America First or America Isolated


September 24, 2018

By: Ramesh Thakor

https://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/america-first-or-america-isolated/

America’s Gangster in Trump’s White House

In a major policy speech on September 10, the United States National Security Advisor John Bolton (above) launched a virulent attack on the International Criminal Court (ICC). In his idiosyncratic view, “the largely unspoken, but always central, aim of its most vigorous supporters was to constrain the United States.”

The US will not join the ICC, will not cooperate with it, and will not provide it with any assistance. Instead, the US will “use any means necessary to protect” its citizens: “If the court comes after us” or Israel, Washington will ban ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the US, impose sanctions on ICC funds held in the US, and prosecute ICC personnel in US criminal courts. Countries that cooperate with the ICC in the investigation of Americans will risk losing access to US economic and military assistance and intelligence.

In other words, the US is now ready to deploy sanctions to coerce other countries into acting illegally. Remarkable.

“Strangle the ICC in Its Cradle”

Last November, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda a preliminary investigation had established that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed” in Afghanistan since July 2002 (when the ICC became operational) by Taliban, Afghan, and US forces. This paved the way for a formal investigation that can be launched only by the ICC judges. In a sign of nervousness and preemptive self-censorship, the ICC took over a decade to conduct the preliminary investigation into allegations of extrajudicial executions and intentional attacks against civilians.

The response from Bolton, then a private citizen who had never concealed his deep hostility to the U.N.-centric global multilateral order, was blunt. Any investigation of Americans by the ICC would be “a direct assault” on US national sovereignty. Having “done more than any other nation to instill in its civilian-controlled military a respect for human rights and the laws of war,” the US “should welcome the opportunity … to strangle the ICC in its cradle.” He added, “Even merely contesting its jurisdiction” would risk acknowledging “the ICC’s legitimacy.”

Unfortunately for Bolton, the ICC’s legitimacy has indeed been serially acknowledged and affirmed in several U.N. Security Council deliberations and decisions, with full US participation, regarding ICC cases.

Serious Problems with the ICC

The landscape of international criminal justice has changed dramatically at astonishing speed. In 1990, a tyrant could confidently commit atrocities inside sovereign borders with impunity. Today, there is still no guarantee of prosecution and accountability; but no brutish ruler can be confident of permanently escaping international justice. The certainty of impunity is gone. The ICC, activated only if national authorities are unable or unwilling to prosecute, functions as a court of last resort for ending impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.

But Bolton’s criticisms cannot be dismissed totally, for there are serious problems with the ICC. Created in 1998, it has 123 members. The extensive membership is misleading. Several major powers and populous countries have not joined. The 70-plus non-members represent two-thirds of the world’s population and armed forces. Former US President Bill Clinton signed on in 2002 but did not submit the document for Senate ratification. In May 2002 President George W. Bush “un-signed” the US from the ICC.

The number of convictions to date has been very few, and the court’s processes have proven time-consuming and inordinately expensive. There have been repeated charges of the court disproportionately targeting Africans, dismissing African views, and jeopardizing delicate peace negotiations.

Although the threatened mass exodus as called for by the African Union on January 31, 2017, has not occurred, several countries have refused cooperation. For years Kenya has refused to hand over suspects to the ICC In October 2017, Burundi became the first country to withdraw from the court following a parliamentary vote a year earlier, and South Africa immediately announced it would follow suit—only for its High Court to rule the withdrawal unconstitutional and invalid. In October 2016, Russia withdrew its signature from the ICC statute.

The list of non-cooperating states includes India. At the third India–Africa Forum in New Delhi in October 2015, the 41 African heads of government and heads of state attending included Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was under ICC indictment at the time. When he accepted India’s invitation, Bensouda’s office pointed to Security Council Resolution 1593 (2005), calling on all states to cooperate fully with the ICC.

“By arresting and surrendering ICC suspects,” the statement added, “India can contribute to the important goal of ending impunity for the world’s worst crimes.” India’s official response was that Resolution 1593 is not binding on ICC non-signatories. India was happy to comply with its “statutory international legal obligations” but not necessarily other directives. There is thus substance to Bolton’s charge: “We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

Powers given to the UN Security Council, to refer cases to the ICC and to defer cases already before the court, cross-infect judicial processes with the high politics of major powers. Giving a vote on these decisions to countries that are not ICC members is a violation of the principle of natural justice. And the absence of a democratically chosen and accountable world legislature and executive does raise valid questions about the legitimacy and viability of the ICC.

In no society in human history has a criminal justice system functioned without legislative and executive branches of government as essential prior props.

The ICC can also be faulted for institutional integrity. As documented by the respected Africa experts Julie Flint and Alex de Waal, its first prosecutor was morally compromised. The ICC did not distinguish itself in its handling of the allegations of sexual misconduct by him against a South African journalist trying to interview him in his hotel room in 2005. Rather surprisingly, the case has not attracted fresh attention in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Image result for trump--the godfather of tribalismThe Donald Foreign Policy Doctrine

 

The US Is Cherry-Picking Global Norms

A year ago, citizen Bolton advised Trump to send Bensouda “a terse note: ‘Dear Madame Prosecutor: You are dead to us. Sincerely, the United States.’” On September 10, National Security Advisor Bolton in effect implemented his own advice. Parts of his speech (e.g. the ICC is a “European neocolonial enterprise”) descended into the theater of the absurd. But the thrust of his thesis is deeply sinister:

“The only deterrent to evil and atrocity is …‘the righteous might’ of the United States and its allies – a power that, perversely, could be threatened by the ICC’s vague definition of aggression crimes.” Coming from a senior official of the righteousness-free Trump administration, this merely proves this administration does irony without knowing it.

Intoxicated by the arrogance of power, neoconservative warriors seem to believe that vast US military superiority confers a matching moral superiority. Furthermore, the same combination of might and virtue empowers and entitles them to construct a world in which all others have to obey universal norms and rules, but Washington can opt out whenever, as often, and for as long, as it likes on cherry-picked global norms with respect to nuclear weapons, landmines, international criminal prosecution, climate change, and international trade regimes. In a world of inexorable power shifts, this equation just does not compute.

Ramesh Thakor is a former United Nations Assistant Secretary General. He wrote this article  for AsiaGlobal Online, a digital journal published by the Asia Global Institute (AGI) at The University of Hong Kong.  Reprinted by request.

Malaysia-China Relations: China Risks a Neocolonialist Tint


September 3, 2018

Malaysia-China Relations: China Risks a Neocolonialist  Tint

By: Toh Han Shih

https://www.asiasentinel.com/opinion/malaysia-china-risks-neocolonialist-tint/

Image result for Mahathir in China 2018

 

At the end of his August 17-21 China visit, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced that US$22 billion of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects in his country would be temporarily or permanently cancelled. The world will be watching China’s subsequent actions to see whether they will take on a neocolonialist tint.

The Belt and Road Initiative is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s grandiose plan to connect China with South, Central and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Russia, Africa, Latin America and Europe through infrastructure projects including roads, ports, airports and railways.

The broad geographic reach of the BRI, as it has come to be known, has raised questions whether China intends to use this project for imperial expansion. As Asia Sentinel has previously reported, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Pakistan have found themselves so deep in debt to the Chinese that there are fears political domination will follow. The risk is that Malaysia is on the same course.

The postponed Malaysian projects include an East Coast Rail Link and two energy pipelines.  Mahathir said told a Beijing press conference on Aug. 21 that the three would be “deferred until such time we can afford, and maybe we can reduce the cost also if we do it differently. It’s all about borrowing too much money which we can’t afford, can’t repay, and also we don’t need those projects for Malaysia at this moment.”

The vast majority of the funding for three — US$20 billion for the rail link and US$2 billion for the pipelines – has been supplied by the Export-Import Bank of China (Exim Bank), a state-owned policy lender. Chinese state-owned firms are the main contractors of these three projects, raising criticism that Malaysians are being denied jobs, as they have been in several countries where the belt and the road have reached.

At a press conference of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the same day, when asked about the cancellation of these projects, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said, “Of course, cooperation between any two countries may encounter some problems, and different views may emerge at different times. These problems should be properly resolved through friendly consultations without losing sight of the friendship enjoyed by the two countries and the long-term development of bilateral ties, which, I can assure you, is also an important consensus reached during Prime Minister Mahathir’s visit to China.”

Image result for Mahathir in China 2018

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad with Ali Baba’s Supremo Jack Ma

Mahathir was tactful enough not to criticize China for these stalled projects, but to lay the blame on his predecessor Najib Razak, who had approved them projects while he was Malaysia’s premier. After being ousted in a shock defeat in the Malaysian elections on May 9, Najib is facing corruption charges over the hugely mismanaged and corrupt 1Malaysia Development Bhd, backed by the Ministry of Finance.

However, Mahathir warned China against being a neocolonialist. At a press conference in Beijing with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on August. 20, when asked by Li whether he supported free trade, Mahathir replied, “I agree free trade is the way to go, but, of course, free trade should also be fair trade. We do not want a situation where there is a new version of colonialism happening because poor countries are unable to compete with rich countries, therefore we need fair trade.”

Ironically, Chinese state propaganda expresses similar opposition to colonialism, in its messages conveyed in two Beijing museums, the National Museum and the China Railway Museum. As stated part of the reason for the Republican Revolution of 1911 was the Chinese people’s opposition to foreign domination of China’s railroads. By 1911, foreign powers, including Russia, Japan, Germany, Britain and France, controlled 93 percent of China’s railways, a display in the National Museum pointed out. The Qing government had to pay off huge debts to foreign banks which had bankrolled these railroads.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the Qing government nationalized railways owned by private Chinese businesses, then sold them to foreign interests. This sparked a rebellion, causing the Chinese imperial government to transfer troops from the Chinese city of Wuhan to quell a rail revolt in Sichuan province. As a result, the Wuhan garrison was undermanned, which enabled an uprising in Wuhan to succeed in October 1911, which in turn toppled the Qing dynasty.

Going forward, the Chinese government must avoid provoking resistance to Chinese-funded infrastructure projects in BRI countries whose governments and peoples fear dependency, just as China was reduced to a semi-colonial state by foreign dominance of its infrastructure. Currently, BRI projects are mostly financed by Chinese state-owned banks, just as foreign banks funded most of the railway in China during the Qing dynasty.

At the Aug. 20 press conference, Mahathir expressed his wish that Beijing will be sympathetic to Malaysia’s heavy debt and help resolve its fiscal problems. At the press conference on August 21, the 93-year old leader said, “I believe China itself does not want to see Malaysia become a bankrupt country.”

The Chinese government has a vested interest in ensuring Malaysia’s economy is not sunk by crushing debt if Beijing and Chinese state-owned firms wish to avoid a repeat of the derailment of a US$7.5 billion rail project in Venezuela.

On April 11, 2013, the South China Morning Post reported that this 475 km railway, built by the state-owned China Railway Group, was delayed because the Venezuelan government was unable to pay the entire US$7.5 billion contract. The Venezuelan government owed China Railway US$400 million to US$500 million, Li Changjin, the chairman of China Railway, was quoted as saying. “The reason is the Venezuelan government has no money.”

Onsite media reports in 2016 showed China Railway’s facilities in its Venezuela project were apparently abandoned.

Since 2013, Venezuela’s economy has been in a dire state, with high inflation and difficulty repaying its debts. If Beijing wants the BRI to succeed in countries like Venezuela and Malaysia, it must ensure that costly infrastructure projects do not harm these countries’ economies. Otherwise, trade and investment between them and China will suffer.

Image result for China's ECRL Project

During their August 20 meeting, Xi told Mahathir their nations should have pragmatic cooperation, seeking innovative new models of cooperation. Xi must find viable models of cooperation over BRI if he wishes to avoid blowback against Chinese projects in Malaysia. Only then can Xi demonstrate that Belt and Road is not a Trojan Horse for Chinese imperialism, and convince nations to accept the vast infrastructure projects.

Toh Han Shih is a Singaporean writer in Hong Kong

Malaysia’s Sunway City: Thank You, Dr. Jeffery Cheah


August 21, 2018

Malaysia’s Sunway City: A Model in Sustainable Development

By: Lexie Ma, Tom Tsui and FY Lung

https://www.asiasentinel.com/econ-business/malaysia-sunway-city-sustainability-standout/

 

In a region where little attention is paid to sustainability and the environment, Sunway City, built on an abandoned tin mine on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, is a standout, more aligned with Singapore, whose Building Construction Authority aims for 80 percent of buildings to be Green Mark-certified by 2030, than Malaysia.

Wasteland-Turned Wonderland”

Called a “wasteland-turned wonderland,” this onetime township now boasts world-class resorts, hotels, shopping malls, schools and medical centers, and is home to 200,000 residents. It is the brainchild of developer Jeffrey Cheah Fook Ling, Malaysia’s 13th richest man. The  rehabilitation and transformation of the landscape has led to recognition as the country’s first integrated green township.

Thriving on a balance between sustainability and profitability, Sunway City has stayed on a course of sustainable development while remaining robust financially.  The conglomerate reportedly accrued RM137.5 million  (US$33.51 million) in first-quarter 2018 profit, a 11 percent rise year on year.

Image result for Sunway University and Jeffrey Sachs

Around Sunway City, posters and billboards of 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) are hanging everywhere, making clear Cheah’s determination to construct an integrated township and sustainable community. Unlike many companies which view green initiatives as a means to fulfill their corporate social responsibility, Sunway Group appears to set sustainability as the core value of the township.

The heart of the development is Sunway University, fully accredited both in Malaysia and by the Education Committee of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) of United Kingdom. But Sunway City didn’t always have college campuses, theme parks and a pyramid-shaped mall. When Malaysia was under British rule, Cheah bought an 800-acre tin mine from the British and developed his tin mining company which later diversified into sand mining, quarrying and construction.

The business came to a halt when the late 1980s brought a recession, causing tin prices to collapse. “It nearly bankrupted me,” said Cheah, now a Tan Sri, one of Malaysia’s highest-ranking honorifics. What he had built became a “mined-out wasteland,” as he would put it. He ended up selling quarries, one of his most profitable assets at the time, as well as laying off the unit’s employees.

“One incident that made me respect Tan Sri is that he promised not to abandon his quarry workers during the financial crisis,” said Dr. Elizabeth Lee. She joined Sunway Group’s education arm 20 years ago and is now its senior executive director. “He promised to employ them when he had earned back the money. And he did.”

Image result for dr jeffrey cheah sunway

Malaysia was the world’s largest tin producer until the price collapse some three decades ago. Following that particularly difficult time in the country’s tin mining history, the private sector sought to rehabilitate deserted mining sites for more productive land use.

Cheah was among the first entrepreneurs in the country to grant a second lease of life to a mining wasteland. As he turned his vision of an integrated green township into reality while further diversifying his business interests, Sunway City supports 12 different business units, ranging from property development and hospitality to education and healthcare.

Cheah was not the only one transforming ex-mines into resorts either. In 1988, property tycoon Lee Kim Yew was tasked by the government to convert Hong Fatt Mines, the world’s biggest open-cast mine back then, into Mines Resort City, a tourist destination with a five-star hotel, man-made beach and golf course.

Sustainability and Profitability Hand-in-Hand

Today, Sunway Group has three publicly listed companies in Malaysia with a combined market capitalization of RM17 billion and 15,000 employees across 50 locations internationally, testament to how sustainability and profitability can go hand-in-hand.

“A lot of times, people think sustainability is a cost to what you do,” commented Chew Chee Kin, Sunway’s Group President since 1999 and long-time friend of Cheah. “What you have to do is to minimize the damage you do to the environment.”

To achieve this, the company strives to be as scientific as it can. Producing clay pipe used to require 48 hours of burning, but Sunway Group has managed to reduce that to 20 hours, saving more than 60 percent of energy, according to Chew. “If it is something we can save energy, it’s very good for profitability,” said Chew.

Environmental and economic sustainability aside, Cheah also tries to facilitate sustainable cultivation of talent through the group’s education arm and philanthropic channels. Established in 2010 to continue the mandate of Sunway Education Trust Fund, Jeffrey Cheah Foundation has awarded RM270 million in scholarships to thousands of individuals for their tertiary education, making it a leading education-focused social enterprise in the country.

Image result for sunway university

Managing the highly lucrative education business in the form of a foundation and running Sunway University as a nonprofit, Cheah effectively ensures that his realm is free from any shareholder control. “Surpluses can be plowed back for scholarships, for research and improvement in facilities,” he explained.

The foundation also dedicated US$10 million for sustainable development education in 2016, one of the most generous amounts gifted towards the cause in recent years. “Our strategy and our long-term thinking is through education, education, education,” said Cheah. “I know education is the best way out of poverty.”

Success or Gimmick?

Education is not the only way in which Sunway City pushes forward its sustainable development agenda. Little remained of the tin mine’s original biodiversity when Cheah acquired the site.  A lot of work had to be done to rebuild the entire ecosystem. Even earthworms had to be re-introduced for soil revitalization.

“Of course, I had to do a lot of transplantation of trees and shrubs and all these, and today the ecosystem is back,” he said. “This mother earth is so important to us, if we continue to damage it, … our future generation will have a big headache.”

Image result for sunway university

A quarter of Sunway City is designated as green space. The city offers free Wi-Fi coverage in public areas and provides free internet access for all students and residents.  A 4-km “Canopy Walkway” footbridge connects the city’s two universities and major facilities. Electric buses run on a flyover not shared with other vehicles. The group is urging the government to lower the bus fare, currently RM5.4 for a complete 5.4-km ride.

Attempts to promote sustainability in urban planning have won Sunway City multiple awards both within and beyond the borders. In 2017, it was recognized as an Integrated Smart and Low-Carbon Township by International Data Corporation Government Insights, a global market intelligence firm.

At first glance, Sunway City is nothing short of a perfect role model championing sustainable development without compromising economic viability. Nevertheless, things are always easier said than done, even more so on such a city-wide scale.

First of all, one questions if rules on sustainability are thoroughly implemented. Caterers at Sunway University continue to pack food in disposable plastic containers. Central air-conditioning on campus renders room-specific adjustments impossible. And recycling bins are yet to become common fixtures around the township. There seems to remain much room for improvement for Sunway City to translate the grand idea of sustainable development into the nitty-gritty of everyday life.

Regardless, with Sunway Group’s aggressive promotion on the notion, sustainability has over the years become a buzzword among city residents. Many are indeed mindful of sustainable living and serious about making positive changes on the environmental protection front through real-life practices. For instrance, there is Maslisa Zainuddin, a Sunway University design communications and interior architecture lecturer.

 

“[Sustainability is] something that I’ve decided to take onboard myself,” she said. A poster child for what has become known as “upcycling,”, Zainuddin proudly wears clothes refashioned from discarded garments on a daily basis. “Today’s top I’m wearing, it was a romper, which I refashioned into a high-low top,” she said, referring to her fitted ivory sleeveless blouse with embroidery details. “[The bottom part] is actually being transformed into a bow that sits on top of my shoulder of a tote bag that I’m making from an old skirt. Because as a designer, I still am a practicing designer, I just don’t believe in teaching and not practicing what you preach.”

“Walk the Talk”

While individuals like Zainuddin are making sustainability-conscious lifestyle choices and influencing others to follow suit, Sunway City is exploring new ways to closely align modern city life with the UNSDGs. Cheah hopes that a new government will steer things in the right direction.

The business mogul used to feel taken advantage of as he executed many urban renewal projects on his own which technically fell under government responsibilities. “We walk the talk. They don’t walk the talk,” said Cheah, frustrated with the former government’s inefficiency. “Hopefully, with the new government, people will listen, rather than they hear you, but they don’t listen.”

Learning from past mistakes, the conglomerate is already replicating the Sunway model elsewhere in Malaysia. Sunway City Ipoh in Perak and Sunway Iskandar in Johor are both set to promise the same sustainability-backed prosperity. The story of a flourishing integrated green township built from scratch even offers urban planning inspirations worldwide.

Yet, resources, policies and cultures do place restraints onto cross-national endeavors. “We’re doing a small project, ecocity project in Tianjin,” added Chew, as Sunway Group got invited by provinces in China to recreate the miracle. “But we probably don’t have the resources to build so many townships overseas.”

Lexie Ma, Tom Tsui and FY Lung  are students at the Hong Kong University Journalism and Media Studies Center

US Social Critic Noam Chomsky Speaks on Thailand’s Political Situation


August 18, 2018

US Social Critic Noam Chomsky Speaks on Thailand’s Political Situation

By: Asia Sentinel Staff

https://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/noam-chomsky-pavin-chachavalpongpun-interview-thailand/

Image result for noam chomsky

Professor Noam Chomsky has spoken with exiled Thai academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun exclusively for the first time on the dire political situation in Thailand. He delved into the issue of the monarchy in Thai politics, the persistent political intervention of the Thai army, the draconian lèse-majesté law which forbids anyone from criticising the royal family, and the role of Thai youths in the changing political environment.

Drawing on his own observations on American politics, Chomsky detects similar problems facing two dissimilar nations—the United States and Thailand. Although a republic, the United States has continued to worship certain political leaders as if they were gods. In Thailand, kings are seen as ultimately sacred. But the excessive reverence of the royal institution in Thailand has generated a myriad of political problems. Most evidently, it has placed the monarchy at the apex of the political structure, which, as Chomsky sees it, demands forced veneration from the public, and thus submission.

Looking into the future of Thailand, Chomsky hopes there will be dedicated efforts to confront the political regression in order to move to a more just and free political community in the country.

Pavin, an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies, in Japan, conducted this interview after Chomsky moved from MIT to the University of Arizona on 1 December 2017. Pavin was charged with lèse-majesté for his criticism of the government in the aftermath of the 2014 coup in Thailand.

The project was supported by the Free Future Foundation, a Paris-based non-profit organisation designed to promote democracy and human rights.

 

A Traumatized Malaysian Press Feels its Way


August 15, 2018

A Traumatized Malaysian Press Feels its Way

by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.asiasentinel.com

Three months after the voters showed the door to the Barisan Nasional, the coalition composed of Malaysia’s ethnic political parties, the media the parties have owned for decades appear at sea, uncertain if they have been unshackled from the parties that own them, unsure of their new freedom, as is the new government.

Image result for Malaysian Press

 

The papers include, among others, the English-language New Straits Times and the Malay-language Utusan Malaysia, owned by companies affiliated with the United Malays National Organization; and the English-language Star and the Chinese-language Nanyang Siang Pau owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association. The Malaysian Indian Congress also publishes local editions.

The attitudes of the mainstream editors and publishers are unknown and spokespersons ignored requests for interviews from Asia Sentinel.

“There have been no real changes except that the mainstream media have reverted to journalism 101, reporting and analyzing without prejudice,” said Jahabar Sadiq, the editor of the independent online Malaysian Insight. “There isn’t much pressure on any media by any side of the political divide.  It’s still early days for this government and the opposition is trying to find its feet.”

Reporters at press conferences seldom ask challenging or tough questions, as was true in the past. The mainstream press has largely turned to praising the policies and actions of the Pakatan Harapan government, as Sadiq noted, without a serious examination of the issues, of which there are plenty.

After decades of circumspection out of fear of dismissal and worse, journalists are reluctant to criticize issues which  dominate social media such as Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s proposal for a new national car project, his dominance of Khazanah Nasional, the investment arm of the government, the repressive religious actions of the Department of Islamic Advancement of Malaysia (JAKIM).and government-linked companies (GLCs), most of which have been run by cronies of the previous government and which for years have lived off fat government contracts.

Image result for Zunar

Malaysia’s Cartoonist, Zunar

In the run up to the May 9 general election, the mainstream media, on instruction from the Barisan and its leading party the United Malays National Organization would attack Mahathir, its fiercest critic. Now, they have switched their attack to former Prime Minister Najib, who faces corruption charges over 1MDB and other issues. In fact, Sadiq said, there are moves to take over the establishment media and bend it to favor the new government, as if the new government hasn’t quite got the idea of a free press right.

“Obviously we were heartened by the new government’s move to lift the travel ban and drop the pending sedition charges against cartoonist Zunar,” said Shawn Crispin, the Southeast Asia representative for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. “And we were also encouraged by the government’s stated commitment to scrap Najib’s bogus ‘fake news’ law.”

Image result for The Fate of Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan

Malaysiakini’s Duo, Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan

But, Crispin said, “until Mahathir’s administration follows through with that commitment and moves to scrap various other laws on the books used to intimidate and harass the press,  journalists will still be at risk. It should also drop the various charges pending against journalists, including those filed by the previous government against Malaysiakini.”

Mahathir’s government “promised a democratic revolution upon its election – there would be no more meaningful way to make good on that vow than by freeing the press,” he continued.

Some 35 laws remain on Malaysia’s books that restrict freedom of the press.  One of them is the infamous sedition statute, which was used against a long string of academics, journalists, opposition politicians and others.

 

And shockingly it was used again in July, two months after the long-suppressed opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition came to power, against Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, a lawyer with the Center to Combat Corruption and Colonialism, who questioned the power of the country’s nine sultans in a democracy. Fadiah was questioned by  the Police on July 10 for an hour. She claimed the right to remain silent and the case is hanging fire.  But the incident raises serious questions over the commitment of the new coalition to the right to free expression.

The alternative media, including the major online news portals, Malaysiakini and Malaysian Insight, continue to play their role as the conscience of the nation and try to present a balanced view to the public.

The Pakatan Harapan administration may have promised more press freedom, but unless reporters have more integrity and rise to the challenge of scrutinizing the new coalition\ by asking tough questions of its ministers, and their policies, little will change. They are easily fobbed off with remarks like “It’s Mahathir’s prerogative” to do as he pleases.

The election promise by the new government of increased press freedom has ostensibly been welcomed. At July’s Malaysian Press Night 2018 for the 2017 Malaysian Press Institute (MPI)-Petronas Journalism Awards, Foreign Minister, Saifuddin Abdullah, urged the press to play a critical role in the nation’s political transition towards a mature democratic country.

Claiming that his government was more open and willing to embrace press freedom, he said: “Journalists do not have to worry about receiving calls from the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) or other ministers. In fact, it is okay to hold more debates. Hopefully, no editor will be summoned anymore just because some pictures are ‘not interesting enough’.

Few would disagree, but some believe that there has been little change. Some 35 laws remain on Malaysia’s books that could potentially limit press freedom.

Prior to the election, political appointees enjoyed prominent positions on mainstream editorial boards and few politicians felt any fear, even during press conferences, of serious exposes. Editorial boards still control what the public reads.

To the casual observer, the mainstream media has always been full of praise for the ruling party, but fiercely critical of the opposition. With new editorial guidelines under the new government, many hoped that things would change.

The people who doubt the critical role of the free, self-regulating press to expose acts of corruption, deaths in custody and illegal practices need to remind themselves that many of these horrors would never have been in the public domain, but for the few people who were prepared to write about them, publish the reports in the papers and demand that action be taken to help society’s most marginalized people.

In the past, the institutions and the key people involved would close ranks, silence criticism and turn a blind eye to public concerns. Those who made the reports and who dared to give a voice to victims, were threatened and charged with various trumped-up offences, to silence them. In some cases, they were killed to stop action being taken.

Mahathir and the new National Car Project


August 9, 2018

Mahathir and the new National Car Project–Doomed to Failure Again

by John Berthelsen@www.asiasentinel.com

In 1984, a young researcher at a prestigious Malaysian thinktank wrote an exhaustive review of then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s plan to partner with Mitsubishi Motors of Japan to produce a so-called national car. The sum and substance of the researcher’s report was: Don’t do it. It would be an economic disaster that would also limit consumer choice.

The report was leaked to a reporter for the Asian Wall Street Journal, then the New York-based WSJ’s Asian edition, which ran the story. The think tank’s chief quickly shot it down, saying it was only a draft, and never mind.  Fast forward a couple of decades, and learn just how prophetic the researcher’s warning was.

Mahathir went ahead and midwifed his proposal, of course, which became Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional (Proton). In the ensuing three-plus decades of its existence, the car, part of Mahathir’s move to move the country away from its resource-based economy to heavy industrialization, can only be described as a disaster.

Eventually in June 2017 – allegedly, partly to find funds to bail out the flailing 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which was enveloped in scandal – Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government would sell 49.9 percent of Proton to China’s Zejiang Geely Holding Group and effectively cede control over it to the automaker Geely.

But for everybody breathing a sigh of relief at having managed to get rid of the albatross hanging around Malaysia’s neck, the idea of a national car is back, along with Mahathir, who led the take-no-prisoners campaign to get rid of the corruption-plagued Najib in the country’s May 9 general election.

The 93-year-old Mahathir appears to want to bring back the country to where it was when he left office in 2003 after the first 23 year stint as premier, also reviving a proposal to build Malaysia’s half of a bridge over the Singapore causeway that nobody wants. It has won the name “crooked bridge” because it would have to be built to connect to Singapore’s half of the causeway since the island republic has no plans to replace its half of the bridge.

Ominously, Mahathir, has been appointed chairman of the board of Khazanah Nasional Bhd., the government’s premier investment vehicle, or more likely has appointed himself. Appointed along with him are allies Mohamed Azmin Ali, Mohd Hassan Marican, Sukhdave Singh and Goh Ching Yin. It was Kazanah that would ultimately take control over Proton, raising fears that Mahathir’s second incarnation as premier will result in amassing the same kind of power that he amassed in the 1980s and 1990s.

Against the advice of virtually everybody, Mahathir has gone to Japan, possibly to seek a joint venture partner to build another car despite the failure of Proton, which in characteristic Mahathir fashion was blamed on everybody else.

Entrepreneur Development Minister Mohd Redzuan Yusof announced last week that the government expects to launch what has been called “national car project 3.0” by 2020 in a move described as strategy to revitalize the national automotive industry.

But if past is inevitably prologue, Malaysia would do wise to heed the critics. Rafizi Ramli, the Vice President of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, urged that the project be reconsidered, saying no such plan had ever been discussed in the governing Pakatan Harapan coalition. No attempt has been made to assess the cost, no decision has been taken which agency would assume responsibility, no move has been made to abolish swingeing excise taxes on cars.

Image result for Barry Wain and Mahathir

 

The saga of the Proton Saga – the name given the first national car – is contained in “Malaysian Maverick,” the highly regarded biography of Mahathir written by the late Wall Street Journal editor and columnist Barry Wain, who pointed out that for most of its existence, Proton lost RM35,000 (US$8,587 at current exchange rates) on every car sold.

Proton’s dubious success, Wain wrote, “came at a heavy cost to Malaysian consumers: taxes ranging from 140 percent to 300 percent on imported vehicles, and up to 40 percent on cars locally assembled from imported kits.”

Proton cost Malaysia’s taxpayers billions in direct subsidies and untold billions more in opportunity costs as those who didn’t want a rebadged Mitsubishi Lancer were forced to pay enormous excise taxes on foreign-made cars. Thousands went ahead and bought Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans anyway, paying the extra freight. They also bought even more-expensive Mercedes-Benzes and Jaguars anyway despite the extra cost.

Image result for Barry Wain and Mahathir

Already dated by the time Malaysia started importing the Lancer kits, the car was lackluster at best. Given Malaysia’s population at that point of fewer than 30 million, it was impossible to gear up to beat the economies of scale enjoyed by Toyota, Honda, Nissan and other manufacturers, who turned out millions of cars every year in their home bases and satellite plants.  Attempts to sell Protons overseas failed. Cars sold in China and England, for instance, had no heaters because they weren’t necessary in Malaysia. In order to sell the car in the UK, 400 technical modifications had to be made.  In the end, exports accounted for only about 10 percent of sales.

Worse, as Wain wrote, the country’s thriving assembly industry, which employed thousands, was decimated by the favoritism shown to Proton. By contrast, Thailand welcomed the entry of foreign firms to assemble cars there, ultimately becoming the export hub of Southeast Asia and ending up what was called the “Detroit of the East.”

Image result for Original Proton Saga 1986 Model

Read this: http://autobuzz.my/2016/09/27/feature-seven-things-may-not-know-proton-saga-video/

As Proton attempted to increase local content, with Malaysian engineers and designers producing more and more of the components of the cars, they fell even further behind, unable to compete with the technical expertise of the Japanese, Koreans and other carmakers.

In the end, there was little to show for Proton other than the Malaysian Islamic hood ornament, a symbol of pride. Mitsubishi “bailed out of Proton in 2004, ending a two-decade partnership that proved extremely profitable for the Japanese group” at the same time Malaysia was left “with dozens of uncompetitive local auto parts makers and vendors.”

Now Mahathir wants to do it again. He may get his way.  But the national car encapsulates a more worrisome concern for the country, and that is that the ideas that failed – besides Proton but including a long string of grandiose projects — cost the exchequer as much as RM100 billion in mismanagement and corruption, according to Wain’s book. Mahathir during the campaign that ousted the massively corrupt Najib Razak claimed he was now willing to share power and ideas. The car is a disturbing throwback, and raises the possibility that there are more such projects in the wings. For those who read Wain’s 2009 book, revised and updated in 2012, it might pay to go back and reread it.