An architectural beauty and brutality


August 20, 2016

An architectural beauty and brutality

by Julia Mayer

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Can architecture help heal the wounds of Cambodia’s genocide? Julia Mayer takes a look at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia’s new memorial to a dark past, the Sleuk Rith Institute in Phnom Penh. 

Passion and patience make strange bedfellows but are essential when best-laid plans temporarily go awry.

Youk Chhang, founder of the Sleuk Rith Institute and the Executive Director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) continues to work tirelessly on his ambitious proposal to reconcile his country’s brutal past with its rich ancient cultural heritage. He is trying to build a multi-purpose centre commemorating Cambodia’s genocide and is doing this in what can best be described as an uneasy present.

Facing numerous setbacks, Chhang, who is also a survivor of the infamous Khmer Rouge era of 1975-79 in which more than two million people perished, remains undeterred.

“We were planning to start building in February this year,” says Chhang. But efforts have ground to a halt. The delay is very complicated involving government bureaucracy, and we are working to resolve it now.”

Designed by the late multi award-winning London-based Iraqi architect, Zaha Hadid, back in 2014, the Sleuk Rith Institute’s design immediately conjures images of a distant future as well as Cambodia’s glorious past. Five towers reminiscent of Angkor Wat rise from the monsoonal mists of the famed and beautiful jungle to inspire yet another allegory — trees of knowledge and life.

“The repression of cultural knowledge during the French colonial era, followed by the Khmer Rouge regime’s ideology as a form of education meant that links to the rest of the world were severed.It was an ideology that almost destroyed us. Today we are still chained to the past, which is why for me, only education can set us free. We should not be enslaved by the past. We cannot escape it; we have to face it,” says Chhang.

The name Sleuk Rith is highly symbolic and refers to the power of leaves, explains Chhang, as he recounts a story of Cambodian intellectuals and activists secretly writing messages on dried leaves during the colonial era to preserve their knowledge and culture.

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The symbolism runs even deeper.

There are distinctive parallels between the ancient regional tradition of meticulously writing Hindu then later Buddhist texts on palm leaves, sastra, to the hundreds and thousands of leaves of paper filled with forced confessions delivered under unabated torture, to reams of survivor testimonies painstakingly recorded and collected by the DC-Cam team since it began its work in 1995.

Chhang is quick to mention that within the concept of the power of leaves exists another meaning — plain paper, or that critical moment before the page fills with ideas and feelings, and which allows for the possibility of new versions of the history of genocide.

“When I was growing up, there was no education, and very few had traveled outside of the country,” says Chhang.

“As a result of genocide, Cambodians are now all over the world, and I think, because of that, people have formed a new version of the history of genocide. Each person comes with a different idea, different ways of thinking and different views, so there’s no singular interpretation.”

The new building is meant to inspire reflection, reconciliation and the restoration of relationships broken by the Khmer Rouge’s near four-year reign of terror. However, unlike other memorials and in situ sites scattered throughout the country offering explicit and undeniably invaluable evidence of the atrocities orchestrated by the regime, the Sleuk Rith Institute aims to tell the same horror story a little differently.

“Many young people look at a skull, a shackle or a blood stain on a wall and feel that it is the older generation who are responsible for the mistakes made,” says Chhang.

“They see the past as remote and have problems seeing it as part of their identity. But if you come in with photography, with beauty, with dialogue, you bring them in, and they start to question.”

Reinterpreting the atrocities in any way as ‘beautiful’ immediately calls for a reevaluation of aesthetics, as does the message that is hoped to be shared and retold by others.

Sites like Tuol Sleng, the notorious prison and interrogation center codenamed S-21, and Choeung Ek ‘Killing Fields’ where the majority of prisoners were executed, all serve as important witnesses to the past.

However, it can be argued that they elicit intense feelings of pity, shame and disbelief, which can be counterproductive when trying to understand what happened and to possibly achieve reconciliation through empathy. And not everyone can visit such places.

“The best memorials evoke reflection and commemoration, but are also living, dynamic places that engage with all generations in the community,” says Chhang.

“A memorial should be enlightening, a place where both the younger and older generation can feel comfortable learning about the tragedies of the past to find new ways to heal, and to move forward.”

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The centre will not only commemorate the lives lost but also serve as a tribute to the survivors via a museum of memory. It will also be an archive of all documents about the period, a library and an international research center for genocide studies, placing the Cambodian experience in context with other atrocities still being perpetuated today despite global outcries.

While such outcries have sadly done little to lessen the frequency and the impact of genocide across the globe, the fact remains that there are survivors and with them comes the arduous and initially insurmountable task of rebuilding a stable cultural identity that helps to heal. These efforts require hope and relentless optimism.

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Architect Zaha Hadid

Architecturally, Zahara Hadid’s futuristic designs embody this kind of optimism, as well as the belief that the past defines the future. The future depends on it, and, so by challenging the more traditional pessimistic practices of memorialising traumatic histories, her designs reach into the future as if to show that this can be, if not already, achieved. In the case of the Sleuk Rith Institute, this can be seen in the shimmering waterways and the warmth of exposed wooden beams that evoke the image of verdant and fertile trees or the themes of the rebirth of knowledge.

By widening the conceptual space for healing, the Sleuk Rith Institute has a profoundly important role to play. It shows that heritage so unequivocally rooted in pain and shame can be transformative through an oddly unsettling yet familiar kind of beauty that has the potential to evoke much-needed empathy and compassion.Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Youk Chhang, founder of the Sleuk Rith Institute and the Executive Director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia

“Genocide is part our identity– it is our identity. It just takes a matter of time to accept it,” says Chhang.

Time is a great healer, and after a succession of delays we can only hope that Cambodia will see a building it so desperately deserves — one that will aid a more informed idea of the past well into the future.

Julia Mayer is a Masters of Museum and Heritage Studies student at the Australian National University. She has lived in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and South Korea, and has written extensively on traditional arts, performances and cinema in the region. She is also the Asia Correspondent for Metro Magazine Australia.

A building and brutality

Devolution and the Rise of Sarawak’s Adenan Setam


August 29, 2016

Devolution and the Rise of Sarawak’s Adenan Setam

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

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“…I see great potential for Sarawak under Adenan Satem. He may be the transforming leader Malaysia needs while remaining within the ruling coalition. Today that coalition is Barisan. Tomorrow who knows. If Adenan plays his card well, that would be good for him, Sarawak, and most of all, Malaysia.”–M. Bakri Musa

Do not anticipate nor expect any positive change in Malaysia coming from the center, at least not from the current corrupt incompetent UMNO leadership in Putrajaya. Instead expect it from the periphery, in particular from Sarawak’s Chief Minister Adenan Setam.

This rise of the periphery is a worldwide phenomenon. Witness the successes of the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Brexit referendum. Devolution there is a backlash against globalization; with Malaysia, a weak and distracted center.

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Adenan’s rise is facilitated both by his political prowess as well as Najib’s precarious position. Najib is inept in dealing with state leaders other than those from UMNO. With those from UMNO, Najib could bribe, intimidate or bully his way.

A measure of Najib’s lack of sensitivity to matters Sarawak is that not a single university has a Department of Iban Studies. Petronas, which gets the bulk of its oil from Sarawak, does not even have one Board Director or senior manager who is from the state. Now Adenan has imposed a moratorium on work permits for West Malaysians in Petronas. It is significant that he spared non-Malaysians.

Unlike his predecessor the crude, utterly corrupt, and greedy Taib Mahmud who exploited his leverage to enrich himself, Adenan uses his to extract greater autonomy for Sarawak. He acts as if he already has that, declaring English to be on par with Malay in schools and the state’s administration, in defiance of federal policies. The surprise is the silence of UMNO chauvinists and Malay language nationalists. That can only happen with specific directives from Najib.

Adenan has banned UMNO from Sarawak; there is no legal basis for that. Again, no challenge from Najib. If UMNO were to defy that, Adenan would quit the ruling coalition and Najib would fall. Note Adenan’s ease in castrating UMNO jantans. Not a peep of protest from them. They bear and grin, as instructed.

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Sarawak (and also Sabah) already enjoys considerable autonomy on immigration. West Malaysians need a passport to enter.

Adenan exploited that to maximal effect in the last state election, denying entry to opposition MPs from West Malaysia, a slap to Parliament’s prestige. Again, the surprise was the silence of the Speaker, an UMNO man, to this unprecedented affront to his institution.

Adenan could act with impunity as his party is critical to Barisan. Through that he controls Najib. To Najib, Sarawak is his “fixed deposit.” That euphemism cannot hide the political reality.

Without Adenan’s party, Najib and UMNO would topple. Right now it is to Adenan’s (and Sarawak’s) advantage to stay with the ruling coalition. Najib will do everything to ensure that; his political survival depends on it. Because of Najib’s vulnerability, Adenan is in a position to extract concessions from the beleagured UMNO Prime Minister.

Autonomy is meaningless without changes in federal tax laws, a formidable obstacle. The federal government has near-exclusive taxing authority. Only minor items like land taxes are under state control. The oil royalty-sharing formula heavily favors the central government. Even if Sarawak could re-negotiate that, it is no windfall, what with the declining oil price. Despite its massive rain forest with its valuable hardwood, Sarawak still cannot forgo massive federal transfer payments.

One way to circumvent the tax hurdle would be to execute a secular zakat maneuver. Zakat is a religious tax based on assets, not income, and is under state jurisdiction, albeit applicable only to Muslims and is voluntary. It could be made mandatory and extended to all, non-Muslims included. Both moves would enthrall the Islamists.

Zakat contributions are federal tax credits, not deductions. That provides a neat way to circumvent federal income tax.It is well known that Sarawakians have minimal fondness for the federal government. They could be persuaded to pay zakat (and its secular equivalent for non-Muslims) instead of income tax as the benefits would accrue to them, as the money stays in Sarawak. Sarawakians would not be paying both, rather diverting income tax to zakat.

Adenan has adopted an excellent negotiating strategy with Najib by creating momentum with the easily-agreed upon and costless items like increasing the number of Sarawakians in Petronas and having one on its Board of Directors.

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Kulup Rani cannot help. Try stealing from us, Mr Malaysian Official 1 (MO1)

With Najib’s current weakness, Sarawak could drive a hard bargain for greater autonomy, including independent taxing power, to the point of being a virtual sovereign state. Once that happens, Sabah would be next in line to demand similar status. Sabah UMNO leaders would not dare defy the demands of their members no matter how much Najib bribes those leaders. From there, others.

Johor Sultan already stirs noises for Bangsa Johor and threatens secession. Kelantan wants its hudud. Najib supporting that ill-advised initiative could come back to haunt him.

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Once the unraveling begins, it is unstoppable. The prospect of a chief minister being on par with the Prime Minister (as it was the case when Singapore was in Malaysia) is a giddy one to ambitious state politicians. Remember, the federation is of recent vintage. The old Malaya was set up only in 1948; Malaysia, even more recent.

Consider the impact of autonomy on national policies like education and special privileges. Even with the current restrictions, note the ease with which the opposition DAP terminated special privileges for Malay contractors in Penang. Selangor under Pakatan’s Khalid Ibrahim annihilated a whole class of UMNO rent seekers, and saw his predecessor, that javanese dentist character, jailed for corruption.

Even if Najib were to balk at Adenan’s demands, what’s to stop Adenan from asking his party members in Parliament to submit a private member’s bill, a la PAS Hadi’s hudud, seeking greater autonomy and taxing authority for Sarawak? If Adenan were to do that, then watch both Najib and the opposition compete to accommodate Adenan in an epic lu tolong gua, gua tolong lu battle. He would be holding Parliament–and Malaysia–to ransom.

I support the principle that a government closest to the people governs best. There are pitfalls, however.

Sarawak shares a long unguarded border with Indonesia. Most of Borneo is Indonesia; Sarawak being part of Malaysia is an anomaly. It would not take much for the Indonesians to overwhelm Sarawak. If not for the British, they would have during konfrontasi. Besides, Jokowi is everything that Najib is not: an honest, respected, effective, dedicated, down to earth, and charismatic leader of his people.

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Musa Aman–The Sabah Fox

As for Sabah, Filipino pirates can enter it with impunity, and Philippines is resurrecting her claim. Another complicating mix, traditional kinship ties between Sabah and Southern Philippines.

Adenan envies tiny independent Brunei. The lesson there is not the Brunei of today but earlier. In 1962 one A. M. Azahari toppled the Sultan. If not for the British Gurkhas, the Sultan would have remained a refugee in Singapore. The son of Azahari may yet arise. This time there will be no Gurkhas.

As for Johor, it wasn’t too long ago that its Sultan treated the state as his private property and gave away a strategic and valuable part of it (Singapore). It would be the supreme irony if his descendant were to repeat the folly.

Those aside, I see great potential for Sarawak under Adenan Satem. He may be the transforming leader Malaysia needs while remaining within the ruling coalition. Today that coalition is Barisan. Tomorrow who knows. If Adenan plays his card well, that would be good for him, Sarawak, and most of all, Malaysia.

Philippines: Rodrigo Duterte’s Campaign of Terror


August 28, 2016

Rodrigo Duterte’s Campaign of Terror

by

Rodrigo Duterte, the new President of the Philippines, is a liberal’s worst nightmare. In his campaign, Duterte, a former mayor and prosecutor, promised to cleanse the country of drug users and dealers by extrajudicial means. Since his inauguration, on June 30, he has been following through with a vengeance. In that time, more than eighteen hundred people have been killed—drug dealers, drug users, and in several cases people who happened to be nearby. The youngest was five years old.

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“My mouth has no due process,’’ Duterte said in a nationally televised speech on August 7th, in which he named judges, mayors, police, and military officials whom he claimed were involved in the drug trade. The Philippines has the highest abuse rate in East Asia for methamphetamines, known locally as shabu. Duterte has warned drug peddlers to surrender themselves or face summary execution. “My order is shoot to kill you,” he said on August 6th. “I don’t care about human rights, you’d better believe me.”

Who wouldn’t believe him? During hearings before the Philippine senate on Monday, the national police chief, Donald Dela Rosa, said that, since Duterte’s inauguration, seven hundred and twelve people allegedly involved with drugs have been killed by police, and another thousand and sixty-seven by presumed vigilantes. Some six hundred thousand, the police chief said, had turned themselves in.

The particulars are harrowing. At hearings, relatives of the victims, wearing sunglasses and scarves to disguise their identities, testified about low-level drug users being dragged out of their homes and shot at close range. The two-year-old daughter of one suspected user was stripped and subjected to an anal exam to see if she was being used to conceal drugs.

Who wouldn’t believe him? During hearings before the Philippine senate on Monday, the national police chief, Donald Dela Rosa, said that, since Duterte’s inauguration, seven hundred and twelve people allegedly involved with drugs have been killed by police, and another thousand and sixty-seven by presumed vigilantes. Some six hundred thousand, the Police Chief said, had turned themselves in.

The particulars are harrowing. At hearings, relatives of the victims, wearing sunglasses and scarves to disguise their identities, testified about low-level drug users being dragged out of their homes and shot at close range. The two-year-old daughter of one suspected user was stripped and subjected to an anal exam to see if she was being used to conceal drugs.

Since Monday, the casualties have mounted. On Tuesday, a five-year-old named Danica Garcia was killed while eating lunch when gunmen fired into her family’s house. They were targeting her grandfather. On Wednesday, Rogelio Bato, a lawyer representing a suspected drug trafficker, was shot in his car, along with a teen-age girl who was in the passenger seat.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer has been publishing regular updates on what it calls “the kill list”:

July 31, 2016. 1:10 a.m. | Unidentified drug suspect #118 | Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila | Found dead, with his hands and legs were tied using a nylon cord, a plastic strap and packaging tape and his face wrapped with a towel and duct tape; on his body was a sign saying, “Holdaper ako, Pusher pa.”

July 6, 2016. Alma Santos, on the municipal list of suspected drug pushers | Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija | Found dead in a canal, blinded and hogtied.

July 5, 2016. Mirasol Lavapie-Ramos, wife of man in police custody for a drug charge | Talavera town, Nueva Ecija | Killed by an unknown hitman who chased her.

Many of the killings appear to have been carried out by hit squads. Similar teams were blamed for killings of suspected criminals in Davao, the southern city where Duterte was mayor for twenty-two years. Back in 2009, Human Rights Watch investigated how the death squads operated. According to its report, “The assailants usually arrive in twos or threes on a motorcycle without a license plate. They wear baseball caps and buttoned shirts or jackets, apparently to conceal their weapons underneath.’’

It is almost impossible to write about Duterte without making comparisons to a certain American Presidential candidate. Duterte, a trash-talking septuagenarian, cheerfully disparages women, international institutions, and even Pope Francis. He has a cavalier attitude toward due process, human rights, and the use of physical violence to achieve political ends. He is an unapologetic womanizer. During one campaign rally, he mimicked a stroke victim. When he is questioned about a grossly inappropriate statement, he sometimes claims he was “just joking.”

Duterte does not take criticism lightly. “I will have to destroy her in public,’’ he said of Leila de Lima, a senator and the former secretary of justice, who in the hearings this week accused him of disregard for human life. He has accused her of having an extramarital affair with her driver, whom he said was linked to drugs. After the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement, on August 18th, saying that Duterte’s war on drugs amounted to “incitement to violence and killing, a crime under international law,’’ he threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the U.N. and start a new global organization with China. “Maybe we’ll just have to decide to separate from the United Nations. If you’re that rude, son of a bitch, we’ll just leave you,” he said. A week earlier, he refused to apologize for calling the U.S. Ambassador to Manila “gay” and “the son of a whore.’’

There are obvious parallels, too, between Duterte’s campaign earlier this year and the current U.S. Presidential race. On the stump, Duterte played to fear, claiming that drugs and crime were turning the country into a “narco state.’’ He belittled his strongest opponent, Mar Roxas, a former investment banker, educated at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, as part of an effete, corrupt establishment. Roxas was the designated successor of the popular outgoing President, Benigno Aquino III, who could boast of five years of strong economic growth that had helped the Philippines to shed its reputation as the “sick man of Asia.”

But Duterte was always a more serious candidate than Trump. “We do ourselves a disservice if we take his rhetorical excesses that are very similar to Trump and then underestimate him as being a buffoon,’’ John Gershman, a professor at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Administration and a founder of the New York Southeast Asia Network, told me. “This is a man who has extensive political experience. He was a former prosecutor, which gives him some credibility. He was reëlected multiple times in Davao and was respected by both the business community and the left.’’

During the campaign, Duterte was popular with educated voters, the middle class, and the many Philippine citizens working overseas. He also had the support of Muslims, who make up about five per cent of the population. Cristina Palabay, the secretary general of Karapatan, a human-rights organization in the Philippines, said that the middle classes felt that a corrupt justice system and police force had failed to combat the drug trade. “Democratic values and rule of law are all but words in this country,’’ she told me.

In the final days of the campaign, Aquino became more alarmed about Duterte, telling voters that “we should remember how Hitler came to power.’’ But Duterte’s fear tactics worked. He drew thirty-nine per cent of the vote, to Roxas’s twenty-three per cent, and popular support for him remains robust. In a poll released on July 20th by Pulse Asia Research, ninety-one per cent of Filipinos said that they trusted Duterte, while the more authoritative Social Weather Stations found that sixty-three per cent expected him to fulfill his campaign promises. “There seems to be a level of acceptance on how Duterte’s war on drugs is being conducted,’’ Palabay said.

Duterte’s election and his pitiless war against drugs are terrifying at a time when political scientists warn that democracy is in retreat. “Democracy itself seems to have lost its appeal,’’ Larry Diamond, a political sociologist at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, writes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. “Many emerging democracies have failed to meet their citizens’ hopes for freedom, security, and economic growth, just as the world’s established democracies, including the United States, have grown increasingly dysfunctional.” He cites Kenya, Russia, Thailand, and Turkey. In its annual survey, “Freedom in the World,” the U.S. advocacy group Freedom House reported that the number of countries that it considers democracies has been declining since 2005, and that civil liberties and political rights have contracted in seventy-two countries, and improved in only forty-three.

The report went to press before Duterte’s election, but next year it is likely that the Philippines will appear as Exhibit A.

BREXIT– A Reminder to ASEAN


August 28, 2016

BREXIT– A Reminder to ASEAN

by Dr. Munir Majid

http://www.thestar.com.my

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WHILE the close British decision to get out of the European Union (EU) – BREXIT – was made in a referendum over two months ago, there is still the feeling in the country: “What have we done?”

Where do we go? How do we get there? Questions that should have been asked at the referendum, rather than after it. But there you are. When raw emotions and shallow arguments reign, profound decisions are made without proper reflection or preparation.

Since then the question has also been raised in our neck of the woods, whether or not such a thing could occur in ASEAN. It won’t, but then again it may.

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Good Luck to Cameron’s Successor

First of all, let’s be clear. It is not likely there will ever be such a surplus of democracy in ASEAN, whether among individual member states or as a group, that there could be an “In or Out” referendum, such as on the EU, that has resulted in BREXIT.

Such democracy as there is in ASEAN is a pale reflection of the European model. Perhaps five ASEAN states, at a pinch, could be called democracies. They are, at most, mixed democracies, with varying control-freak tendencies. In one of them, there is new leadership, with Trump-like populism, perhaps a precursor of what a President Donald Trump would be like in America – a loose cannon.

Perhaps in that member state – the Philippines – there could be a Phixit referendum in a state of pique although, as shown in the handling of the July 12 arbitral tribunal award on the South China Sea dispute against China, there can be underlying realism after hyperbolic madness, like riding a water scooter into the Chinese navy.

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Then again, President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent threat to leave the United Nations after heavy criticism of extrajudicial killings in the drug war, points to some uncertainty over what the Philippines under Duterte might do.

One ASEAN state is an absolute monarchy (founded on Sharia Law–DM). Two are communist states and another a dictatorial democracy, if that is not a contradiction in terms. Making an imperfect ten is a state – through a referendum no less – which is set to become a militarily managed democracy, as the referendum indeed was.

The upshot is that there will not be in ASEAN a “In or Out” referendum of the British kind – free, open and all too easy.

With none of the regimes in ASEAN is there likely be such a reckless gamble as to leave an existential decision with the people. Not that there is everywhere in ASEAN always a high degree of leadership responsibility.

It is just that the people are not invited to make too many decisions once Governments are in power. So, from very different starting points, ASEAN will not be so people-centric as to give its citizens such a choice.

Britain – specifically David Cameron – screwed up. There was a rather careless Oxford Union debate approach by him in the referendum campaign. This was quite irresponsible when BREXIT is a highly complicated matter. Even Brexiteers – like Boris Johnson (now Foreign Secretary) – looked numb on the morning after the night before, like theirs was a Pyrrhic victory.

Some experts are now saying divorcing the EU may take 10 years. Britain will have to negotiate at least six major deals to re-establish its place in the world after BREXIT. For instance, among the six deals, Britain has to regain full membership of the WTO, not necessarily a straightforward thing, where the EU is the representative body.

While ASEAN  is no way as close and intricate as the EU’s and, in the instance of the WTO, ASEAN countries are individual members of the trade organisation, the important point is the need to think through any decision to break away from any association or organisation.

It is not a simple in or out matter to be decided on the basis of emotions alone. There are a lot of knotty issues, especially relating to the economy, trade and free trade agreements (FTAs). There can be unintended consequences.

With respect to ASEAN, it will not be lost on member states that there is no need to make any grand gesture of walking out, or threatening to do so, especially as commitment to ASEAN’s so-called rules-based regime is not so onerous anyway. So why rock the boat when there is promise of great potential benefit and any present problems can be treated in a let sleeping dogs lie fashion?

We have noted also the wide divergence in the political models in the EU and ASEAN. Indeed ASEAN may think its democratic deficit is a blessing in disguise.

Such parsimony however should not be represented as wisdom among ASEAN leaders. Cynicism and realism are two different things that might yet come out of the ASEAN bag. If leadership and wisdom are required, for instance, to hold the association together against present and future challenges, ASEAN leaders could equally blunder.

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The most critical test of ASEAN unity today is over what position to take on Beijing’s South China Sea claims and assertive behaviour. Again and again ASEAN – including its four South China Sea claimant states – fails to take a collective stand as China, through land reclamation and militarisation, as well as naval support of its fishing fleets, achieves de facto control over almost all of the disputed atolls and waters.

The arbitral tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ruling on July 12, that there is no basis in international law for most of China’s assertions and actions, has only accentuated the division rather than help form a common front. The cracks have become clearer.

Yet China is able to entice ASEAN Member States with possibilities, over which it would be up to ASEAN to keep united or not. On August 17, China Daily reported there is agreement to negotiate the code of conduct in the South China Sea by mid-2017. There is also a deal in the making on a code of unplanned encounters at sea (CUES).

All this to go to the ASEAN-China summit just two weeks away. All very good news indeed.

On the other hand, Singapore – the ASEAN coordinator of relations with China until 2018 when the island republic takes the chair of ASEAN – has been receiving some stick on Chinese social media, with Global Times castigating it as the “little red dot.”

Like with all ASEAN countries, but more so with Singapore, the tricky test is how to navigate the Sino-US rivalry in South-East Asia. China can blow hot and cold, and keep ASEAN states responding every which way.

At the heart of this lack of unity is not just that not all ASEAN members are claimant states in the South Chine Sea, but rather more so their economic dependence on China. All ASEAN states have significant interest in the economic relationship with the rising giant that has grown tremendously in the last couple of decades which, to a greater or lesser extent, they do not wish to disturb. Indeed which they wish, with many Chinese blandishments, to see grow.

A couple of ASEAN member states depend on China for their economic life. They will never cross Beijing. There is a soft middle who are careful not to antagonise China even if they feel they are being dragged to the limit. Only one among them appears to have drawn a line in the sand and is clear on the equal sovereign rights of all states big or small. And then there is a sharp and hard outer edge comprising two Asean members although the hardest, now with new leadership, is softening its stand.

ASEAN, in other words, is totally disunited over the South China Sea and China’s absolute claim to it. It needs to show unity to negotiate effectively with China but different economic and national interests are pulling it apart.

On a more general plane, while the EU has been wedded to principles – like the free movement of people – ASEAN has always been flexible and diverse about these things.

With immigration and the deluge of refugees caused by principled commitment being identified as the prime reason leading to Brexit,

ASEAN may feel it has bragging rights with its flexible and realistic approach to integration and human rights issues. But there is no cause for celebration in ASEAN. Certainly, in respect of not taking a principled stand on China’s assertive sovereign – and suzerain – claims in the South China Sea, the future could come to haunt ASEAN in some unintended ways.

Even if the calculation is that China’s regional dominance is inevitable, the nature of ASEAN state relationship with Beijing is still something that can be fashioned short of total subservience. Full capitulation now will guarantee a future as vassal states.

There is value in principles. There are options that can be exercised. In the very first year of the so-called ASEAN community, the path to greater integration, including in the Asianholic economic field, could get even slower as divergence on the South China Sea issue sours political relationships among member states.

There are also dangers of total dependence on economic expansion without sufficient attention being given to the social issues of growth.

Social services, equitable distribution of income and wealth are critical if ASEAN countries are not to be confronted by the ferment and discord of economic denial – which could then so easily be attributed to ASEAN integration rather than to bad and unjust national governance.

More than immigration, which was the symptom, the underlying cause of the Brexit vote was the anger of the social underclass denied economic justice, who attributed their condition to foreigners. Narrow and nationalistic jingoism is something politically easy to whip up when there is such anger. It is not something ASEAN should not anticipate.

So beneath the tranquillity of the ASEAN way, the smiles and linking of arms are many issues that cannot always be kept there. They should be addressed. They could cause discord, disunity and tumult. If not exactly the break-up of Asean, they could make Asean meaningless and lead to the regional organisation not being taken seriously.

Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

 

ASEAN not so divided on the South China Sea


August 24, 2016

ASEAN not so divided on the South China Sea

by  Noor, ISIS Malaysia

Clouded by controversy even before it began, the recently concluded 49th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) in Vientiane, Laos was conspicuous for two things: who was and was not present; and, perhaps more importantly, what was and was not discussed.

 

While Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman — who had been expected at the AMM until as late as 24 July — was ultimately absent, both Aung San Suu Kyi and Perfecto Yasay, Jr participated in their first AMM as Myanmar’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Philippines’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs, respectively. Both attended amid uncertain expectations surrounding not only their official positions, but also how they would navigate discussions on the South China Sea dispute, just two weeks after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled heavily in favour of the Philippines.

Image result for Myanmar's Foreign Minister, Aung San Suu Kyi

As it turned out, both Suu Kyi and Yasay proved able debutants, balancing national and regional interests with the typically understated nuance of seasoned ASEAN diplomats. Suu Kyi and Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, met on the sidelines of the AMM to affirm both countries’ desire to cooperate while shelving talk of contentious bilateral and regional issues. There was no discussion of the South China Sea dispute, as Myanmar is not a party to it. Yet, among ASEAN counterparts, Suu Kyi reportedly stressed a defence of ASEAN credibility and international law in line with, but also going slightly further than, her government’s take on the PCA award.

Image result for Perfecto Yasay, Jr

Although Yasay (pic above) faced domestic criticism — including from his predecessor, Albert Del Rosario, who felt that Yasay should have pushed harder for explicit mention of the PCA ruling in the AMM joint communique — the Philippines still got effectively what it wanted. Claimants recommitted to the peaceful processes of dispute resolution, in accordance with universally agreed principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). All this was achieved without naming or shaming any one country and without deviating from the language of previous ASEAN statements.

The PCA ruling of course provided an opportunity for ASEAN claimants — through the Philippines — to push back with a brand new stamp of legal authority against China. So when the AMM eventually decided to remain silent on the ruling, it signalled to critics yet another example of an increasingly divided ASEAN soon after the debacle of the Special ASEAN–China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Kunming in June. After all, there had been earlier reports of obstruction to any reference of the ruling even prior to the AMM. This legitimately gave rise to concerns that the long shadow of the stalemate during Cambodia’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2012 would similarly eclipse Laos.

In reality, ASEAN unity on the South China Sea, which was at risk of fraying even further, may have just been salvaged, albeit in characteristically banal ASEAN fashion. Twenty pages into the AMM joint communique, the ministers referred, without a hint of irony, to the affirmation of international law including the United Nations Charter, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), and ‘other relevant international laws, treaties and conventions’ pledged during the Kunming meeting.

The ministers then devoted eight paragraphs just to the South China Sea — the longest section in its consideration of regional and international issues. The meeting noted the concerns of only ‘some Ministers’ regarding land reclamation and escalation of activities. But otherwise, in all other matters, all the ministers agreed on the procedures that needed to be taken to restore trust and confidence towards the peaceful resolution of the dispute ‘in accordance with international law’, including UNCLOS.

The 49th AMM joint communique goes further than the 48th one, mentioning non-militarisation and self-restraint (twice), as well as to emphasise the need for ‘substantive’ progress (twice) in the context of implementation of the DOC and negotiations for the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct (COC).

As if to distance and distinguish itself from the Cambodian chairmanship of ASEAN just a few years prior, the Lao chair went on to discuss the South China Sea in all but one of its chairman’s statements: on the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference (PMC) 10+1 Sessions with the Dialogue Partners, the sixth East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, and the 23rd ASEAN Regional Forum.

Image result for South China Sea

The Joint Statement of the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN Member States and China on the Full and Effective Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea could have been stronger in explicitly listing international law processes as a form of peaceful dispute resolution. But that version would probably not have been released.

The endless chimes of unity and centrality that ASEAN tries to peal to itself often screech hollow. But in this instance and with regard to the difficult issue of the South China Sea, there was indeed a return to harmony among all 10 ASEAN member-states. The refrain was not of the PCA ruling, as some had hoped. But the deft leadership of the Lao chair ensured that there was a distinct undertone of agreement on the way forward for the dispute.

Elina Noor is Director of Foreign Policy and Security Studies at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Malaysia.

 

Is the Malaysia project a non-starter?


August 23, 2016

Is the Malaysia project a non-starter?

by Dr. KJ John

http://www.malaysiakini.com

In the Seven (7) Habits series, Stephen Covey’s central thesis is that we must grow or develop habits for growth and development in meaningful and significant ways. He argues that all human or organic systems must first grow from total dependence (and appreciate all its full meanings) to independence or human freedoms, and then, finally and fully appreciate interdependence with others of like-heart and mind. This is also the Hearts and Mind agenda of our NGO.

Full understanding and appreciation of real and true meaning of interdependence must belong to every one of the stakeholders and partners in a shared and common enterprise. It must become a shared vision for posterity; and never to be compromised.

Whether it is the UN or the EU, or even federated states like the US or Malaysia, or our simple OHMSI Sdn Bhd; interdependence properly understood and stewarded defines real and true meanings of the so-called freedom we ‘pretend to enjoy’, it then becomes real ‘merdeka’.

Covey’s 7-Habits

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Habit 6: Synergise
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw”

– Stephen R Covey, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’

Malaysia-Land of Beauty

I will try to evaluate our Malaysia project, not simply from a historical perspective, but more importantly from a worldview perspective and see what Covey might be saying to us. Such a perspective puts a very high premium on human values for growth within the ethics and culture of lived life; in seeking to move organic systems from the full dependence towards voluntary and volitional inter-dependence.

The Malaysia project

Malaysia came into existence on September 16, 2016. But, that fact is not clearly taught in history. Not many of us today can change that false reality interpreted today. Before that date we had four independent states called Federation of Malaya, Singapore, and the North Borneo States of Sarawak and Sabah; each with their own unique story about the movement from dependence towards independence and now interdependence.

Rightly or wrongly, for reasons of their own, in August 1965 Singapore chose to leave Malaysia by mutual agreement and consent between the leaderships of Malaysia and the island state. I am not sure if and whether Sarawak and Sabah or the United Kingdom had any direct say in this matter.

Therefore, after a short marriage of two years, Singapore exercised their ‘move from total dependence from the United Kingdom towards independence from the new Malaysia’. They wanted to learn and grow the experience and freedom with true independence.

Sarawak and Sabah may have had views about such a move by Singapore, but I do not know those facts, but they too surely want to experience movement from full dependence towards true independence. And their growth experiences will be surely very different.

Sarawak and Sabah’s self-governance experience

Have the Sarawak and Sabah governments and their political leadership learned true independence and interdependence from their many years as a one-third partner of Malaysia; even as the Malaysia Agreement gave them some clear and separate jurisdictions?

Many of these legal rights and privileges were captured within the revised Federal Constitution of Malaysia and including recognition of their 18 and 20 point submissions. Was there ever consensus on those two documents by the political leadership of Malaysia?

But why therefore, after more than 50 years within Malaysia, do they now put their foot down about Petronas’ governance and staff recruitment strength and raise issues about employment permits? As a public policy person, I am simply wondering loudly.

What have they really learnt about independence, or interdependence, or is it still merely dependence, if anything at all? Or, do these jurisdictional governance regimes feel like, we the Malayans, have thoroughly abused them altogether?

Learning from Covey

In my Pet Theory R, relationships are an important and elemental R. Therefore, building and growing our knowledge about ‘nurturing and growing mature relationships’ using the Covey’s three-step process and applying them to his seven habits for Sarawak and Sabah relationships with Malayans may be instructional:

  • Malaya was proactive in nurturing a relationship with Sarawak and Sabah; Brunei however did not respond in the same way. Why? We still grew Malaysia. Did we ask Indonesia at all?
  • Our end in mind was always National Unity and regional stability; and more recently, we have added words like integration and integrity. I call that agenda: integration with integrity.
  • What is our First Things First? Is it Malaysia, ‘Melayusia’, or ketuanan bumiputra for now or centre versus periphery in governance of lived life and stewardship of resources; including all human beings especially citizens?
  • Do we think win-win every time we have bilateral issues in our relationships concerns? Or, can we really begin to think win-win-win to endure stewardship as the third win for the sake of all human beings?
  • Do we seek to understand before we seek to be understood? I did not understand Sarawakians until I met the Kelabits earlier and now, after I spent 10 days in Baram Valley. Maximus Ongkili, Beth Baikan and Bernard Dompok taught me to learn to understand Kadazans.
  • Have we really learnt to synergise? Why then is the Malaysian Public Service still more than 80 percent made up of peninsular Malays (non-Malays are less than 10 percent I believe)? This issue is reflective of the Petronas case story. Synergy would allow for creating new values; not simply depreciating existing values.
  • Finally, from my experience on the ground, and meeting so many smart and equally ambitious Orang Ulu Sarawak and Kadazans; these questions are my Covey test for all of Malayans to sharpen our saw or ‘tools of execution and evaluation’ so that we can see and learn the real meaning of Malaysian interdependence and not allow it to become a foolhardy project.

KJ JOHN, PhD, was in public service for 32 years having served as a researcher, trainer, and policy adviser to the International Trade and Industry Ministry and the National IT Council (NITC) of the government of Malaysia. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at kjjohn@ohmsi.net with any feedback or views.

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