ASEAN — finding middle path in the US-China conflict


 

November 9, 2018

Opinion

ASEAN — finding middle path in the US-China conflict

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Despite local uncertainties, the region must be bold in shaping its own future

For almost a decade, the basic strategic issue for Southeast Asia has been how to respond to the changing dynamics of the Sino-American relationship as it enters a new phase of heightened long-term competition.

The U.S. and China will not quickly or easily reach a new modus vivendi. Southeast Asia will have to navigate a prolonged period of unusual uncertainty.

U.S.-China rivalry in the South China Sea has emerged as something of a proxy for their competition. Strategically, the situation is a stalemate. China will not give up its territorial claims and the deployment of military assets. But neither can China stop the U.S. and its allies operating in the area without risking a war it does not want because it cannot win.

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The Trump administration has given the 7th Fleet more latitude to conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea. Japan and other U.S. allies are beginning to push back against China’s claims. The U.S. has signaled its intention to conduct even larger shows of force. This raises the risk of accidental clashes. Still, that risk does not at present seem unacceptably high.

A premeditated war is improbable. China will feel it must fight only if the U.S. supports Taiwan independence. This is unlikely. If an accidental clash should occur in the South China Sea or elsewhere, both sides will probably try to contain it. The Association of Southeast Nations ought to be able to cope with situations short of a U.S.-China war. ASEAN has previously managed far more dangerous circumstances. But this will require greater agility, unity and resolve than ASEAN has shown recently.

 

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The most obvious manifestation of increased Sino-American competition is U.S. President Donald Trump’s “trade war.” Trade is the means; the objective is strategic competition. China accuses the U.S. of using trade to hamper its development. China is not wrong.

Although attention has focused on the tit-for-tat tariffs, the more significant aspect is new U.S. legislation to limit technology transfers to China, which sets new rules that future administrations will find hard to change.

Trump’s attitude toward China is no aberration, but reflects a bipartisan view — widely shared in business as well as politics — that the U.S. has been too accommodating to Beijing. Whoever succeeds Trump will likely stay tough on China.

The Trump administration has often been described as isolationist, but this is a distortion. Rather, it believes that this is an era of great power competition and is determined to compete robustly, with a preference for bilateralism over multilateralism, and a return to “peace through strength.”

China has misread the implications of the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 by believing its own propaganda about the U.S. being in irrevocable decline. It missed the souring mood of U.S. business toward China, mainly over intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. These concerns are shared by businesses in other developed economies, which support Trump’s goals although they may disagree about his methods.

President Xi Jinping’s 19th Party Congress speech a year ago abandoned Deng Xiaoping’s approach of “hiding light and biding time.” But his main focus was domestic. Xi said China’s new “principal contradiction” was between “unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life.” This poses a fundamental challenge. Unless those needs are met — which will require immense resources — Communist Party rule could be at risk.

To find a new growth model, the party must balance control and market efficiency. An enhanced role for markets implies a loosening of control.

It remains to be seen what Xi will do. So far he seems to have opted for stronger control, and may have sharpened the problems he faces.

The Belt and Road Initiative is as much about this domestic challenge as China’s global ambition. The BRI exports the old growth model based on state-led infrastructure investment. The BRI buys time to find a new balance between the market and the party.

But the BRI rests on the foundation of U.S.-led globalization. Can it succeed if the world turns protectionist? China may well be the main loser if that global order frays. China cannot replace U.S. leadership. An open international order cannot be based on a largely closed Chinese model. BRI partner countries are pushing back, including in Southeast Asia, and implementation will be problematic.

China is not happy with every aspect of the post-Cold War order based on U.S.-led globalization. China wants its new status acknowledged. But Xi has championed and profited from globalization. The trade war is now hurting China and slowing growth. China may seek to become more self-sufficient technologically, but this will take time while the pressures are immediate.

Some have speculated that there may be opportunities for ASEAN if foreign companies shift production from China. This is possible. But doing so is easier said than done and no one will forgo the Chinese market. ASEAN members must also resist temptations to act as a backdoor into the U.S. for Chinese companies.

A prolonged trade war and concerns that China may have compromised the security of supply chains, are likely to upend existing supply links. This could seriously complicate ASEAN members’ efforts to move up the value chain, for example if U.S. groups relocate business back to America. In response, ASEAN must attract higher grade investments by improving infrastructure and skills, and assuring investors their technology is secure.

Low labor costs and a potential market of 700 million consumers are no longer sufficient to make Southeast Asia an attractive investment destination. The attitude of ASEAN members toward China and the extent to which they are beholden to it are likely to become important considerations in investment decisions.

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BALI, Oct 12 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has lamented ASEAN for not fully tapping its potential as an economic powerhouse, despite having abundant resources and a consumer market of nearly 700 million people.

ASEAN needs to move decisively to hedge against long-term uncertainties, while taking advantage of available opportunities.

Reforms such as the removal of non-tariff barriers and harmonization of ASEAN’s approach toward services and labor mobility could help make Southeast Asia a common production platform. Member states meanwhile should implement plans to upgrade skills and infrastructure. But internal political changes in some member countries could undermine the goal of closer economic integration. Unfortunately, ASEAN has, in recent years, become too timid for its own good.

 

 

Ambassador A Large Bilahari Kausikan, a former Permanent Secretary at Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is Chairman of the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.

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How ASEAN can be resilient


September 11, 2018

How ASEAN can be resilient

Borge Brende and Justin Wood / Khmer Times
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ASEAN has long been praised for its ‘open regionalism’ whereby it pursues economic integration among member states without discriminating against non-ASEAN economies. 

 

As other powers rise, ASEAN is at risk of losing its collective commitment to a shared vision for the region and a common stance on geopolitical issues. Unless ASEAN remains united as a bloc, write Borge Brende and Justin Wood, it will lose its ability to convene regional actors, mediate disputes, and shape principles of international behaviour and interaction.

Is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) resilient enough to thrive amid the regional and global transformations taking place today? While the global economy continues its broad-based expansion, disruptive economic, geostrategic, and technological forces may threaten Asean’s gains of recent years. To survive, Asean members must make important decisions about the role of their community in regional affairs. With the right choices, the region can convert disruption into an opportunity for a resilient future.

ASEAN has undergone an impressive turnaround in the past five decades. A region of turbulence, disharmony, and underdevelopment in the 1960s is today one of relative peace and economic success. Much of the credit belongs to the community-building efforts of the countries under the Asean umbrella. But the region also benefited strongly from the post-World War II global architecture and institutions that promoted inward flows of investment and outward flows of exports.

Today, this global backdrop is in a state of profound transformation. The benefits of free and open trade are being questioned, international institutions are being challenged, new geopolitical powers are rising, and – despite ups and downs – the global economy continues to tilt further toward emerging markets. All of this creates an opportunity for new and competing visions of how the world should be organized and run.

Alongside rising geopolitical uncertainty, ASEAN countries must grapple with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The exponential development of technologies such as artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, precision medicine, and autonomous vehicles is transforming economies, businesses, and societies.

ASEAN members will feel the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution acutely. Consider the future of jobs. The working-age population in the bloc is increasing by 11,000 people daily and will continue to grow at this rate for the next 15 years. This demographic expansion is happening just as many existing jobs will be substituted by intelligent automation and AI. Systems of taxation that rely on labour income will come under pressure. National budgets will be challenged at exactly the moment when Asean members must increase their investment in reskilling labour forces and developing infrastructure for this new age.

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Or consider the future of manufacturing. Technologies such as 3D printing and cheap industrial robots are enabling products to be made in small, highly-customized forms rather than large batches of uniform goods. For ASEAN, the shift from centralized global supply chains to localized production systems could have a serious impact on export revenues and the investment by which it is driven.

Faced with these disruptive shifts, ASEAN must strengthen its community. Economically, regional resilience can be bolstered by building a genuine single market: ASEAN has 630 million citizens with rapidly rising spending power. Fully implementing the ASEAN Economic Community will be key. With a strong regional market, ASEAN can drive its own economic destiny, rather than relying on demand from external markets, and will be better insulated against potential protectionist shocks.

Creating a single market for services will be critical. Here, especially, ASEAN members must respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, tackling issues such as harmonization of rules governing the use of data. New technologies – including digital platforms, big-data analytics, and cloud-based services – do not recognize national borders and function best when they operate at scale. With a single digital market, ASEAN can develop truly pan-regional services in finance, health care, education, and e-commerce.

Of course, ASEAN should not build a fortress that keeps out the world. Indeed, the bloc has long been praised for its “open regionalism,” whereby it pursues economic integration among member states without discriminating against non-ASEAN economies. This approach has been integral to its economic strategy from the beginning, and continues with the soon-to-be concluded Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership joining ASEAN with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand.

Strengthening the political-security community is equally essential. With the architecture of global governance being challenged, ASEAN members must make their voices heard if they want a world that supports their interests. Individually, Southeast Asia’s countries carry little weight; collectively, however, they represent almost a tenth of the world’s population and nearly 5 percent of its GDP.

Historically, ASEAN has played a pivotal role in facilitating regional relationships, giving rise to the notion of “ASEAN centrality” in Asia. In 1993, the bloc established the ASEANn Regional Forum – now with 27 members – to foster dialogue on political and security concerns. It established the East Asia Summit, currently with 18 member states, in 2005.

Today, however, the geopolitical context is evolving. As other powers rise, ASEAN is at risk of losing its collective commitment to a shared vision for the region and a common stance on geopolitical issues. Many observers believe that other countries are undermining ASEAN n unanimity by developing dependencies with individual countries, built on investment, trade, and assistance. Unless it remains united as a bloc, ASEAN will lose its ability to convene regional actors, mediate disputes, and shape principles of international behaviour and interaction.

The so-called ASEAN way, characterized by consensus-based decision-making and non-interference, has served ASEAN well, and the bloc would be unwise to jettison it. But a reassessment is needed if ASEAN is to speak with a strong voice on regional matters, rather than allowing dissenting voices within the group to prevent the adoption of collective positions. Given that existing global institutions are being challenged, and given the rise of Asia in global affairs, Asean must reinforce its ability to influence the debate.

The World Economic Forum on ASEAN will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam, on September 11-13 and will provide an opportunity for such a reassessment. In an increasingly uncertain world, the need for the countries of ASEAN to deepen their community and their commitment to integration and collaboration is stronger than ever.

Copyright Project Syndicate 2018.

Borge Brende is President of the World Economic Forum; Justin Wood is Head of Asia Pacific and a member of the Executive Committee of the World Economic Forum.

 

 

Foreign Policy: ASEAN is here to stay


July 17, 2018

Foreign Policy: ASEAN is here to stay

by Henrick Z Tsjeng and Shawn Ho / Khmer Times.com.kh

Navy personnel of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy take part in a military display in the South China Sea on April 12. Reuters

 

The recent 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) in Singapore saw progress on the South China Sea issue. This demonstrates the importance of ASEAN as a regional anchor and the viability of ASEAN centrality in the midst of geopolitical change, in spite of the regional grouping’s obvious weaknesses and limitations, write Henrick Z Tsjeng and Shawn Ho.

The 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and related meetings in Singapore from July 30 to August 4 was generally hailed as a success. Most notably there were no reported delays in the issuance of its joint communique this time round.

This was unlike in previous instances when the joint communique was delayed as a result of seemingly intractable issues, especially the South China Sea disputes. At the ASEAN-China Post Ministerial Conference (PMC), progress was also made with regard to the South China Sea issue – ASEAN and China agreed on a single draft text to negotiate the Code of Conduct (COC). This text will form the basis for future COC negotiations.

Admittedly, such seemingly positive developments do not mean that most obstacles facing ASEAN have been cleared. There remain big questions about the role of ASEAN in the regional architecture and whether ASEAN can continue to play a central role in this regard.

In the midst of the tumultuous geopolitical changes taking place all around the world, ASEAN continues to be the bulwark that holds the Southeast Asian region together. ASEAN centrality and unity remains key to the grouping’s ongoing quest to build a resilient and innovative Asean and to improve its relations with external partners.

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HE Prak Sokhonn, Cambodia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

The South China Sea disputes remain the litmus test of ASEAN’s centrality and unity, given the potential for the disputes to divide the group. While ASEAN is by no means perfect, a Southeast Asia without ASEAN would likely be in worse shape.

At the start of the annual ASEAN-China PMC, Singapore’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan announced that the foreign ministers from Southeast Asian countries and China have agreed to a draft document that will form the foundation of negotiations for a South China Sea COC. He described it as “yet another milestone in the COC process”.

Even so, Mr Balakrishnan sought to manage expectations by cautioning that negotiations are far from over, and that the competing territorial claims in the South China Sea have not been resolved as the COC “was never meant to resolve territorial disputes”. It should be noted that Singapore had been the country coordinator of ASEAN-China relations for the past three years, during which Mr Balakrishnan had worked tirelessly with his Chinese counterpart to enhance Asean-China relations, notwithstanding Singapore-China relations going through rough patches in those years.

One of the largest concerns observers have raised is the rapidly shifting geopolitical landscape, as a result of major power politics. US-China trade frictions continue to spiral, with no end in sight.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been giving assurances of US interest in the region, such as the $113 million in new technology, energy and infrastructure initiatives for Asia announced before his visit to Southeast Asia, as well as his announcement in Singapore on the US plan to provide $300 million in funding “to reinforce security cooperation throughout the entire (Indo-Pacific) region”.

This notwithstanding, US commitment to upholding the current regional order remains in doubt, especially given President Donald Trump’s protectionist streak and tendency to question the utility of US alliances.

ASEAN has had its share of troubles. Several have questioned the viability of the group’s prized centrality. The South China Sea disputes and the issue of the Rakhine state in Myanmar, with ASEAN’s apparent lack of unity in the former and reported inability to address the latter, have raised doubts about ASEAN’s capabilities to address tough issues.

This has given rise to questions about its centrality. However, that is not to say that all is lost. As the AMM has demonstrated, ASEAN is still well in the game, even if obstacles remain.

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ASEAN is the bulwark that holds the Southeast Asian region together. ASEAN centrality and unity remains key to the grouping’s ongoing quest to build a resilient and innovative ASEAN and to improve its relations with external partners. So being united in common purpose, having an acute sense of  destiny  and  being strong in resolve to preserve regional peace and prosperity, that is the foundation of ASEAN centrality as its move forward into the next 50 years beyond.

In the future, ASEAN’s role as the anchor of the region will become even more important. Despite the greater possibility of US retrenchment from the region, as well as China’s continued growing influence, ASEAN will need to ensure it is steadfast in ensuring its centrality in the region.

The South China Sea will continue to assume significance in ASEAN, given its potential to divide the group. In spite of some claims that ASEAN has a very limited role in the South China Sea disputes, given the fact that only four of its members are actual claimants, ASEAN will need to step up to the plate to ensure its collective interests are respected when it comes to the South China Sea disputes, and to ensure that these do not escalate into full-blown conflict.

In this regard, the AMM has always been addressing this problem, though it is not without its hiccups particularly in 2012 when no joint communique was issued due to disagreements over the South China Sea. Notably, however, the following year saw the joint communique issued with a reference to the South China Sea. Since then, the disputes have been a feature once again in the AMM joint communiques, with the latest one highlighting the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text.

Nonetheless, land reclamations and militarisation on features in disputed areas of the South China Sea continue, and ASEAN will need to address this issue sooner rather than later – possibly a tall order given the current geopolitics surrounding the disputes, particularly with the desire of most ASEAN claimant states to maintain good relations with China, the biggest claimant of all in terms of size, military prowess and economic clout.

Despite the issuance of the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text, it remains unknown when the COC will materialise, especially with the mutually-agreed timeline on negotiations not made public. This is why ASEAN needs to continue to work assiduously to manage the South China Sea disputes and contain any rising tensions.

In light of the ongoing geopolitical flux in the region, ASEAN will increasingly be the anchor of the region’s architecture. The past week’s AMM and related meetings in Singapore have reflected this crucial role that ASEAN plays for the wider region, even beyond Southeast Asia.

Without ASEAN’s efforts, major powers would likely have a much easier time dividing the region over matters such as the South China Sea. Moving forward, ASEAN must continue to proactively work at ensuring its centrality, and to make sure that external countries see value in ASEAN taking the driver’s seat.

Notwithstanding the weaknesses and limitations of ASEAN, it is the onus of the ASEAN member states and community to continue to work closely to ensure that the region remains a core feature of the regional architecture.

Henrick Z. Tsjeng and Shawn Ho are Associate Research Fellows with the Regional Security Architecture Programme at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. This article first appeared in RSIS Commentary.

Malaysia: Embracing Abe-san and Bro Modi


August 1, 2018

Dr. Mahathir’s Look East (Japan) and West (India) Geo-Economics–Embracing Abe San and Bro Modi

by Dr. Shankaran Nambiar, MIER

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/07/13/mahathirs-foreign-policy-reset/

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Malaysian Prime Minister Dr.Mahathir greets Bro Modi

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad appears to be setting the tone for a revision of Malaysia’s geo-economic policy, if the bilateral meetings with his Indian and Japanese counterparts in the early days of his administration are anything to go by. 

 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on Mahathir not too long after the latter assumed office. The meeting was significant in so far as Modi is keen on ‘Acting East’ and forging stronger ties with ASEAN. With Mahathir at the helm, Modi may well have an active and influential partner in the region.

India is likely to be an economic powerhouse in the coming decade or two, and any long-term economic architecture in the region will have to take this reality into account.

Does Mahathir run the risk of disrupting Malaysia’s economic relations with China by engaging with other partners? Not quite, but he does want to tilt the balance.

Mahathir is not questioning China’s intention to build friendly, harmonious and prosperous relations with the region or with Malaysia. But he is adding a dose of reality to some of the more questionable investment agreements that Malaysia has entered into with China and wants these deals to be reviewed. Mahathir has said that ‘we will be friendly to China but we don’t want to be indebted to China’.

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With Ali Baba’s Jack Ma of China

The Prime Minister is keen to do business with anyone who means business, provided there are no hidden caveats and Malaysia is not compromised. If there was any question of wanting to cut off China, Mahathir would not have met with Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma.

This brings us to Mahathir’s meeting with a second foreign leader, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Why did Mahathir choose to go to Japan on his first official overseas trip soon after he came to power?

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Teaming with Abe-San on Look East Partnership with No.7 Jersey

Mahathir probably sees value in reviving his ‘Look East’ policy, which he pursued while prime minister in the 1980s, perhaps in a different form and for slightly different reasons. There is an element of nostalgia, to be sure. But Mahathir is not is not a sentimentalist.

The previous Najib administration did not treat the notion of equidistance from global superpowers with the sensitivity it deserved. There was a tumbling over to China coupled with a reticence to engage with Japan, at least with nothing of the enthusiasm that Tokyo enjoyed during the Mahathir 1.0 era.

Mahathir has always believed in maintaining equidistance from other powers, preferring to work with the larger economies as equals. Mahathir would, by logical extension, be willing to cooperate with China’s Belt and Road Initiative as long as the partnership is fair and without Beijing using Malaysia as its playground. In that respect, reaffirming Malaysia’s long friendship with Japan is a reassertion of Mahathir’s pragmatic approach to geo-economic policy.

But equidistance is not possible without the existence of something like the Non-Aligned Movement. In lieu of that, Mahathir will likely pursue equidistance through a more integrated ASEAN in partnership with other countries such as the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, India and the Central Asian states. This would be a revival of his East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC) concept.

A close-knit ASEAN, through the EAEC, would be able to give countries such as Malaysia more access to foreign markets without having to pay an onerous price for doing so. It would allow countries like India to trade and invest in Southeast Asia or other places while being able to show their home constituencies that they can make gains without paying for them with tough commitments.

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Strengthening ASEAN’s economic cohesion and including other powers through the EAEC would mean that neither the United States nor China could dominate Malaysia’s foreign policy. Malaysia would not have to choose between aligning with either power.

Mahathir’s discussion with Jack Ma after his India and Japan meetings shows the Prime Minister’s pragmatism — more than being caught up in great power politics, Mahathir wants to push ahead with attracting no-strings-attached investment, be it from China, India or any other part of the world.

Mahathir understands that trade and investment are Malaysia’s lifeblood. Improving Malaysia’s networks with the rest of the world’s markets must take top priority to foster better trade and investment connections.

Mahathir’s meetings with Modi and Abe will set in motion a couple of initiatives. Malaysia will return to its default position of maintaining equidistance between superpowers. Japan will not feel it is being edged out of Malaysia’s investment landscape.

Malaysia will stand for a free and unaligned ASEAN, with Mahathir leading a campaign for a new trade architecture that might be more palatable to Southeast Asian countries  and which will minimise the conflicting demands of China, the United States and India by embracing Japan.

Of course, the EAEC idea will have its share of detractors and non-adherents. Much as Mahathir has a tough job setting domestic affairs right now, he has the no less difficult task of realigning the country’s geo-economic policy.

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Shankaran Nambiar is a senior research fellow at the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research.

A version of this article originally appeared here in The Sun Daily.

‘Democracy has died’ in Cambodia. Really ?


July 28, 2018

‘Democracy has died’ in Cambodia. Really ?

Scared and on the run, members of the opposition mount campaign against legitimacy of strongman leader Hun Sen

Garment workers take pictures with Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen
Hun Sen’s victory in the Cambodian election is seen as a foregone conclusion. Photograph: Samrang Pring/Reuters

 

Over the past ten months, Ky Wandara’s life has, by his own account, been hell. As the former treasurer of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) for 20 years he had fought to bring the dictatorial three-decade rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen to an end.

But in October, just weeks after Hun Sen began a crackdown which saw the CNRP leader, Kem Sokha, arrested for treason and the eventual dissolution of the party altogether, Ky Wandara was forced to flee to Thailand, along with over 100 CNRP members.

He has no hope of returning home. The crackdown in Cambodia has intensified and in Sunday’s election, Hun Sen has no legitimate challengers. While over 20 parties will run in the election, they are either considered to be bogus (candidates include an ex-warlord and a woman who claims that spirits came to her in a dream and instructed her to run) or puppets for Hun Sen.

 

Even though the CNRP’s key figures have been exiled, the party’s leader, Sam Rainsy, who lives in Paris, and Deputy CNRP President Mu Sochua, who is in Berlin, have led calls for voters to boycott the election as the only way to undermine Hun Sen’s inevitable victory. Hun Sen retaliated, calling the boycott “illegal”.

Most CNRP exiles remain in Thailand, but such are the reaches of Hun Sen, they all still live in secret, many moving location every few days to ensure they are not found and handed back to Cambodia. According to Ky Wandara, CNRP exiles were warned by those still in Cambodia that the authorities had sent 400 agents over the border to track them down and monitor their movements in Thailand.

‘We are alone’

“It is scary and lonely,” Ky Wandara says. Having managed to get political asylum in New Zealand in January, he is one of the only exiles who has felt free to describe his ordeal without fear of compromising his safety. There are still over 100 living under the radar in Thailand.

“You have to move around to new accommodation every week for security, and we are alone because if we stay together you can be traced more easily,” he said. “Everyone is scared that the Thai authorities or Hun Sen’s spies will find them and force them back to Cambodia.”

Ky Wandara knew he would have to flee the country the moment he saw his name on the government list of 118 figures banned from politics last September.

“My wife told me recently that her car window was smashed and my driver just told me that the police had been following him because they thought I might still be in Cambodia. And for my colleagues in Battambang, whenever they go out from their homes, the police follow them.”

For those who did escape, much of their fear is rooted in a rumoured deal between the Cambodian and Thai authorities in which the two countries are thought to have agreed to send back wanted dissidents. Last year Hun Sen called on Thai authorities to “chase” CNRP exiles living in Bangkok and several of the dissidents have since been visited by the Thai police.

Their worst fears were confirmed in February when the Thai authorities sent back Sam Sokha, a Cambodian woman who ran away to Thailand after being caught on film throwing her shoe at an image of Hun Sen, despite her being recognised as a political refugee by the United Nations.

A dangerous campaign

The plight of the exiles in Thailand is just one element of a climate of fear that has gripped Cambodia in the build up to the election on Friday. With no legitimate opposition, Hun Sen’s victory is seen as a foregone conclusion. Even the election monitors have close ties to the prime minister – one is being run by his son.

“This election is a sham, a disaster,” Mu Sochua, the CNRP deputy president who also lives in exile, told the Guardian. “There is no way for voters to express themselves in this election – there is widespread intimidation and threats – and there is nothing legitimate about this election at all. We will continue to call on voters to boycott the election.”

The Cambodian election body recently declared calls for boycott a “crime”, while the Chief of Police has said the “clean fingers campaign” – a reference to the absence of indelible ink voters use to mark their skin after casting a ballot – is “equivalent to preventing people from voting” and therefore “illegal”. Interior minister Sar Kheng said voters who took part in the boycott could face fines of up to $5000.

The Guardian spoke to numerous voters and former CNRP members who have faced intimidation and threats of imprisonment by authorities for voicing support of a boycott. A garment worker at a factory on Veng Sreng Boulevard, where post-election workers protests were violently suppressed by Cambodia’s paramilitary forces in 2014, shared a rumour she heard on the factory floor. “I heard if I do not go to vote, the factory will fire us,” she said, asking to remain anonymous.

Villagers in the former opposition stronghold of Kampong Cham have been greeted by CPP authorities going door-to-door in recent weeks, and are being told that if they don’t vote for the CPP their lives will be made difficult. One villager, who was overheard saying he would rather sleep than vote on 29 July, was threatened with prison if he repeated the sentiment.

Chak Sopheap, from the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said voter turnout had become an “extremely sensitive” topic for the ruling party.

“This election has become more of a referendum on the government’s legitimacy,” she said. “The pressure to vote is fierce.”

“Those calling for a boycott have repeatedly been labelled as traitors and revolutionaries by senior government officials. In rural areas, people with ‘clean fingers’ can be easily identified by local authorities and party activists from the ruling party, and many are fearful of the consequences.”

Despite those consequences, Than Sorith, a member of the CNRP working group in Kampong Cham, was still determined to abstain from voting on Sunday.

“I will not go to vote, I will boycott,” he said. “We have to do something, not just stay quiet. We must be brave.”

Jomo on China-Malaysia Ties


July 26, 2018

Jomo on China-Malaysia Ties

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

by Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram

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Malaysia’s Award Winning Economist and Author–Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Various media reports and even remarks by some close to the new government of Malaysia imply that it will be antagonistic to improving economic relations with China. This grossly misrepresents the popular Malaysian rejection of the corrupt kleptocracy that ruled the country in the last decade.

Rather than rely on an opportunistically compliant leader ever ready to serve those who pay him most, China is surely better off dealing with a Malaysian leader who desires peace, freedom and neutrality based on mutual respect and benefit, and truly commands the respect of the governments and peoples of the region.–Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram

To be sure, all Malaysian governments since independence in 1957 have invited foreign direct investment. For decades, some of us have been concerned with the Malaysian government’s seemingly uncritical view of foreign investments.

 

However, to be fair, both Prime Ministers Tun  Abdul Razak Hussein and Dr Mahathir Mohamad were, in fact, quite circumspect.

How else can we explain the takeovers of mainly British-owned investments in Malaysian trading agencies, plantations and mines of the 1970s? Or for that matter, the technology transfer, employment generation and domestic procurement requirements imposed in the following decade?

Caricaturing the recent Malaysian political debate over some investments associated with China risks misleading all concerned. This may have unpredictable, and even adverse consequences for future bilateral economic relations.

Since early 2017, some of us have been portrayed in some quarters as critics of all foreign investments from China.

ECRL

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In particular, I had (have) questioned the economic viability of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project as Malaysia would eventually have to pay well over three times the original cost estimates. Even at the much lower costs, the project would never ever pay for itself.

After discounting the original cargo and passenger projections to more realistic levels, the project would have implied permanent haemorrhage of operating costs, even after writing off the gargantuan development costs of RM81 billion plus interest.

As had become the norm with such projects in recent years, the contract was awarded following “direct nego” by the previous Malaysian government to a Chinese company without any competition and little transparency, but generous special privileges, including massive tax exemptions.

To be sure, ECRL would not have involved foreign investment from China, but rather, huge loans from China’s Export-Import Bank, ostensibly for 85% of projected costs. It was expedited to start early this year before the general election.

A few months later, with little work done, almost RM20 billion, or half the total loan, had already been disbursed in dubious circumstances.

The sagas of the two SSER gas pipelines are similar, with the loans almost all disbursed despite little actual progress on the ground. The huge safety risks for the multi-product pipeline and the likely ecological damage in Sabah only exacerbate the familiar tale of economic infeasibility.

Unsurprisingly, there has been considerable public opposition to such projects and associated debt liabilities, involving likely fraudulent hands already greatly resented by most Malaysians. Needless to say, the mammoth resulting debt burdens will be borne by future generations of Malaysians.

China’s Xi Jinping opposes fraud

On May 9, Malaysians resoundingly rejected such irresponsible foreign investments and dubious loans that will burden and ruin our economy, and their greedy enablers. However, public opposition to such abuses does not constitute blanket opposition to all investments from China.

Unfortunately, the undiscriminating tend to lump all investments from China together.

Recent full employment, assured by ballooning public sector employment, has obscured the lacklustre growth since the 1997-1998 Asian crisis, especially in the last decade following premature deindustrialization. The promise of services employment has mainly involved traditional, rather than modern services, despite misleading official hype to the contrary.

Image result for dr.mahathir and xi (2013)

Like the government of China, the new Malaysian government is much more discerning, and recognises that foreign direct investment and technology transfers from abroad will be crucial to future progress.

Undoubtedly, there are some dodgy foreign investments in Malaysia involving investors from China, as it is from elsewhere. But it is important to recognise that China’s authorities are embarrassed by such opportunistic, irresponsible, and even corrupt behaviour. Hence, they have already taken action to regulate outward capital flows.

Before that, a serving Chinese Ambassador famously criticised such investors from China, and publicly apologised for their bad conduct.

For over half a decade, Chinese President Xi Jinping has led an ongoing campaign against graft, promising to quash deep-seated corruption at all levels. China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has taken the fight abroad since 2015, and can be expected to cooperate, not least because of the reputational risks for China, especially after recent attempts to diplomatically isolate it by its strategic rivals.

Making cars

While many Malaysians are understandably wary of a “Perotiga”, we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We should consider Mahathir’s plea for a renewed commitment to more technologically advanced industrialisation despite earlier failed “heavy industrial” investments.

For example, Geely should be persuaded to work with Proton to make the country their major export hub for right-hand drive mid-size car production for the world. The collaboration may also build on prescient Mahathir-inspired efforts to develop an electric car in the 1990s, well before the now near universal appreciation of the urgent need to address global warming and air pollution due to fossil fuels.

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Electric Cars for Malaysia and ASEAN?

After all, electric cars will also dispense with the need for traditional engines, which was the last challenge in developing a Malaysian made car decades ago. Of course, the world has changed, and it would be crucial to reconsider what would be viable and internationally competitive going forward.

Malaysians appreciate investments which will contribute to the country’s progress, for example, in 5G telecommunications technologies, useful artificial intelligence applications, new financial technologies, renewable energy, new medicines and electric vehicles.

The new government clearly favours productive industrial investments, especially with Mahathir’s well-known commitment to accelerating Malaysian technological progress.

Zopfan

Of all ASEAN leaders, Tun Dr,Mahathir has been the most committed to the 1955 Bandung principles and the Asean commitment to make Southeast Asia a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (Zopfan), recently reiterated as keeping foreign warships out of the region. This must surely give comfort to China, which has long strived to break out of decades-long efforts to encircle it.

Image result for Dr.Mahathir and Xi (2013)

Rather than rely on an opportunistically compliant leader ever ready to serve those who pay him most, China is surely better off dealing with a Malaysian leader who desires peace, freedom and neutrality based on mutual respect and benefit, and truly commands the respect of the governments and peoples of the region.

Dr. Jomo KS is a member of the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.