Ramos and Jang Zemin agreed to shelve their dispute in favour of joint development.

In 1992, Manila inked the ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea and gave the undertaking that it would resolve all sovereignty and jurisdictional issues in the South China Sea by peaceful means, without resort to force. In 2005, China and the Philippines (later Vietnam) agreed to undertake a short-lived Joint Maritime Seismic Survey (JMSU) in the Palawan maritime area. One authority on the South China Sea even hailed the Arroyo’s presidency as the “golden era” in Manila-Beijing relations.

Failure to craft a Joint Communiqué is equally insignificant if we view ASEAN in the larger geo-strategic and geo-economic context. In the light of a new consensus on the six- point- principles announced by the ASEAN Foreign Ministers following the Phnom Penh impasse, we should close the Cambodian chapter and move forward.

Few have recalled how ASEAN had overcome the difficult days. One of the most difficult times in ASEAN history was in 1986 when the ASEAN Heads of States summoned their moral strength to attend the third ASEAN summit at Manila after a lapse of ten years. Credit for reinvigorating the Bangkok declaration at Manila must go in particular  to President Corazon Aquino for her efforts to get Asean back on its rail. She bent backward to please many ASEAN leaders; she agreed to limited control of the airspace over Manila during the summit. She permitted some states to send warships to Manila Bay in case something went wrong during the Summit.

Looking back, the 1986 Summit at Manila was ASEAN’s turning point; it renewed the spirit of regionalism. And, it was possible partly because of President Corazon’s trust in regionalism.

Let us hope that the 21st ASEAN Summit in November 2012 at Phnom Penh will not get bogged down with another insignificant event. Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen could follow in the footsteps of  the late President Corazon Aquino and put ASEAN back on track.

Concluding remarks

New geo-economic dynamics in the Asia Pacific Region present opportunities for Southeast Asian countries to redefine their relationship with China and the US. However, it will take a far greater display of pragmatism and realism on both sides.

Factors hindering closer relations include: domestic politics, military power in- equilibrium in the Asia Pacific region (complicated by the recent US policy to rebalance its forces to contain China); Chinese single-handedness to convert the South China Sea into an internal lake similar to what the US did in the 19th Century in the Caribbean.

Also likely to be hostage to the US-China rivalry is the deliberate policy to confuse jurisdictional issue (like territorial claims) with rights under international law to use the sea (like the freedom of navigation). Topping it all is competing nationalism. Unbridled, it can be a spoiler in maintaining law and order in the South China Sea.

While I remain bullish on ASEAN as a regional security and economic organisation, the US-China rivalry that comes on the heel of a Pax Americana in decline may spell danger; history is replete with stories of powers in decline misbehaving. As it struggles to retain dominance, as a power in transition Pax Americana may engage in dangerous policies to prove critics wrong. This danger may manifest in the South China Sea. What begins as a bilateral issue may metamorphose into larger than a big power rivalry when rival powers engage in proxy wars.

One of the most likely proxies in the conflict is the Philippines, which has been putting pressure on the US to honour the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America. Thus far, the US has been wisely resisting pressure from Manila to invoke the Treaty.

It is imperative for ASEAN, especially states with overlapping claims in the South China Sea, to anticipate the consequences of US-China rivalry. ASEAN must not allow this rivalry to undermine  its unity.

Congratulations, Negara Ku Malaysia

August 30, 2012

Congratulations, Negara Ku Malaysia on the occasion of Merdeka Day (August 31, 2012)

“We are now at a period in time which is monumental for Malaysia. Everywhere, the people can see significant changes not only at the individual stage but also the family and community.

As such, let us push up Malaysia’s image by fulfilling all promises made and realising the potentials we have for the sake of all Malaysians. Don’t let us destroy what we have nurtured and created. Do not ever jeopardise the harmony of our birthplace which has since long been built.”Prime Minster Najib Tun Razak (Merdeka Day 2012 Address to the Nation).


Kuala Lumpur, August 30, 2012

August 31, 2012 will be celebrated in grand style. Some say it is Rais Yatim’s day to show case the occasion with pomp and ceremony. Nothing is further than the truth. It is, in fact, our day as Malaysians.

Jalur Gemilang (the Malaysian Flag) will be flown with pride throughout the length and breadth of our country and there will be parade at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur to commemorate the occasion, to be followed by spectacular fireworks at night.

We deserve to pat ourselves on the back, as we have lived in relative peace and harmony for 55 years as an independent nation (discounting the view of some “eminent” home grown historians who said that we never colonised by the British). Politics aside.

We should use this occasion to reflect on the fact that we have come together as One Nation (not yet as One People) and resolve that from this day on, we will work hard to achieve a developed nation status by 2020 and be Malaysians, not Malays, Chinese, Indians and others.

It is not often that Dr. Kamsiah and I would quote the views of a journalist from the UMNO -controlled New Straits Times. But on this special day, we are  pleased to quote  Chok Suat Ling, who wrote: “The country is free from strife, grinding poverty, and the raucous scenes we are now seeing in some other parts of the world. There is no war, no need to dodge bullets when walking out in the open.”

We agree with her. But that said, this should be the pretext for us to remain contented with the status quo. We need change, peaceful change that is, and free ourselves from the chains of mediocrity, incompetence and corruption.

We should seek to establish a government with the conviction and political will to deal with these issues. We must insist that government worthy our support must serve the people.

Merdeka Day should also be the occasion for us to renew our faith in our country. Our country is what we as a people make it out to be. Surely we can make Malaysia a haven of peace and harmony for all.  Selamat Hari Merdeka.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

My Response to Dato’ Norhaidi of Wisma Putra

August 30, 2012

My Response to Dato’ Norhaidi of Wisma Putra

by Din Merican

I read the purported rebuttal by the Foreign Minister’s Political Secretary which I posted earlier on this blog with considerable concern. It is the latest in a long list of evidence of incompetence and lack of professionalism in our Foreign Ministry, or Wisma Putra as it commonly known.

If anything, the rebuttal exemplifies the proverb ”It’s better to be silent and thought a fool, than to speak up and remove all doubt”  for it only made the Minister look worse than he actually is. Why purported? Well, Dato Norhaidi is not exactly known for his fluency in English.  Therefore, it is unlikely that this rambling rebuttal could be done by him. Furthermore, political secretaries have not been known to do this kind of work.

A Ghost Written Rebuttal

The rebuttal is more likely to be the work of Ahmad Rozian Abdul Ghani, Wisma Putra’s Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and External information who was roasted in this blog some months ago. Or it could have been written by the large committee headed by Rozian and approved by Kedah-born Tan Sri Radzi Bin Abdul Rahman,  the Secretary-General?  In any event, I hope that the real author would clarify things for our benefit.

However, it is not fair to lay the blame entirely on the Foreign Minister with whom I have exchanged views and ideas on the hand phone,  and on this blog.  He is after all a politician and not a professional diplomat. The blame must, therefore, be borne by the Secretary -General and his senior officers.

I have on record– and others too–said that the present set up in Wisma Putra is the most dysfunctional ever.  The Minister is unable to manage his senior officers. Thinking that they are quietly rebelling against him, Minister Anifah, a non-Peninsular Foreign Minister,  doesn’t engage his officers.

Apparently, even the mandatory weekly meetings, introduced in the 1960s by the legendary King Ghaz (left) as “Friday prayers” where issues are discussed, are a thing of the past.

Without ministerial control and supervision, Radzi’s sub par perfomance is further ruining Wisma Putra.

To make himself look good, he has filled up key positions with sycophants and officers who had served with him rather with officers selected on the basis of merit and expertise. That is how incompetence perpetuates itself, like turtles all the way down.

Wisma Putra: A Toxic Set-Up

I am told that even the Minister’s requests to remove incompetent officers are apparently routinely disregarded.In management-speak Wisma Putra would be a good example of a toxic organisation. It’s easy to guess the state of the Ministry. There is a glaring absence of shared purpose and compelling sense of mission.  With incompetence being routinely rewarded, resentment is high and morale low in Wisma Putra today.

Recently, the Secretary-General wrote a piece in the Star entitled “Creating an ASEAN Community”. Although that piece was far superior to his earlier vacuous piece on the Ministry’s consular services, his latest piece also stands an example of his inability to articulate foreign policy issues clearly and cogently beyond cutting-and-pasting diplomatic phrases taken from official communiqués that are designed more to conceal rather than elucidate issues.

Tan Sri Radzi (right) talks about ushering a community by 2015. What does this mean for the ordinary Malaysians? We are concerned that we could be at the cusp of a dangerous return to the bad old days when Southeast Asia was referred to as “Balkans of the East”.

As Malaysians, we are very concerned that untrammeled major power rivalry, namely US-China relations vis-a-vis the Asia-Pacific, could wreck peace and stability that we had known for most of our lives.

It would have been much more responsible for him to express our concerns that ASEAN is now on the wrong track. It would be responsible for him to share some broad thoughts on Malaysia’s main objective at the November 2012 Summit in Phnom Penh.

How would Malaysia, as one of the main claimant states, work with others to ensure that the appalling disunity displayed in April would not be repeated?  Without restoring ASEAN’s autonomy as a zone of peace, freedom and neutrality, looking forward to declaring an ASEAN Community during our Chairmanship would merely be an empty PR exercise that would be bereft of meaning or purpose.

Even if Tan Sri Radzi wishes to talk of the ASEAN Community, he could at least have explained that the ASEAN Community is not envisaged as a copy of the European Community.  If it not going to be like the EU, what then are we, the ordinary citizens to expect?

What do these mean?

“Under the APSC, the member states have pledged to regard their security as fundamentally linked to one another and bound by geographic location, common vision and objectives.”

“When we have an ASEAN Economic Community, we shall see a free flow of goods, services, investment and capital, equitable economic development through reduced poverty and socio-economic disparities. The objective is to turn Asean into a single market and production base by harnessing the diversity that characterises the region into opportunities to turn it into a stronger segment of the global supply chain.”      

Obviously these conceptual questions are too much for him and the Ministry.

Given the way the Foreign Ministry is run these days, it is highly likely that Malaysia will be able to play any meaningful role in advancing an enlightened Foreign Policy.

2015 is an important year for Malaysia.  As mentioned by Tan Sri Radzi, we will be the ASEAN Chair in 2015. The Foreign Minister also mentioned that Malaysia would seek a non-permanent security council seat for 2015-2016.

It’s best for Wisma Putra if the present Secretary-General moves on quickly and leave in his place a team of officers selected on the basis of their proven ability so that at least we will have at least two years to fully prepare to make sure that we are up to the mark to take on these responsibilities.

The Economist Corporate Network: Barisan Nasional back in power with a smaller majority

August 29, 2012

Barisan Nasional back in power with a smaller majority, says The Economist Corporate Network

The Barisan Nasional (BN) will be returned to power in the next general election albeit with a smaller majority, the Economist Corporate Network ― the global briefing service for business executives of the international magazine ― has predicted.

“Our view is that BN will come back to power with their majority slightly reduced.The opposition may win more seats, but there will be no change in government,’’ Justin Wood, the network’s Director for Southeast Asia, told reporters today in his presentation, “Weak World, Strong Malaysia”, which addressed foreign investor concerns.

In his briefing, Wood pointed out that one key issue raised by most investors was the impact of the next elections.  “[For] investors, it is a question mark of what will happen to the reform programmes if there is a change in government. What if BN comes back with a smaller majority?What if there’s a change in government? What does this all mean to Malaysia?” he added, referring to the Government’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and Government Transformation Programme (GTP).

But Wood suggested that the upcoming election result will limit Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s ability to implement necessary economic policies.

“Our view is that it is more than likely that the prime minister will remain in office, albeit with a slightly undermined ability to push through reforms [via] majority,” he added.

Najib has already been forced to back down on his merit-based reforms — necessary to propel the economy toward his goal of making Malaysia a high-income nation come 2020 — following resistance from hawks within his own UMNO as well as Malay rights group such as PERKASA.

Despite earlier pledges to dismantle the decades-old affirmative action policies favouring the Bumiputras, Najib instead went on to introduce the Teraju agency to further promote the community’s participation in the economy.

His administration was also forced to loosen up requirements for contractors bidding for mega-project works, after Malay firms complained of being left out by lucrative infrastructure contracts for the upcoming Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (MRT).

A general election must be called by April 2013, when the current BN administration’s mandate will expire. Najib had been expected to call for an early general election in June but was believed to have been forced to abandon the plan following the BERSIH rally in April and scandals linked to members of his government.

BN suffered its worst electoral performance in 2008, when it lost its traditional parliamentary supermajority and five states — Penang, Selangor, Kelantan, Kedah, and Perak — to the then-fledgling Opposition pact of Pakatan Rakyat. It later regained control of Perak following several lawmaker defections.