Cambodia-Vietnam Ties Turn 50


June 21, 2017

Cambodia-Vietnam Ties Turn 50

http://www.eastasiaforum.com

by  Vannarith Chheang, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute

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Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung  of Vietnam (photo: Duc Tam/ VNA)

2017 marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Vietnam. Both countries have organised a series of events to commemorate their time-honoured traditional friendship that is bound by strategic convergence, common vision and shared interests.

Over the past fifty years, the relationship ebbed and flowed with changing geopolitics and domestic politics in both countries before settling since 1979. Yet anti-Vietnamese sentiment in Cambodia — mainly driven by domestic politics — has constrained both countries from deepening their strategic partnership.

Cambodia’s opposition party tends to use ‘Vietnam threat’ rhetoric to gain popular support. In an attempt to delegitimise the governing Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) ahead of the upcoming elections, former President of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has posted a series of short video clips explaining the roots of the CPP and its connections with the communist party of Vietnam. But Cambodian voters are increasingly concerned about their livelihood, social justice, good governance, human rights and environmental protection much more than the Vietnam factor.

There is political cost attached to strengthening bilateral relations with Hanoi, including potentially losing votes to the opposition. Despite this, the long-ruling CPP remains committed to maintaining and enhancing the Vietnam relationship for the sake of national and regional peace and development.

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A new bridge is now linking Vietnam and Cambodia after being inaugurated on April 24, 2017 by Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and his Cambodian counterpart Samdech Hun Sen. The Long Binh-Chrey Thom Bridge is built over the Binh Di River and connects the provinces of An Giang in South Vietnam with Cal Dal in Cambodia. It is 442 metres long and 13 metres wide and is designed to withstand speeds of 80km/h and allow cars to cross at a speed of 80 km/h.

It is clear that Cambodia is unable to enjoy peace and development without having good and stable relations with its immediate neighbours. Both countries understand that without sticking together under the ASEAN umbrella, their regional role and leverage will be weakened. As a result, Cambodia and Vietnam’s foreign policies have both focused on regional integration and community-building.

Cambodia and Vietnam also share the concern that rivalry between major powers is threatening regional peace and stability. Learning from their Cold War experience, they must stay united to survive and thrive.

In early 2017, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc visited Cambodia three times, including to attend the ground-breaking opening ceremony of Chrey Thom–Long Binh Bridge (connecting Cambodia and Vietnam), pay an official state visit and attend the World Economic Forum on ASEAN. Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen is planning to visit Vietnam later this month to commemorate 40th anniversary of his struggle against the Khmer Rouge regime. Such frequent high-level bilateral talks significantly contribute to nurturing political and personal trust, which are the foundations of the relationship.

Early in 2017 at the 4th Meeting on Cooperation and Development among the Border Provinces, both countries’ deputy prime ministers underscored the need to develop the Vietnam–Cambodia border area. They agreed to modernise infrastructure facilities, promote trade, investment, services and tourism and build border economic zones and markets.

Vietnam is now the fifth largest investor in Cambodia after China, South Korea, the European Union and Malaysia — it has invested in 183 projects with an aggregate value of US$2.86 billion. The investment projects target rubber plantations, telecommunications and banking. Vietnam is also Cambodia’s third largest trading partner with about US$3 billion over the last few years. They aim to achieve a US$5 billion trade volume in coming years. The planned construction of 116 warehouses at strategic border crossings between Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos — expected to be completed by 2035 — will improve trade flow between the two countries.

People-to-people connectivity between Vietnam and Cambodia has been markedly strengthened over the years. There are currently more than 400 Cambodian students pursuing their higher education at various universities and institutions in Vietnam. And Vietnamese are the largest group of tourists to Cambodia, accounting for 19 per cent of all visitors.

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The  Neak Loeung Bridge located in the Prey Veng Province is 2,220 metres long, 13 metres wide and 37.5 metres above the water level. It will have two wide lanes for traffic. When completed it will facilitate trade between Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Looking ahead to the next fifty years, Cambodia–Vietnam relations will evolve in tandem with the speed of ASEAN community building. ASEAN provides institutional and diplomatic leverage for its member states to strategically manoeuvre and collectively hedge against major powers to minimise risks while maximising interests where possible. Collectively advocating for a rules-based regional order will help smaller countries like Cambodia and Vietnam to protect their legitimate interests.

To reduce ‘Vietnam threat’ perceptions in Cambodia, both countries need to promote engagement at all levels. Right now there is a lack of academic or intellectual dialogue between the two countries. Exchange programs among students, youth leaders, future leaders and community leaders need to be further promoted. Political parties in Cambodia should not use Vietnam for their own political gains — such a strategy is obsolete and does not fit into the evolving dynamics of ASEAN regionalism.

Differences over the management of the Mekong River and the South China Sea dispute need to be resolved the ASEAN way — through consultation and consensus. Cambodia and Vietnam might have different views on these complex issues, but they need to respect each other’s national interest and position without harming bilateral friendship and ASEAN unity.

Vannarith Chheang is a Visiting Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore

Mutual Respect– The Foundation for Better Cambodia-Thailand Relations


June 15, 2017

Mutual Respect–The Foundation for Better Cambodia-Thailand Relations

by Kimkong Heng

http://ippreview.com/index.php/Blog/single/id/467.html

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The relations between Cambodia and Thailand can be appropriately labelled as a love-hate relationship, given the long history of bilateral ties between the two neighboring countries. However, racial hatred, arguably, seems to have prevailed among many, if not most, of the people of both countries, at least during the three-year Cambodian-Thai border dispute that started in July 2008 over the territory surrounding the 11th century Preah Vihear Temple (known as Phra Viharn in Thailand). The deep hatred and open hostility should come as no surprise if one examines the ancient and modern history of the relations between the two countries.

However, given their current political, economic and diplomatic relations, both countries can enhance their generally troubled relationship through a reciprocal exchange of mutual respect. There are many possibilities ranging from government-to-government initiatives to people-to-people connectivity programs to cultivate and nurture mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance between the people of both nations. Only when a sense of mutual respect is prevalent among Cambodian and Thai people, can harmonious bilateral relations between the two neighbors be maintained and strengthened.

From the Cambodian historical perspective, Thailand was a major threat to Cambodia’s land, although it is less of a threat compared to its Vietnamese counterpart to the present-day Cambodia. Every Cambodian, young and old, knows that Thailand was Cambodia’s traditional enemy and that Cambodia was the victim of devastating Thai (called Siam by most Cambodians) attacks on numerous occasions. There were two infamous invasions of Cambodia by the Siamese. One was the Siamese invasion of Angkor in 1431 and another was the invasion of Longvek, an ancient Cambodian capital (now located in Kampong Chhnang province), in 1593. The collapse of both ancient Khmer cities marked the downward trajectory of the Khmer Empire which was already in decline from the 13th to the 19th centuries, a historical period which saw Cambodia’s vast territory lost to Thailand and Vietnam until Cambodia became a French colony in 1863 under King Norodom’s reign.

Under the French, Cambodia-Thailand relations seemed to have been restored and improved, with a number of treaties signed between Siam and France, on Cambodia’s behalf. Following Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953, however, Cambodia-Thailand relations deteriorated when Thailand in 1954 occupied Preah Vihear by force. Cambodia then responded to the Thai invasion by bringing a legal case against Thailand before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1959. The ICJ in 1962 ruled that Cambodia was the rightful owner of Preah Vihear Temple. Relations between both countries could not be worse at that time.

Three decades later, after Cambodia’s UN-sponsored national election in 1993, the two neighbors began to establish good relations with each other. However, their seemingly good relationship was brief and fragile. In 2003, a violent riot broke out after a Thai actress was reported to have awkwardly claimed that Angkor Wat should be returned to Thailand. The incident saw the bilateral relations between the two neighbors descend to the worst possible level, once again. When their bilateral ties later seemed to normalize and improve, both governments again broke off their diplomatic relations. This was a result of Thai troops being stationed in a disputed area of land adjacent to the Preah Vihear Temple after the temple was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2008. Thailand’s troop deployment invited Cambodia to do the same, which led to a series of fierce border clashes and skirmishes between 2008 and 2011, despite several talks and meetings between the two governments.

As close neighbors and ASEAN members, the two countries could not need each other more in terms of trade, national security, strategic cooperation, and cultural and human exchange.

With ASEAN mediation (although no effective action was taken), domestic political developments in both countries, and the ICJ Judgment on Cambodia’s request for a reinterpretation of the 1962 judgment in November 2013, the Cambodian-Thai border conflict was resolved, and bilateral relations improved. Two years later Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart, Prayuth Chan-ocha, signed a series of agreements aimed at cementing bilateral ties between both countries. They agreed to develop border facilities, manage migrant labor, and triple their current trade volume to USD 15 billion by 2020.

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Thailand must respect Cambodia’s Sovereignty over Preah Vihear Temple

Nevertheless, a resurgence of nationalism in both countries, often manipulated by politicians, is likely to impact their bilateral relations. As Kimly Ngoun has noted, many issues such as the historical legacy of hostility and mistrust, different constructions of history by Cambodian and Thai elites, and political propaganda about national territory and sovereignty, remain to be addressed, otherwise future conflict between Cambodia and Thailand is inevitable.

All things considered, genuine and mutual respect between the people of both nations should be cultivated and nurtured. In addition to efforts at the institutional and governmental levels to salvage the troubled relationship between the two countries, individuals have crucial roles to play. As argued in another article, Cambodian youth have played a pivotal role in shaping Cambodia’s relations with Vietnam. And Thailand should not be an exception. Cambodian people, particularly the younger generation, therefore, should not dwell on their dark history; instead, they should use lessons from history to help them make informed and impartial judgments when dealing with issues concerning Thailand and its people. They should, moreover, focus on developing themselves by engaging in different forms of personal and professional development. Only when each and every Cambodian is more educated, pragmatic, open-minded, and culturally competent, will Cambodia be more competitive and well-received in its neighboring countries’ eyes and on the international stage.

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Thus, everyone, both Cambodians and Thais, have a vital role to play in improving and fostering good relations between the two old rivals. In this regard, Cambodian people must learn to embrace the culture, values, and aspirations of their Thai counterparts, although those Thai cultural aspects, as claimed by Cambodians, originally derived from Khmer culture. This cultural acceptance must be a collective effort requiring mutual respect. The Thai side must also pursue the same initiative — respecting Cambodian culture, values, and aspirations despite having very similar cultural identity and practices.

There are a myriad of options and actions which can be taken to promote this free and frank exchange of mutual respect. One option both governments have pursued but will still requires their serious attention is to improve border facilities and security to enhance trade, tourism, and mobility. This of course implies the demarcation of both land and maritime borders. With more development projects geared towards areas along the Cambodian-Thai border, chances are high for citizens of both countries to interact economically, culturally, and socially, leading to better mutual understanding and trust.

New initiatives for cultural and educational exchanges or projects involving youth engagement and interactions, such as study exchange programs and youth group camping, should be further encouraged and implemented. Moreover, initiatives to enhance business and investment and to improve deep institutional ties and physical infrastructure links between Cambodia and Thailand are essential because, in their absence, people-to-people links would be difficult, if not impossible. The mutual exchange of respect and understanding must therefore be fostered at all levels, although the emphasis should be targeted at the grassroots level by fully engaging individuals and the youth of both countries.

The cultivation of mutual respect among the people of Cambodia and Thailand is clearly a prerequisite for the long-term healthy relationship between the two former enemies. As close neighbors and ASEAN members, the two countries could not need each other more in terms of trade, national security, strategic cooperation, and cultural and human exchange. To instill respect for one another, people of both nationalities must learn to be more outward-looking yet less self-important in their perceptions of their neighboring counterparts. It is probably wise for them to remember an old Khmer saying which goes, “In times of trouble, a good neighbor is better than a faraway relative.” Good neighbors must show one another mutual respect.

*Kimkong Heng is Assistant Dean at the School of Graduate Studies and a researcher with Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations in the University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

 

Cambodia-Vietnam Relations: Role of Cambodian Youth


Cambodia-Vietnam Relations: Role of Cambodian Youth

by Kimkong Heng & Sovinda Po

http://www.newmandala.org

Cambodia youth have crucial roles to play in improving and strengthening Cambodia-Vietnam relations, write Kimkong Heng & Sovinda Po.

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Cambodia has long been the victim of her rising neighbuors, Thailand and Vietnam. In 1863, to ensure that Cambodia could still remain united as a single country and not to be swallowed by her two stronger neighbours, King Norodom decided to invite France to make Cambodia its protectorate. A century later, with the intention to dominate and turn Indochina into a communist bloc under its control, Vietnam invaded Cambodia on grounds of liberating the latter from the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

Because of increasing diplomatic and economic pressure from the international community, however, Vietnam was forced to withdraw its troops from Cambodia in 1989. Chronic anti-Vietnamese sentiment among Cambodians, or so-called ‘Vietnam Syndrome’, has remained ever since.

One of the great challenges in Cambodia-Vietnam bilateral relations is the perception of many Cambodian people, who even long before the 1979 Vietnamese invasion, saw Vietnam as a long-term threat to Cambodia’s land. As noted in Phnom Penh Post, “quite clearly, forms of Cambodian racism towards Vietnam and the Vietnamese minority in Cambodia did not develop in a historical vacuum but rather developed in response to the expansionist tendencies of the pre-colonial imperial state”. Vietnam encroached Prey Nokor, including Kampuchea Krom (formerly a Cambodian territory) and institutionalised it as its own city, now known as Ho Chi Minh City.

Such stories and other similar narratives about Vietnam’s land grabbing ideology were taught in Cambodian schools and passed down from one generation to another. Moreover, the contemporary instances of the ongoing border dispute between Cambodia and Vietnam has also reinforced such perceptions. One Cambodian scholar posits that the border dispute, compounded by anti-Vietnam nationalism, has gained momentum since the national election in 2013 and the trend is not likely to fade away any time soon.

Cambodia’s efforts to improve the Cambodia-Vietnam Relations

The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) under Hun Sen’s leadership has been very active in normalising and cementing Cambodian ties with Vietnam. In June 2015 during the visit of Le Hong Anh, a member of the politburo of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Hun Sen told the Vietnamese counterpart to remain calm so that peace and stability could be maintained along the border. At the same year, Hun Sen also asked the UN for original Cambodian maps to verify the ongoing border demarcation process between Cambodia and Vietnam.

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Although this attempt has not yielded a fruitful result, because both parties have not reached common agreement, the general public in Cambodia tended to view it as a major effort to settle the border dispute. Moreover, several dimensions of bilateral cooperation between the two countries have been initiated and increased. There is much cooperation in terms of trade, investments, military-to-military ties, and government-to-government relations, but one of the most important dimensions in  Cambodian-Vietnamese relations which seems to receive less attention is people-to-people connectivity.

Cambodian youth, the backbone of the Cambodian nation, have vital roles to play to improve and strengthen relations between the two countries.

The Role of Cambodian Youth 

Despite many initiatives such as youth exchange programs both governments have introduced to salvage the troubled relationship between the two countries, youth of both nations still have crucial roles to play.

First, Cambodian youth must learn and understand their own history. Only after they have a profound insight into their own history will they be able to make sound judgment and rational decisions when it comes to issues related to Cambodia-Vietnam relations. As Chheang Vannarith notes, a clear understanding of history can help promote reconciliation between former enemy countries because history offers light for future directions.

Second, Cambodian youth must learn to develop open-minded and positive mindsets. Instead of sticking to a negative anti-Vietnamese worldview, they should learn to ‘jettison’ their Vietnam syndrome by being more open and realistic in their thinking and attitudes. Although Cambodia and Vietnam were two former foes, both nations are now ASEAN members. Thus, establishing more and improved people-to-people connectivity between the two neighbouring countries is vitally important; however, any connectivity at a micro- level will not flourish unless Cambodian youth can start learning to view their Vietnamese counterparts as friends, not traditional enemies.

Third, Cambodian youth must also learn to think and act as global citizens. Living in a global society, in particular within ASEAN, younger Cambodian generations must be able to live harmoniously and peacefully with other nationalities, especially the Vietnamese. Although Vietnam is generally not well-received among Cambodians, young and old, the country is vital to Cambodia’s national security because of its geopolitical proximity to Cambodia. In this respect, the ability to refrain from despising anything with the name ‘Vietnam’ or ‘Vietnamese’ attached to it is absolutely crucial for Cambodian young people if they wish to be seen as global citizens.

Finally, it is a must for Cambodian youth to engage in all forms of knowledge and skills development. One problem Cambodia is facing and will continue to face in the foreseeable future is the lack of a culture of reading. Therefore, as Cambodia aims to become an upper-middle income country by 2030 and a high income country by 2050 (Cambodia’s National Strategic Development Plan 2014-2018), the development of a knowledge-based Cambodian society is of absolute necessity.

In this regard, Cambodian youth who are the future for Cambodia have a pivotal role to play. They can either be future architects of the Cambodian development pathway, including Cambodia’s foreign policy, or prospective captains of the Cambodian ship. Most importantly, they can be Cambodian ambassadors in the making who are responsible for raising the profile of Cambodia in the region and the international stage. They have, in particular, active and fundamental roles to play in Cambodia’s endeavours to enhance its relations with Vietnam. All of these roles require knowledgeable, open-minded, pragmatic and outward-looking Cambodians.

Kimkong Heng is an Assistant Dean for the School of Graduate Studies, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He is also a lead editorial assistant of UC Occasional Paper Series. He earned his MA in TESOL from the University of Canberra (Australia) with High Distinction. His areas of interest include language teaching methodology, teacher education, teacher research capacity building, and now foreign policy. Heng is a doctoral candidate in International Relations at Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia under supervision of Prof. (Dr) Din Merican.

Sovinda Po is a Master student in International Relations at School of Advanced International and Areas Studies, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China. His research interests include Cambodia’s foreign policy, China’s foreign policy, China and Cambodia relations, and China and ASEAN relations. His articles appear on the Diplomat, East Asia Forum, IPP Review, and Australian Institute of International Affairs.    

Diplomacy at work in Florida when DJT meets China’s Xi


April 3, 2017

Diplomacy at work in Florida when DJT meets China’s Xi

by Editors, East Asia Forum

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

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All eyes will be on Florida this week, when US President Donald Trump will host an inaugural summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The first summit between the two leaders is always going to be consequential, given the size and influence of the two nations, and their growing competition over issues such as North Korean nuclear proliferation, East Asian maritime security disputes, bilateral trade and investment imbalances and the direction of the global economy.

But the Trump–Xi summit takes on even greater significance because of the degree of anti-China rhetoric Trump employed during his 2016 presidential campaign. There is now a high degree of uncertainty over whether President Trump will turn that rhetoric into policy.

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Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson met President Xi in Beijing

During the election campaign, Trump threatened to impose a 45 per cent tariff on Chinese imports and described China as ‘the single greatest currency manipulator that’s ever been on this planet’. As President-Elect, Trump broke with decades of diplomatic protocol by accepting a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, and suggested in an interview on Fox News that he may use the ‘one China’ policy as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations.

So far, President Trump has not moved to enact specific policies that follow through these threats, although his appointment of Peter Navarro as the director of the National Trade Council and his nomination of Robert Lighthizer as US Trade Representative, suggested that the Trump administration was likely to take a more confrontational approach to China in the economic realm.

On security matters, there have been more contradictory signals. Despite his threats during and in the wake of the campaign, Trump told President Xi during their first phone call that he would respect the ‘one China’ policy. And although Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, took a tough line on China during his confirmation hearing, Tillerson surprised Chinese and American audiences alike during his first official visit to Beijing last month when he appeared to take a more conciliatory approach to China and adopted Beijing’s formulation of language underpinning the ‘new model of great power relations’.

Inevitably, teething issues and missteps confound the early days of any new administration, but the degree of uncertainty surrounding Trump’s China policy is unusual. There is no doubt that we are at a precarious moment in the US–China relationship. There is much at stake for both the United States and China in the lead up to the Florida summit.

As Zha Daojiong explains in our first lead piece this week, Trump faces considerable domestic pressure from America’s foreign policy advocates — Democrat and Republican alike — for whom ‘“get tough on China” is more the norm than the exception’, and from his supporters who are now encouraging Trump to ‘live up to his own tweets about China’. Trump also faces pressure from US allies and partners in Asia who ‘demand explicit and repeated assurance of American staying power’. The combination of these pressures, Zha argues, will make the Trump administration wary of appearing soft on China.

For Xi Jinping, the primary goal in Florida is avoiding a US–China trade war that would not only harm both countries’ economies, but which would also jeopardise Xi’s desire for a stable run up to the 19th Party Congress later this year. Despite pressure on Trump to come good on election hype, as David Dollar explains in our second lead piece this week, Trump must recognise that ‘threatening high tariffs is not likely to encourage China to yield and would backfire by hurting the US economy’. Instead, Trump ‘should consider restricting SOE mergers and acquisitions in the US given the lack of reciprocity on the Chinese side’, and should focus on encouraging the domestic reforms that would push China’s economy towards greater consumption. In addition, he notes ominously that the ‘US also has trade remedies that it can deploy in individual sectors’.

But the outcomes of the summit will have consequences well beyond the bilateral US–China relationship. There is a need for a new bargain between the US and China. The risk is that in pursuing this bargain, Trump and Xi will agree to forge a ‘G2’ or a ‘new model of major power relations’ that could overlook the security and economic interests of US allies and partners, or undermine the open economic order.

Instead, as Zha argues, China ‘would be best advised to drop its past attempts at winning support from the United States for a broad framing of the bilateral relationship’ along the lines of the ‘new model of major power relations’. Failure to do so would ‘set off complicated trilateral geopolitical relations’ with countries like South Korea and Japan, and could further stymie efforts to resolve critical challenges like the North Korean nuclear issue. In Florida, Zha suggests, ‘the Chinese side should echo Trump by noting that the smooth development of ties between the United States and its Asian allies is positive for China’.

On economic issues, the two sides must resist a deal that pulls China away from greater economic openness. Instead, Dollar argues that speeding up the pace of China’s domestic economic reforms would actually help to shift China’s economy towards consumption and reduce the large trade surpluses that are so resented by the Trump administration.

‘China is keeping zombie state enterprises alive with credit from state-owned banks. [Trump] should encourage China to close bankrupt enterprises and privatize viable ones. China could easily afford more generous pensions for its large number of military and civilian retirees. This would be an immediate way to increase household income for a group that is likely to spend it. China also spends little public money on health and education, and greater social spending would increase households’ real income and bolster their consumption’, Dollar argues.

Though the Florida summit may end up being more about style than substance, the tenor of discussions between Xi and Trump, and whether or not the two sides can lay the foundations for striking some kind of bargain, will have major implications for regional and global order.

The EAF Editorial Group is comprised of Peter Drysdale, Shiro Armstrong, Ben Ascione, Ryan Manuel, Amy King and Jillian Mowbray-Tsutsumi and is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

A Wahhabi Prophet comes to Najib’s LaLaLand


March 2, 2017

A Wahhabi Prophet comes to Najib’s LaLaLand

by S Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

“My biggest fear is that the enlightened Arab thinkers are going to leave the Arab world in search of fresh air: somewhere far away from the sword of the religious authorities.”– Raif Badawi, ‘1,000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think’

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UMNO’s Grand Poobah and his Fan Club

A long-time reader of my writings and someone who has become a friend asked me what I thought about the visit of the House of Saud. “The Prime Minister must be really desperate,” he said and was taken aback when I disagreed.

In my opinion, UMNO President Najib Abdul Razak is in a better position than the current monarch of Saudi Arabia. Maybe it is because Saudi Arabia is heading into (1) extremely choppy financial waters, (2) waging an ideological and proxy war with Iran, (3) leading a “coalition” against Yemen, and (4) promulgating its version of Islam (Wahhabism) which has resulted in blowback across the world.

1) As reported by CNNMoney – “After years of raking in huge sums of oil money, these days Saudi Arabia is pulling out all the stops to raise cash. The kingdom is reportedly planning to take out a US$10 billion loan from a group of banks, possibly paving the way for its first international bond sale.

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“The problem is Saudi Arabia needs oil prices at over US$100 a barrel to break even on its budget. The kingdom spends heavily on perks for its huge population of nearly 30 million. Now it’s being forced to reverse some of those gifts, as highlighted by the recent 50 percent gas price hike. Saudi Arabia’s ‘lavish social spending program is on a collision course’ with cheap oil, (Zach) Schreiber said.”

(Schreiber was CEO of hedge fund PointState Capital who walked away with US$1 billion after betting that oil prices would crash three years ago.)

2) Did anyone else read Iranian Foreign Mohammad Javad Zarif’s op-ed piece in the New York Times, titled ‘Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism’? I certainly did –

“Saudi Arabia’s effort to persuade its Western patrons to back its shortsighted tactics is based on the false premise that plunging the Arab world into further chaos will somehow damage Iran. The fanciful notions that regional instability will help to ‘contain’ Iran, and that supposed rivalries between Sunni and Shiite Muslims are fueling conflicts, are contradicted by the reality that the worst bloodshed in the region is caused by Wahhabists fighting fellow Arabs and murdering fellow Sunnis.”

3) Just last month the United Nations warned Saudi Arabia and its “allies” that war crimes may have been committed in the Yemen conflict – “A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition has carried out attacks in Yemen that ‘may amount to war crimes’”, UN sanctions monitors reported to the world body’s Security Council, warning coalition allies including the United States, Britain and France that they are obligated to respect international humanitarian law.

4) Again, from the New York Times, last year – “Small details of Saudi practice can cause outsize trouble. For at least two decades, the kingdom has distributed an English translation of the Quran that in the first surah, or chapter, adds parenthetical references to Jews and Christians in addressing Allah: ‘those who earned your anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians).’ Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a Professor of Islamic studies at The George Washington University and the editor-in-chief of the new Study Quran, an annotated English version, said the additions were ‘a complete heresy, with no basis in Islamic tradition’.”

Compared to the above, being labelled a kleptocrat at the centre of the country’s biggest financial scandal pales in comparison. Furthermore, unlike the wolves baying at the door of the House of Saud, the opposition towards this Najib regime is fractured, with certain members of the coalition still thinking–how naive– they can deal with PAS.

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It is pointless talking about the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. It is pointless pointing out the fact that the so-called moderate form of Islam practiced in Malaysia is anathema to the kind of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. It is pointless going over the so-called “donation” that was – or not to be – from the Kingdom.

Forestalling another Arab Spring

Remember, when Islamist political parties PAS and UMNO were arguing about UMNO actually used the donation to “uplift” Muslims?

I certainly do – “PAS Vice-President Iskandar Abdul Samad in a statement that was revealing of the UMNO strategy but at the same time an unintentional condemnation of Islam, questioned the efficacy of the use of dubious funds in the eradication of Muslim poverty, here in Malaysia.

“Would it have been acceptable to PAS if the so-called gift from The House of Saud was used to ‘uplift’ Muslims here in Malaysia? Of course, PAS splinter group Amanah is equally myopic in its version of how Islam is practiced in Malaysia.”

I contend there is nothing we can and should take from the Saudi Kingdom. I would argue that the reason why Malaysia is a so-called moderate state is because however dismally we have managed to resist the excesses of the House of Saud, we still have a multi-ethnic population whose contribution to politics, economics and culture has maintained a fast fading line between what the Wahhabis and their ilk want and what is secular and rational.

Saudi Arabia has been embarking on social programmes for years putting money in the hands of its citizens. This is not nearly enough because with records highs in unemployment and poverty, the country is the poster child for what Islamic states would look like if Wahhabism managed to overrun the world.

The issue here is not whether you think that BR1M is a question of corruption. When the UMNO Grand Poobah notes with satisfaction that the House of Saud is considering adopting a similar plan of putting money into the bank accounts of needy citizens, they are doing this because they have screwed up the economy to the point that people are living in (even more) poverty and the House of Saud is attempting to forestall another Arab Spring.

Saudi jails are filled to bursting point with not only ordinary people who have fallen foul of pernicious Wahhabi laws but also extremely dangerous fanatics who wish to wage war on the House of Saud and have bloody hands from not only domestic terror attacks but also plying their trade on foreign soil.

This of course is to be expected. If former United States Ambassador to Afghanistan and the United Nations, not to mention Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad is to be believed, officials from Riyadh admitted that they were funding extremists for years in part because of cold war hegemonic stratagems and their great game with Iran.

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Writing for Politico, Khalilzad (pic above) claimed that measures were currently under way to divest the system of its Islamic extremism. The said measures included:

  • New limits on the ability of the religious police to arrest dissidents.
  • Purges of extremists from the government and greater efforts to monitor their influence in security institutions.
  • The appointment of new religious leaders to counter Islamic extremism on theological grounds.
  • The transformation of the Muslim World League – a key Saudi arm for supporting Islamic movements abroad – by the appointment of a new leader and a decision to stop supporting Islamist madrassas abroad.

I suppose we should be grateful that Saudi petro dollars may run out and they will not be able to fund an ideology they know to be corrosive and barbaric. However, I am not holding my breath. Islamic State is a self-funded criminal organisation. The world over we have Muslims who do not think to question their religious beliefs, especially those which pits them against their fellow men and this is because of the efforts of the House of Saud.

I end this piece with another jailed Saudi dissident Raif Badawi’s quote as to what I think of this visit to Malaysia by Saudi King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud – “Any religion-based state has a mission to limit the minds of its people, to fight the developments of history and logic, and to dumb down its citizens. It’s important to stand in the way of such a mentality, to deny it from continuing its mission to murder the souls of its people, killing them deep within while they are still alive and breathing.”

More often than not, the truth hits close to home.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.