Malaysia’s Mahathir sidelines Coalition Partners


February 21,2019

Malaysia’s Mahathir sidelines  Coalition Partners

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There is growing uneasiness in Malaysia that the ethnic chauvinism of the United Malays National Organization under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during his first 22 years in power is rising to overpower the platform of multiracialism and ending political corruption that defeated the country’s founding coalition last May 9.

Thus fears are growing that letting Mahathir lead the Pakatan Harapan coalition means the founding parties – Anwar’s PKR, the DAP and Amanah – are likely to soon find the entire camel in the tent with them despite their Reformasi platform.

Mahathir has come to dominate the coalition with ideas that drove the Barisan Nasional, the ruling national coalition, and UMNO, its main component, during his reign from 1981 to 2003. He has pushed through yet another national car plan even though his previous one, the ill-fated Proton, lost billions of dollars. He is squabbling with Singapore and backing the concept of Ketuanan Melayu over the objections of coalition partners, the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s own Parti Keadilan Rakyat, who favor a multi-ethnic government.

He has accepted eight former members of parliament who have crossed from the corruption-ridden and imploding UMNO into his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, with more possibly to come from the  East Malaysia state of Sabah.

“There’s a lot of resentment over the acceptance of these eight UMNO bozos and they are possibly going to accept several more in coming weeks,” said an annoyed Kuala Lumpur-based political analyst. “The coalition partners have expressed unhappiness, the same way the minor parties expressed unhappiness during the Barisan days – muted and sheepishly. None have the balls to vigorously stand up on principle against Mahathir.”

Mahathir, by far the country’s most popular political figure at age 93, is having none of it. He said earlier this week that he wouldn’t hesitate to abandon his coalition partners “if they are not loyal to the country.”

When the country’s 14th general election was held last year, Mahathir’s Parti Bersatu emerged with just 13 seats, compared with 47 for Anwar’s PKR and 42 for the DAP, with a handful of lesser parties making up the rest. With the defections from UMNO, Mahathir’s party has nearly doubled its seats in parliament to 22.

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Last October, Kadir Jasin, a former newspaper editor and longtime Mahathir ally, said as many as 40 former UMNO members might cross over to Parti Bersatu. That set alarm bells ringing, with the other coalition members, particularly Lim Kit Siang of the Democratic Action Party, raising a furor and putting a temporary stop to it. If indeed Parti Bersatu were to take in 40 additional members, that would make it by far the strongest party in the coalition.

Despite some concerns over nonagenarian forgetfulness, the Prime Minister appears to be as headstrong in his new incarnation – despite swearing fealty to democratic principles during the campaign to oust former Prime Minister Najib Razak – as he was during his reign as premier from 1981 to 2003.

Bloodletting in the new ruling coalition appears to have claimed several scalps including Nurul Izzah, Anwar’s daughter, who quit as vice president of PKR in December along with giving up her chairmanship of Keadilan Penang, reportedly in disgust over the political situation. Rafizi Ramli, the party secretary general, also appears to have been sidelined, with former Selangor Chief Minister Azmin Ali – a favorite who was appointed economics minister by Mahathir — now playing a leading role in Anwar’s own party.

Whether Anwar can emerge from the two-year sabbatical he promised is also unclear. He is not trusted by many including some in PKR, and thus the squabble for party primacy between Azmin and Rafizi.

Mahathir has never made a secret of his insistence of ethnic Malay primacy that characterized UMNO during his first 22 years in power. Since the election, he has repeatedly defended the concept of Malay rights, saying at a party assembly in December that “Malays feel that they must be protected and they feel this could only be done by their own race through politics. That is why a party comprising Malays and led by them needs to be formed.”

But the last time Mahathir tried that, he ended up with school systems and universities that simply passed Malays through without educating them, with a civil service that was choked with unneeded employees, with companies that carried dead weight on their payrolls.

It was Mahathir who sought to create a cadre of 100 super-rich bumis who in turn would help rural Malays into prosperity, much the way he envisioned driving the country into industrialization through massive projects. But once the privileged got rich, there was little incentive to share it with the kampungs, the Malay rural villages. Many of the state-backed companies eventually collapsed and for decades had to be supported by government institutions.

Anwar has been careful to say that Mahathir has changed his stripes. But Parti Bersatu bills itself as an “older and better version of UMNO” with no need to accept non-Malays. That appears to be a recipe for disaster.  It was UMNO in the fading days of the Barisan’s reign that kept the now-disgraced Najib Razak in power through massive bribes to party members.

Pakatan Harapan has made some progress towards multiracial government, with a highly respected ethnic Indian – Tommy Thomas – as attorney general, and Lim Guan Eng, the effective Chinese chief minister of Penang, as finance minister. It appears to be making steps towards cleaning up the judiciary, and it has arrested Najib and his grasping wife as well as others. But the coalition hasn’t helped its reformasi reputation with the discovery by opponents that at least five officials appear to have faked their university degrees.

But there is little doubt that there is an elemental inconsistency between Mahathir’s view of governance and that of the other component parties, and that Mahathir, through the sheer force of his will, is winning.

Nine months ago, country was euphoric and jubilant,” a disillusioned source said. “Today people refer to the new PH Government as ‘the bloody government.’  No more of this ‘New Malaysia’ stuff. You bring that up, people whack the shit out of you. Because there is no New Malaysia. There is only one Malaysia – the Malaysia that we have all allowed to exist, the old Malaysia, where corruption, cronyism, abuse of power is all justifiable in the name of national unity.”

Mahathir Using Economic Council to Edge Anwar Out in favour of Azmin Ali?


February 16, 2019

By: Yusoff Rawther

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A glance at the newly-announced lineup of Malaysia’s Economic Action Council (EAC) poses more questions than answers. It was formed to respond and take action in addressing economic issues. Objectives include stimulating economic growth, ensuring fair distribution of wealth and improving the well-being of the people as well as focusing on issues related to cost of living, labor, poverty and home ownership.

What is its relevance? It sounds eerily like a cabinet within a cabinet, and at a transitionary period, it looks like a redundant idea that will prove to be merely a political tool.

In less than a year since assuming the premiership, the 93-year-old Mahathir Mohammad has flip-flopped on various issues, most obviously his firmly stated assurance in May 2018 that the victorious Pakatan Harapan coalition would not be accepting turncoats from the losing United Malays National Organization.

Yet, along with the announcement of the creation of the economic action body,  Mahathir happened to embrace seven former UMNO MPs into his own Parti Pribumi Bersatu, an act of betrayal to the people of Malaysia. UMNO was thoroughly discredited as a party corrupt to its very roots – by MPs who were kept loyal to the previous premier, the disgraced Najib Razak, by outright bribes.

Anwar Ibrahim has been unceremoniously left out from the EAC, an indication that Mahathir is once again vying to divert as much power and attention towards the lesser known and underperforming Minister of Economic Affairs, Mohamad Azmin Ali, the former chief minister of Selangor and an ambitious pretender for the leadership of the coalition.

Aside from the fact that the council’s existence shows failure on behalf of the prime minister to appoint qualified people to the cabinet, if we are to accept the premise that the council should exist, the right thing to do is to invite the premier-in-waiting to be a member in a move to demonstrate your confidence in your designated successor to the voters as well as giving Anwar a role to play in contributing to the agenda set forth in the EAC’s charter. Malaysians should beware lest Mahathir smuggles old failings into the mix whilst our attention is held elsewhere.

The political heavy lifting was done by Anwar, who from his prison cell pulled a lax opposition and the complaining class into the fight alongside his supporters to create the conditions for change. Conditions that proved vital in the overthrow of the Barisan Nasional regime.

It is evident that something more than elections are necessary to create a genuine new dispensation of sustainable democratic good governance.

 Creating the EAC and sidelining the PM-in-waiting is not a good indicator of that. Authoritarian rule is not just about figureheads. They use power th to maintain themselves is institutionalized and embedded in deep structures of privilege that corruptly deliver a nation’s bounty into the hands of a chosen few.

If Anwar Ibrahim is the icon for democracy, then Mahathir is the icon and spokesperson of the embedded structures of inequity.

As the principal architect of genuine reform,  to sweep aside the structures of authoritarian control and the inequity they beget, Anwar’s reform agenda seeks to eliminate  corruption, cronyism and nepotism, the elements of a bygone era.

It is the diligence and energy Anwar applies to promoting an alternate vision of good governance, one and of a free and competitive Malaysian economy and harmonious, multiracial society that  made him an important voice not only in Malaysia but around the world. Anwar has spent his career speaking for and articulating an alternative agenda of politics.

As a Deputy Prime Minister during the Asian Financial Crisis I988, Anwar came very close to dismantling the Mahathirist version of crony capitalism when he decided to implement an IMF style austerity program, suspend big-bulge infrastructure investment, and force big businessmen to take care of their own debts.

Anwarnomics promises to do away with state-backed racism. It promises to be inclusive, rules-based and competition-driven with a large, well-funded social safety net and he has reiterated time and again the need for uncompromising reforms.

Here are some of the things he has advocated for, long before the formation of the EAC:

Malaysia’s economic policies should be inclusive and to dismantle obsolete policies such as the New Economic Policy. Positive.

  • discrimination policies must be based on freedom, justice, and equity.
  • A sustainable economy is not one that is mainly driven by consumer spending fueled by high level household debt. “We cannot build a better life for our people if they need two to three jobs just to make ends meet. That is bad economics… even worst social policy.”
  • Affirmative actions taken must be based on needs.
  • It is important to enhance investment, trading and economic ties with China and India which are the engine of growth for global economy.
  • Social protection and poverty eradication remain central to the effort to ensure a better life for all.
  • Greater transparency and public participation is key in ensuring efficiency of social programs, to identify dubious programs, reduce duplication and waste of resources.
  • Economic policies to lure foreign direct investment must not neglect any region or community in the country. It is not a zero-sum game. If we choose to embark on pro-market reforms, it should not be an excessive capitalistic notion ignoring the plight of poor and marginalized.

Given the facts, it is only fair to question Mahathir’s  motives  in creating the EAC while failing to include the next Prime minister.

Malaysia is rich in resources and possibilities. Change will require more than just elections, it requires dismantling the institutional structures of inequity, most of all it will depend upon building the strength and capacity of civil society, the plethora of organizations and associations by which ordinary people hold their governments to account.

Up Periscope: Malaysia’s Submarine Scandal Resurfaces


February 13, 2019

By: John Berthelsen

https://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/up-periscope-malaysia-sub-scandal-resurfaces/

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What, until the US$4.5 billion 1MDB affair, had been Malaysia’s biggest scandal, has reappeared – the US$1.2 billion purchase of submarines under then-Defense Minister Najib Razak at the turn of the century, a lurid tangle of blackmail, bribery, murder, influence peddling, misuse of corporate assets and concealment.

Crusading French lawyer William Bourdon and his associate, Appoline Cagnat, are currently in Malaysia discussing the affair with Attorney General Tommy Thomas, according to local media. Bourdon and his associates compiled much of the evidence about the purchase at the turn of the decade for Suaram, the Malaysian good-government NGO, but he was kicked out of the country for attempting to follow up the case by Najib’s government.

Credit: Malaysiakini

The matter has remained in limbo since 2012 as the Najib government pulled out all the stops to keep it buried. Now, however, after the May 9, 2018 election that turned out the Barisan Nasional and brought the Pakatan Harapan coalition to power, the new government has shown considerable zeal in bringing long-buried scandals to the light.

The Scorpene submarines were purchased by Malaysia from subsidiaries of the state-owned weapons manufacturer DCN although there is no evidence that Malaysia ever needed submarines and in fact they had to be based in East Malaysia because the waters around Peninsular Malaysia were too shallow for them to operate efficiently.

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According to evidence compiled by Asia Sentinel in a long series of articles that won the 2013 Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting from the Society of Publishers in Asia – Asia’s version of the Pulitzer Prize – the transaction steered a €114.96 million (US$130.3 million at current exchange rates) kickback to the United Malays National Organization through a private company called Perimekar Sdn Bhd.

Perimekar was wholly owned by Abdul Razak Baginda and its principal shareholder was his wife, Mazlinda, a close friend of Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor.  He was then the head of a Malaysian think tank called Malaysian Strategic Research.

DCN officials hinted that Perimekar had come into existence only to facilitate the kickback transaction. Documents note that “Perimekar was a limited liability company with a capital of MR5 million (€1.4 million) of which 1 million is available. It was created in August 1999 … it has no record of sales during 2000. Its ownership is in the process of restructuring.”

Razak Baginda was a close friend of Najib Razak, who went on to be Malaysia’s prime minister and would be booted out of office in disgrace over the 1MDB scandal, which later supplanted the Scorpene scandal by far.

Another €36 million was directed to an obscure company in Hong Kong named Terasasi Hong Kong Ltd., whose principal officers were listed as Razak Baginda and his father and which appeared to be nothing more than a name on an accounting firm’s wall. According to an August, 2017 story, Razak Baginda was charged by French prosecutors with “active and passive complicity in corruption.”

According to the documents made available to Asia Sentinel, some of the misdeeds appear to have taken place with the knowledge of top French government officials including then-foreign Minister Alain Juppe and with the consent of former – and current — Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Top Thales officials been named in news stories in Paris as having suborned bribes in the matter. Najib was also named as the recipient.   However, given the involvement of such individuals as Juppe and others, it seems unlikely that the matter will be carried further in France despite a statement last July by French Ambassador to Malaysia Frédéric Laplanche that “Cooperation between France and Malaysia (on the investigation) is very good.”

As Asia Sentinel reported in 2012, the payment appears to have been in violation of the OECD Convention on Bribery, which France ratified on June 30, 2000. On Sep. 29, 2000, DCNI, a DCN subsidiary, “took corrective actions” after France joined the bribery convention. Contracts concluded after that date were to be routed to companies held by Jean-Marie Boivin, DCN’s former finance chief, headquartered in Luxembourg and Malta respectively.

Among the documents is one that shows Boivin paid to send Razak Baginda on a jaunt to Macau with his then-girlfriend, Altantuya Shaariibuu, a jet-setting Mongolian national who was later murdered by two of Najib’s bodyguards in gruesome fashion in October of 2006 and whose body was blown up with C4 explosives, possibly to destroy the fetus of the child she said she was carrying when she was killed.

In a handwritten note found in her hotel room after she had been murdered, Altantuya said she was blackmailing Razak Baginda for US$50,000, although she didn’t say why. However, according to the documents, she had considerable knowledge of the purchase of the submarines from her relationship with the defense analyst. And, although Najib has repeatedly denied it and sworn on the Quran that he had never met her, there is evidence that he had not only met her but had an affair with her before Razak Baginda.

Two of Najib’s bodyguards, Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azhar Umar, the latter of whom left the country when he was temporarily freed by an appeals court and remains in Australia, were tried and convicted of her murder in a long-running trial that appeared to be carefully orchestrated to make sure nobody above the two bodyguards was ever named despite the fact that one of them, in a sworn statement, said they were to be paid MYR50,000 to carry out the killing. Musa Safri, Najib’s aide de camp, was identified as the individual who designated Azilah and Sirul to pick up Altantuya. But there is no evidence he was ever questioned by the police about his involvement.

In June 2018, the then-newly appointed Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun told reporters that an investigation into Altantuya’s death would be reopened, based on a new police report submitted by Altantuya’s father. So far there has been little public indication of progress.

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The story, which was considerably bigger than just the Scorpenes, in essence began when Najib was appointed Defense Minister in Mahathir’s cabinet in 1991 and embarked on a massive buildup of the country’s military, arranging for the purchase of tanks, Sukhoi jets, coastal patrol boats – and submarines, all of which appear to have been mired in corruption and kickbacks that enriched Najib and UMNO. French, German, Swedish, Russian and Dutch manufacturers in turn went looking for the most effective cronies of the Malaysian leadership to help them out.

“The major defense contracts in Malaysia as in other countries require substantial money transfers to individuals and/or [political] organizations,” according to documents taken from DCN’s files by French investigators. “In Malaysia, other than individuals, the ruling party [UMNO] is the largest beneficiary. Consultants [agents or companies] are often used as a political network to facilitate such transfers and receive commissions for their principals.”

Book Review: The Sustainable State: The Future of Government, Economy and Society


 

January 12, 2018

 

 

By: Cyril Pereira

Can planet Earth survive Asia’s economic drive?

 

The Sustainable State is Hong Kong-based environmentalist and author Chandran Nair’s second book, following Consumptionomics, published in 2011. Both call for urgent recognition of the looming ecological disaster for humanity. The book launch in Hong Kong’s trendy Lan Kwai Fong district on Nov. 13 was billed as a conversation between Nair, and Zoher Abdool Karim, the recently retired TIME Asia editor. Nair’s manifesto dominated. A bemused Zoher was the smiling prop. The audience could have gained more from meaningful interlocution.

Chandran Nair has been the town crier on environmental disaster for 20 years. He faults industrialization, capitalism, free enterprise and liberal economics, for destroying the ecosystems of rivers, forests, air and water on so vast a scale, that life itself is the price paid by the poorest across the developing world. Malnutrition, starvation, and lack of access to potable water, plagues many societies at subsistence level.

Resource curse

The developed world prospered from early industrialization to capture vast resources via conquest and colonization of Asia, Africa and Latin America, he writes. The poorest societies hold the richest deposits of minerals, fossil fuels and land for plantations of rubber, palm oil, tea and coffee. Pesticides and insecticides from Monsanto and others destroy their soils and ruin their water systems. They have also been too frequently run by kleptocrats.

What he calls the “externalities” of capitalist trade – environmental degradation, pollution, social dislocation, disease and malnutrition, impact the poorest disproportionately. Therein lies the supreme irony. Nair wants these externalities of economic activity priced and charged directly to corporations. He also wants individual accountability for wasteful consumption computed for carbon footprints and taxed to discourage waste.

Responsible development and consumer habits need to be enforced, if we are to survive our collective un-wisdom. How the corporations and individuals would agree to these principles, and the respective methods to calculate the amounts to pay, are undefined. Nair does not expect the culprits to volunteer. By the legal trick of defining corporations as ‘persons,’ companies can argue rights protecting individual citizens, under national Constitutions.

Migration to cities in Europe progressed over an extended period, without too much social disruption. Rural migration to cities in the developing economies is too rapid, within a compressed time-frame. Slum populations struggle without sanitation, proper housing, access to fresh water, electricity, or schooling for children, in too many cities across the developing world. This hollowing-out of rural populations is wasteful.

Rethink development

A whole new raft of public policies needs to evolve for ecological balance. Development plans to retain rural manpower and incentivize agricultural food security, are absent. Urban dwellers have to pay higher prices for natural produce, instead of buying packaged food in supermarkets. Efficient public transport systems have to be built to prevent city traffic gridlock. Electric vehicles have to replace fossil fuel engines.

Nair’s nightmare is the adoption by developing countries of the Western model for economic growth. India and China will constitute 30 percent of the global 10 billion by 2050. Add Africa, Latin America, and the rest of developing Asia to that, and the consequences of feckless industrialization, along with wasteful urban consumption, are too obvious. Nair advocates a radical overhaul of the development mindset.

Prescriptions from the developed world peddled by the World Bank and the IMF, in Nair’s mind, exceed Planet Earth’s healing capacity. Natural resource depletion and poisoning of the earth, water and air, must be stopped now. Hurricanes and typhoons destroying habitats and flooding societies, are increasing in frequency and ferocity. The consequences are all too real for climate change deniers.

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Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea

The weight of floating plastic in the oceans will soon exceed that of the global fish stock. This poison has entered our food chain, killing us slowly while choking sea life. Human overpopulation, food cultivation and de-forestation, wipes out wildlife at the rate of 30,000 species per year, according to Harvard biologist E. O Wilson. Now our collective irresponsibility will kill the oceans too.

Prioritize social equity

If replicating the Western growth model is madness, what are the alternatives? Nair moves into contentious territory on this. He calls for strong government and a revised development agenda. Rather than Hollywood-movie lifestyles, he suggests inclusive policies for all citizens to ensure clean water, electricity, sanitation, universal education and gainful employment as minimal benchmarks. Modest prosperity benefits all.

Social equity, well-being and protection of nature cannot be achieved without political legitimacy and effective rulership. Governance has been hijacked by Big Biz and sponsor politicians. Lobby groups target lawmakers. PR companies spin fakery for corporations and politicians. The mass media is co-opted through advertising and ownership. All at the expense of gullible citizens, led to believe they have some say every five years.

Strong state works

Nair contrasts the dysfunctions of India with the success of China. He skates on thin ice where individual rights and freedoms can be ignored, for the collective good. He says only a “strong” state has the mass mobilization capacity to marshal people, resources and investment, for sustainable development. To Nair, Hong Kong is a weak state unable to address basic public housing. He jests that a boss imposed by Beijing can fix that.

The European Union is a strong authority able to mandate socially responsible policy across its constituent members. Britain and the US are weak states floundering for effective governance, polarized by divisive populist politics. Nair is less interested in ideologies of the Left or Right, than in the State as effective authority for the common good. He wants the institutions of good governance strengthened at every level.

Oddly, Nair dismisses world governance as the solution. The United Nations, overly compromised by funding dependency and too timid to upset powerful voting blocs, is not his answer. Where then will the needed global course-correction come from? The issues Nair raises are urgent. Are we doomed to self-destruct by default anyway? If he has an answer, Nair has not articulated it in his books, or his public campaigns. Perhaps there might be a third book for that.

East Timor: an Ecological Paradise Rises from the Ashes of Occupation


January 4, 2019

East Timor: an Ecological Paradise Rises from the Ashes of Occupation

By: Gregory McCann

https://www.asiasentinel.com/society/east-timor-ecological-paradise-rises-from-ashes-occupation/

 

East Timor’s coastal waters swarm with saltwater crocodiles, dolphins, whales, dugongs, sea turtles and are home to vast beds of sea grasses and coral reefs. And now, in East Timor, an ancient customary law known to the Maubere tribal peoples as tara bandu has been excavated from the ashes of Indonesian occupation and is being revived in an effort to preserve the nation’s remarkable marine life.

 

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Dili, Timor Leste

In fact, East Timor (also called Timor-Leste) is located in the middle of the “Coral Triangle” of Asia, making it one of the most remarkable areas on earth for marine life, containing hundreds of species of reefs and thousands of reef fish. But will the central government in the capital city of Dili ensure that the nation’s considerable natural heritage be preserved for future generations and for ecotourism?

Goats and pigs are sacrificed for the local spirits, their blood spilled on the earth in an effort to glean auspicious signs from invisible onlookers in the village of Biacou,  where tara bandu has been back in effect for the past six years, establishing no-take fishing zones, as well as bans on cyanide poisoning and dynamite fishing. Indonesia, which occupied East Timor from 1975 to 1999, banned these sacred pagan traditions, but it seems the spirits have been patient, and the sacrifice of domestic animals in favor of their wild brethren has been met with enthusiastic approval in recent years.

So exceedingly pristine are Timor’s coastal waters and beaches that Australian crocodiles are swimming 600 miles to hunt and mate there. Both the Indonesians and the Portuguese rulers before them mandated cruel “croc culls”, slaughtering the great beasts whenever and wherever possible. But those days are long gone, and to tribal people such as the Fataluku and Tetum, man-eating saltwater crocodiles are now seen—once again—as sacred totems, and a potential ecotourism draw (tourists pay for the “croc experience” in Darwin, Australia, so why couldn’t East Timor do the same?).

Croc threats aside, this place sounds like paradise. Nino Konis Santana National Park wraps around the country’s entire northeastern edge like a gleaming blue mitten on the azure seas, ostensibly protecting fish, sea birds, and reptiles alike. It is a place where dolphins leap, whales breach, and turtles paddle, where petrels and frigate birds majestically glide and soar above the blue waves; its white sand beaches put Thailand’s to shame.

But is there trouble on the horizon in this eye-pleasing destination? Just last year, 15 Chinese fishing boats were seized in Timorese waters with thousands of shark fins in their holds, and those are just the ships that were apprehended. The government has published its “2011-2030 Development Plan,” which includes plans for sustainable fisheries, but this will need to be carefully managed when artisanal fishing becomes commercial fishing. Foreign poaching vessels from numerous countries will also have to be kept out.

Chinese influence is on the rise in East Timor, though former President Jose Ramos-Horta brushes this idea off as an old cliché. However, despite the ex-president’s objections (he currently resides in Hong Kong), it would be difficult to imagine how East Timor would not appeal to China in terms of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and overall Asia Pacific strategy. In fact, it was China who built East Timor’s presidential palace as well as their foreign ministry building.

Analysts often describe certain countries or areas as “strategic,” but it is clear that China views any and every place on earth as strategic. No shoal, island, or stretch of coastline is too remote or insignificant not to factor into Beijing’s plans. Actually, China could very well see East Timor as something akin to a mini-Cambodia, where Chinese influence is overwhelming,  with a vast and strategically valuable coastline, not too far from their new Australian base in Darwin, and a convenient pit stop en route home from their future Antarctic operations.

But the future is far from certain. Will East Timor, free from its Indonesian shackles, become a new frontier to exploit, or will the nation’s leaders in the capital city of Dili have the foresight to set in place protective measures to ensure that this stunningly beautiful country retains its impressive natural history for generations to come? Or, will this country and its strategic coastline find itself dominated by a foreign power once again? Time will tell.

Gregory McCann is the project coordinator for Habitat ID and the author of the book Called Away by a Mountain Spirit: Journeys to the Green Corridor.

 

Threats, Violence, Imprisonments Rise for Journalists


Threats, Violence, Imprisonments Rise for Journalists

by John Berthelsen

https://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/journalists-threats-violence-imprisonments/

It has been a terrible year for journalists worldwide, with the number targeted for murder in reprisal for their reporting having nearly doubled in 2018 to 53 and at least 251 journalists are behind bars for their work, as authoritarian regimes increasingly use imprisonment to silence dissent, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists found.

Reporters Without Borders, the other major press organization, fond even higher totals of journalists murdered, with 63 killed along with 13 “citizen journalists” – bloggers – and five media assistants. The two organizations use different criteria to determine whether reporters were killed in connection with their work.

With US President Donald Trump venting an absolute torrent of charges and abuse against reporters for uncovering his lies, the practice of calling critical reporting “fake news” has spread across the planet to Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Cameroon, Venezuela, Myanmar, Spain. Syria and many other countries to hide human rights abuses, corruption and out-and-out atrocities.

Trump has had a valuable ally in the Fox News Network, owned by Australian Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which has sought to discredit the reporting of virtually all of the major media, do

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In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has sought to put the crusading website Rappler out of business with trumped-up charges of tax evasion. Twelve journalists have been murdered during the first two years of Duterte’s administration. He famously said shortly after his 2016 election that “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch” when asked how he would address media killings in the country, one of the world’s worst for violence against reporters.

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The pressure on journalists led Time Magazine to name “the guardians” the magazine’s Person of the Year, featuring those who have been targeted for their work, chief among them Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was said to have been murdered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in October by Saudi agents, apparently because of his critical reporting on the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Time Managing Editor Edward Felsenthal told CNN “the first move in the authoritarian playbook is the control of information, the suppression of people who try to get the facts out. And we saw that in a major way” in 2018. That led Time to spotlight the legions of journalists who have been targeted because of their work.

Amazingly, Fox News host Laura Ingraham scolded the magazine for choosing journalists who have been targeted, arrested or killed as their “Person of the Year,” calling the decision “transparently self-serving,” and saying there is “something transparently self-serving about journalists giving awards to other journalists.”

China, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia imprisoned more journalists than in 2017 as despots intensified their repression of local journalists, according to the CPJ, and Turkey remained the world’s worst jailer for the third year in a row, with at least 68 behind bars. Austin Tice, who was kidnapped in 2012 while freelancing for the Washingfton Post, remains arguably the longest-imprisoned.

Some 70 percent of journalists have been jailed on anti-state charges and 28 charged with “false news,” CPJ said, an increase from nine in 2016. Politics was the most dangerous beat for journalists, followed by human rights. The number of female journalists behind bars increased, with 33 imprisoned globally, including four in Saudi Arabia who wrote about women’s rights. An increase in the overall number of journalists jailed in China this year is the result in part of Beijing’s persecution of the Uighur ethnic minority.

“The terrible global assault on journalists that has intensified in the past few years shows no sign of abating,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “It is unacceptable that 251 journalists are in jail around the world just for covering the news.  The broader cost is being borne by all those who care about the flow of news and information. The tyrants who use imprisonment to impose censorship cannot be allowed to get away with it.”

Afghanistan, where extremists have stepped up deliberate attacks on journalists, was the deadliest country, with12 killed, the most of any year since the CPJ began keeping track and accounted for much of the increase in journalist murders, CPJ said. At least 53 journalists have died since Jan. 1, of which at least 34 were singled out for murder.  The number of reporters who died in combat or crossfire, however, fell to 11, the lowest since 2011, and deaths on other dangerous assignments, such as covering protests that turn violent (eight this year).

The total is up from 47 killed in all of last year, of which 18 were pinpointed for murder. A total of 50 were killed in 2016. The recent uptick in killings follows two years of decline, but comes as the jailing of journalists hits a sustained high, “adding up to a profound global crisis of press freedom.”

With President Trump’s refusal to believe CIA findings that Khashoggi was murdered at the hands of the Saudi Crown Prince, “Essentially, Trump signaled that countries that do enough business with the United States are free to murder journalists without consequence.”

In Syria, at least nine journalists were killed in each 2017 and 2018, compared with a high of 31 in 2012. In Yemen, three journalists were killed in 2018, and in Iraq, CPJ has not confirmed that any journalists were killed because of their work for the first time since 2012. Elsewhere in the Middle East, two Palestinian journalists were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers while covering protests in the Gaza strip. CPJ is investigating the killing of another 23 journalists in 2018, but so far has not been able to confirm that the motive was journalism in those cases.

The prison census accounts only for journalists in government custody and does not include those who have disappeared or are held captive by non-state actors. Cases including journalists held by Houthi rebels in Yemen and a Ukrainian journalist held by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine are classified as “missing” or “abducted.”

In the US, no journalists were in jail for their work on December 1, although in the past 18 months CPJ has documented or assisted with the cases of at least seven foreign journalists who were held in prolonged detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after fleeing threats in their home countries.