Get the Big Picture – Making of a failed state and the LG Elections: Lessons for Najib’s Malaysia?


January 25, 2018

Get the Big Picture – Making of a failed state and the LG Elections: Lessons for Najib’s Malaysia?

by Sarath Bulathsinghala

http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2018/01/24/get-the-big-picture-making-of-a-failed-state-and-the-lg-elections/

 Sri Lanka was drifting towards China. This was obvious in the aftermath of Sri Lanka successfully concluding a terrorist war that was aided and abetted by the Christian West and India. What would the Christian West and India do?

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China is slowly and steadily progressing to become the dominant trading power of the world. Their modus operandi are different from those of others or of days gone by. Their policy towards the Third World is not Gunboat Diplomacy or its modern variants but one of accommodation and mutual benefit with little or no conditions attached. It was more co-existence than sheer dominance and all that entails. In this enterprise China is promoting new trade routes, called the new Silk Road. This is happening through land routes as well as through sea lanes.

Even before the end of the Tamil Racist War called Eelam War, the Rajapakse Adminstration embarked on major infrastructure improvement projects. These involved building of major road networks followed by the development of sea ports and airports. Would foreign countries come to build infrastructure projects in other countries out of generosity? It is the duty of individual countries to invest on such projects. Then only it becomes feasible for investors – foreign and local to pitch-in and engage in commerce, trade and industry.

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Hambantota Sea Port is leased to China for non-military purposes by Sri Lanka

One of the main items in the Chain of Pearls Project of China is the Hambantota Sea Port and the Mattala Airport. Although most of these projects were in the drawing boards for decades, funds were in short supply as well as the political will and courage to embark on such large ventures. Finally, funds came flowing from China and these projects became a reality. Sri Lanka was ready to ‘take off’ reaching Middle Income Earning Country status.

It is obvious that these achievements were and are being viewed with jaundiced eyes by India as well as by US and their US led allies in the Christian West. Situation in Sri Lanka didn’t fit in with their vision of the Third World in the new Millennium where the new normal is CHAOS – a la Tunesia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq Afghanistan and a myriad other big and small!

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This airport contract may be given to India as part of Sri Lanka’s Balancing Strategy between China and India.

India has Great Power ambitions in South Asia and in the Indian Ocean Region and then in the world. One of their unrealized dreams was to have Sri Lanka as one of their provinces.  Failing their ambition is to have a weak government in Sri Lanka which can be easily cajoled to fall in line. One of India’s ambitions is to have the deep water harbor of Trincomalee as their southern most naval post. It is in this connection that they were contemplating projects such as Sethu Samudra Sea Lanes, Power Project in Sampur and the Road from Mannar to Trinco as well as bridge or tunnel to connect Sri Lanka to mainland India. It is with this picture in the background that one must visualize the Indian manipulations in Sri Lanka at present. Eelam Project which is still alive and the sizeable Indian Community in the hill country constitute political as well as manipulative assets that can be commandeered to do their bidding.

As for the Eelam Project which was earlier financed and executed partly from India, there is not much appetite in India to give power to the Tamils per se. They know very well if Eelam comes into being that it will be US and her allies who will have sway and influence over them. This can one day lead to the balkanization of India through a series of ‘color revolutions across India. Unlike China which is a more a monolith than other and power well consolidated through the Communist Party of China, India is for all purposes and intents still remain a political construct of the British Empire – largely made up of extremely diverse and at times adverse groups of nationalities.  Their geography being what is bestowed to them by the British is not an easy task to manage the centripetal forces that tend to explode India from within. Only way India can bring about a reverse force that can keep India intact is to conjure up external threats from her neighbors.  Pakistan, Bangladesh and China and Nepal and Sri Lanka provide this excuse to India. It is only the external threats that bring up Indian-ness in Indians. At all other times Tamilians,  Maratis, Bengalis, North Indians and Punjabis on the one hand and Hindus and Muslims not to mention the tiny but influential Christian minority are constantly trying to undermine each other in a social fabric that is still enmeshed in caste based discrimination and dominance.  This is why Tamil Nadu adding up Eelam to make up greater Tamil Nadu is a big No No for India. India’s only ambition at present is to have Sri Lanka as a weak vassal state kept forever destabilized doing their bidding when required, same as Nepal and Bhutan!

 Western Christian Powers led by the US too invested on the Eelam project with an eye on Trincomalee as their next Sea Base after Diego Garcia. They are more interested in sea lanes and maintenance of global dominance. Though the powers of the Western Christian nations are in the wane they are not yet ready to give in without a fight. Therefore, their power and influence though residual and intimidatory, cannot be wished away. They still exercise power over and above their ability as movers and shakers of the world! Soon they will realize that theirs is not the only game in town!

It is with this picture in the background India, US and her allies invested on a project to depose the powerful Rajapakse Administration. Given the background of Sri Lankan politics and the mentality of the Sri Lankans it was an easier project than the other Colour Revolutions” elsewhere in the world. All what was required was massive disinformation campaign on the ground through the mobile phones, internet, so called ‘civil society’ well financed with dollars and willing knaves who could betray party, friends and the nation.

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Rajapakses were depicted as utterly corrupt and incorrigible. They made use of some of the already disgruntled and left aside politicians of the SLFP to switch sides at appropriate times to bring about regime change. First to persuade was Maithreepala Sirisena, the most disgruntled of the lack luster politicians of the lot.  It is no secret Mahinda Rajapakse by passed most of these inefficient and party hangers-on to get through most of the important jobs mainly the infrastructure projects. He placed implicit trust on those who could be trusted and his very capable brothers came in very handy. He even ‘imported’ some ‘go getter’ politicians from the UNP for these purposes.

Let us look at the voting pattern, those who voted for Sarath Fonseka in 2010  and those who voted for Maithreepala Sirisena in 2015. Did people personally vote for Sirisena – No.

It was a repetition of 2010 when sizeable number of the population voted for Sarath Fonseka seeking CHANGE not to Fonseka per se. However, in 2015 the disinformation exercise was in high gear favored by excesses of some of the high-handed work of the Rajapakse Second Term. That too was buttressed by the fiat votes of the Tamils and Muslims who vote en-block on the dictates of their leaders. These leaders frequently change allegiances to bring about regime change in line with their race base or faith base politics. While Racist Tamils are working towards dismemberment of Sri Lanka and carving out a separate state for themselves, the Muslims are working towards total domination through population increase, land acquisition and economic dominance!

Sarath Fonseka who polled nearly 4.5 million in the 2010 Presidential Elections polled less than 10,000 island wide when he contested elections in 2015 on his own steam. In the case of Sirisena he was not a Presidential aspirant 3 months prior to the election and it was not even in his wildest dreams he could be President of Sri Lanka. His only wish was to become Prime Minister succeeding D M Jayaratne before retiring from politics. What happened was a political coup masterminded by the Christian West aided and abetted by the Indians. They failed in 2010 but succeeded in 2015. The script of the coup is very clear and obvious; it is Made in USA!

When one looks at the Big Picture it is easy to surmise that the plot was hatched by the same think tanks in the US that plotted the overthrow of former Yugoslavia, Tunesia, Libya, Egypt and now trying hard on Syria. They were assisted by RAW operations from India. On their own admission US had spent over US$500 Million to destabilize Sri Lanka and Burma and India’s RAW may have used unknown Millions for the same purpose each to their own ends!

With 8th January 2015 Presidential Election the so called Yahapalana Administration came into being. The foreign agenda for Sri Lanka ran as follows:

  • Topple Rajapakse Administration – done
  • Appoint Ranil Wickramasinghe as PM – brings the Central Bank under his command – done
  • Change of Constitution – Out goes 18th and incomes the 19th reducing Presidential powers and increasing Prime Ministerial powers – done
  • Rob the Central Bank to find finances for fund depleted UNP reserves, finance next parliamentary elections, wreck Sri Lanka’s economy – done
  • Stop Rice Farming and destroy food security – done
  • Stop Fertilizer subsidies to Rice Farmers – done
  • Deny promised prices for Tea, Rubber, Coconut and Pepper Farmers – done
  • Increase taxes – done
  • Depreciate the Sri Lanka Rupee – done
  • Sell state assets – in progress
  • Destroy Sri Lanka’s Buddhist Establishment – in progress
  • Move armed forces from the North and East paving way to re-emergence of terrorism – in progress 75% complete
  • Bring Geneva threats against Sri Lanka and denounce War Heroes as war criminals to satisfy the Diaspora Racist Tamils – done
  • Revamp the entire Constitution of Sri Lanka to suit meddling by the Christian West as a means to balkanize Sri Lanka. This they are depicting as a measure to bring reconciliation among the communities in Sri Lanka and other groups in the shadows such as the LGBTQ. Whether separation of communities and coming out of the closet for the LGBTQ will bring about reconciliation is entirely a different subject! – in progress

After 3 years of Yahapalana Administration, most of the above have come to pass or are earmarked for implementation and Sri Lanka is on the way to be another Failed State. This is where the importance of the coming Local Government Elections become obvious.

All political parties aligned with the ruling cabal – the UNP, SLFP (Sirisena Clique), the JVP, Muslim and Tamil political parties, who were not interested in having Local Government Elections in a hurry could not keep the façade of a democratic regime any longer. After nearly 3 years of constantly postponing Local Government Elections finally there will be elections on 10 Feb 2018. The rulers have suddenly realized that they need  Local Government bodies to bring about development, despite !

They have seen the popular adulation for the ‘defeated’ Mahinda Rajapakse  with the Nugegoda Rally – not long after the ‘change’ of 8 Jan 2105 – Mahinda Handa and now later Pohottuwa, the ruling cabal is very afraid!

People have seen what the Change in 8 January 2015 has brought about. Though the older generations have been fooled before by the likes of Rice from the Moon and Dharmista Samajayak , but now even the younger generations whose dreams are more cyber than real have had a chance to see the reality of chasing after mirages. The promises of Saadharana Samajaya, Wasa wisa thora ratak, Dooshanayen thora Ratak have evaporated like the morning dew. Their proponents – one dead and the other no where to be seen!

They have a chance to show their pleasure or displeasure on the way the Yahapalana has succeeded in bringing about CHANGE”! Ranil- Sirisena joint enterprise is for all purposes and intents gone for good. Only reason it keeps going is self preservation for the incumbent keeping  all the strappings of political  power intact. They say that the country is now stabilized economically and diplomatically abroad and they are now ready to take on developing the villages, towns and cities. They are  promising, they will do the same thing they have done to the Country on a Macro Scale to the villages on a micro scale. It would be good to see if the population be they – Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim or other will have a taste and an appetite for more of the same of Yahapalanaya after a dismall 3 years in power. The nation must see that what remains is only complete subjugation to external forces as a Failed State.

There is no political establishment that is totally squeaky clean. We have seen what has become of Mr Clean. We simply have to choose the party that is less corrupt – just because we are human! Just because we need leaders to rule a country and we need who are capable, experienced and confident. Would South Korea be what they are today if they had Yahapalanaya? Would Samsung, Hyundai, Daiwoo, LG and others would be where they are today if there was no political patronage? Only thing a country can do is to keep it all that is bad to a minimum and within acceptable and economically manageable limits.

It is now up to the people of Sri Lanka to take into consideration all what has happened during the last 3 years and give their verdict on 10 Feb 2018. This is not about getting things done at village, town and city and municipality level. This should be vote on how Yahapalanaya have performed during the last 3 years, how they have kept their promises to the people and on a bigger scale of what is to become of Sri Lanka under the proposed change of Constitution and secret and not so secret dealings with foreign countries.

Go out early on 10 February and vote. See that your vote count. Don’t stay at home unconcerned. We are talking about the future of our sons and daughters. See that you stand to be counted among those who love our Motherland – Sri Lanka! Not a FAILED STATE and a dismembered land continuously at war!

READ THIS : Chinese Investments in Malaysia

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2017/09/10/china-investments-transforming-msia-although-the-influx-of-chinese-investments-is-only-a-recent-phen/

B787The Exchange 106, which was formerly known as TRX Signature Tower, at Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) is on its way to becoming Malaysia’s tallest new building upon its completion in 2018

 

http://says.com/my/news/the-exchange-106-will-become-malaysia-s-tallest-building-after-its-completion-in-2018

The ‘United States Factor’ in Southeast Asia: The Philippine and Singaporean (Re)assesments


December 31, 2017

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Number 408 | December 27, 2017

ANALYSIS

The ‘United States Factor’ in Southeast Asia: The Philippine and Singaporean (Re)assesments

By Ithrana Lawrence

Despite reports on the unpredictability of Washington’s Asia policy, the Trump Administration, through telephone diplomacy, high-level bilateral visits, attendance at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), East Asian Summit (EAS) and bilateral meetings in Vietnam and the Philippines, has displayed a “post-pivot” US commitment to the region and its multilateral initiatives. This aside, its engagement framed by collective action on North Korea, and a lack of specific concrete regional cooperatives, plays into Southeast Asia’s long-term anxiety.

This anxiety is addressed by Southeast Asian  leaders recalibrating their external engagements, including relations with the United States, in their strategic pursuit of policy maneuverability, autonomy, and prosperity. The cases of the Philippines and Singapore highlight how regional countries are coping with “The United States Factor”.

The Philippines’ Realignment under President Rodrigo Duterte

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Under President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ perception of the US role in the region has changed. Although recognized as a major non-NATO US ally since 2003, the Philippines increasingly views China as an important and economically attractive source of support, and Manila has shown an increasing willingness to accommodate Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea (SCS). Despite a 66 year-old alliance, the Philippines is diverging from the United States on issues of security and governance.

Duterte’s announced “separation” from the United States and refusal to visit Washington despite Trump’s invitation are efforts to chart an independent foreign policy. Distance from the U.S. is a price President Duterte seems eager to pay. Although the Obama-Aquino administrations’ Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) allowing US military forces and weapons to be stationed in the Philippines was ruled constitutional and has not been abrogated, Manila is wary of implementation. For example, the Philippine Defense Secretary remarked it was “unlikely” that the United States would be allowed to conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) from the Philippines “to avoid any provocative actions that can escalate tensions” as the “US can fly over there coming from other bases.” Similarly, Duterte downplayed US assistance in Marawi despite the US Embassy in Manila reporting a donation of planes, weapons, technical assistance, and humanitarian aid worth $56 million in 2017 – recognizing instead the contributions of China and Russia on the same day Secretary of Defense Mattis arrived in Manila.

Doubts about US commitment of the United States to defend the Philippines in the event of a conflict with China in the South China Sea have driven President Duterte to chart an engagement strategy avoiding over-reliance on Washington. China’s symbolic $14.4 million arms package was delivered as the US Congress disapproved a sale of assault rifles for the Philippine National Police (PNP) due to concerns of state sanctioned human rights violations in the ‘war on drugs’. The Philippines has leveraged competition in the region, securing Beijing’s pledge of $24 billion in infrastructure (including free infrastructure) projects in Davao and Manila, and $22.7 million in Marawi; alongside Tokyo’s $8.8 billion “maximum support” to rebuild Marawi.

Duterte’s Philippines has shown selective accommodation to China’s assertiveness as it recognizes the opportunities of engaging a rising China. Recent examples include the removal of a hut on a sandbar upon Beijing’s protest, not openly protesting territorial incursions, and allowing Chinese ships to survey within Philippine territory. That being said, the Philippines remains committed to its territorial sovereignty, with the Philippine Navy deployed to guard current claims.

The Trump administration’s generally absent rhetoric on human rights, and praise for the war on drugs has improved bilateral leadership camaraderie. All anti-US outbursts over the year aside, President Duterte’s ‘karaoke diplomacy’ at the ASEAN Summit gala dinner signals an affinity for the commander in chief of the United States.

Singapore’s Longstanding Alignment

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Despite China’s growing economic significance, political assertiveness, and security provocations in the SCS, Singapore’s alignment responses have been different than those of the Philippines. Singapore is partnering closer with Washington than with Beijing on most issues, and the United States is still viewed as an indispensable partner, significant to the development and security of the island state. While Singapore boasts a high degree of military technology, interoperability, and physical infrastructure to host the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s logistics command, its refusal to be recognized as a major non-NATO US ally reflects the island-state’s maintenance of a public non-aligned strategic engagement.

Although China is the island-state’s top trading partner, the United States remains its largest foreign investor with stock totaling $228 billion and an annual bilateral trade surplus. Singapore’s open support of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s July 2016 ruling and non-claimant concern over freedom of navigation in its regional waters faced high-cost pressure from Beijing: seizure of military equipment in Hong Kong en-route from exercises in Taiwan, cancellation of the 2016 high level Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) and apparent non-invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. Although showing resolve to face China’s growing pressure, a subsequent delegation of high-level officials to Beijing followed by Prime Minister Lee’s own visit is symbolic of Beijing’s growing significance as a partner not to be openly defied. Singapore looks to harness China’s economic engagement with the region specifically as a global financial services hub for the Belt and Road Initiative and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

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Singapore remains a strong advocate for US engagement in the region, with a pledge to facilitate initiatives for regional counter-terrorism efforts upon assuming ASEAN Chairmanship in 2018. Bilaterally, Prime Minister Lee’s pledge to extend to 2018 his country’s support for the anti-IS coalition in the Middle East (the only Asian country to contribute personnel) and deployment of helicopters to hurricane relief efforts in Texas are symbolic of Singapore’s activism and the leadership’s institutionalized affinity for the United States. The progressive deepening of defense cooperatives also witnessed the first bilateral naval exercise taking place off the coast of Guam, following the deployment of the Singapore Air Force (RSAF) there for joint training in April.

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The lack of transparency on Malaysia’s deals with China is worrying

 

The Philippine and Singaporean alignments demonstrate models that can be expanded to other Southeast Asian countries. There are signs countries like Indonesia and Malaysia are reassessing the traditional role of the United States and to a certain extent adjusting their external engagements as the systemic conditions that placed the United States as the key security protector, economic patron, and diplomatic partner at the end of the Cold War are changing. Future research on asymmetrical alignment under uncertainty should examine these states.

About the Author

Ithrana Lawrence, is a former Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington. She can be contacted at Ithrana.L@gmail.com

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.

East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111

East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995

Malaysian Reactions and the Political Calculus of Prime Minister Najib’s White House Visit


October 19, 2017

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Number 401 | October 18, 2017

ANALYSIS

Malaysian Reactions and the Political Calculus of Prime Minister Najib’s White House Visit

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On September 12, 2017, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak met with US President Donald Trump in the White House as part of his three-day visit to the United States. Within Malaysia, reactions to the meeting – in terms of both optics and substance – are bitterly divided; falling mostly along political lines. Notwithstanding the domestic reactions, Trump’s invitation to the controversial Malaysian prime minister and the deliberate shirking of the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) issue during the visit leave Najib in a position of perceived strength as he looks to extend his tenure as Prime Minister.

Meeting Hailed as a Milestone by Some, a Disgrace by Others

The Trump-Najib meeting went smoothly in diplomatic terms, with both leaders treating each other warmly and discussing agreeable agenda items. In the public meeting Trump extolled Malaysia’s role in investing in the United States, countering ISIS, and limiting its ties with North Korea. The Malaysian prime minister in turn offered “a strong value proposition” to the United States in terms of helping boost the US economy and being a loyal partner in eradicating terrorism. A joint statement addressed enhancing US-Malaysia defense ties, Malaysia’s progress to obtain visa free status to the United States, the situation in the South China Sea, the Rohingya crisis, and protecting human rights. If there were any private disagreements, they were not leaked.

For Najib’s domestic supporters and prominent government lawmakers, the meeting with Trump was seen as an unprecedented success and a legitimization of Najib as Malaysia’s elected leader. The optics couldn’t be better. The invitation to visit the White House was the first since former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi visited in 2004 and comes in the first year of the Trump presidency. Additionally, Najib’s visit was the second by an ASEAN leader, after Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and ahead of Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong of Singapore – traditionally America’s most trusted Southeast Asian partner.

Substantively, Najib’s supporters saw the meeting and its deliverables as recognition of Malaysia as a key strategic partner and successful economy. In public remarks during the meeting in the Cabinet Room between the Malaysian delegation and Trump administration officials, Trump praised Najib’s domestic counterterrorism efforts against ISIS, highlighted Najib’s reluctance to do business with North Korea any longer, and hailed Malaysia as a big investor in the United States. Malaysia’s mainstream and government-affiliated media emphasized this, crediting Najib with expanding Malaysia’s international profile and role. Najib also scored a PR win with the US-Malaysia joint statement that condemned the violence against ethnic Rohingyas in Myanmar, touting it as a promise kept to Malaysians to raise the issue with the United States.

Image result for Trump and Najib at The White HouseGua Tolong Lu, Lu Tolong Gua (You help me, I help you)

This rosy picture of Najib’s visit, however, did not reflect the opinions of all Malaysians. Many – especially opposition supporters – while acknowledging the importance of their leader meeting the US president, focused on Najib’s personal and political gains, rather than gains for Malaysia. To them, optics surrounding the meeting were questionable. First, Najib and his entourage were alleged to have stayed at the Trump International Hotel, giving the impression that Najib sought to curry favor with Trump. Given media attention on possible conflicts of interest on the part of the US President, the decision to have a presence at the Trump hotel seemed like a calculated risk Najib was willing to take. Second, the glaring absence of a joint press conference during Najib’s visit to the White House reinforced the view among Najib’s opponents that he was skirting controversial questions – namely the 1MDB scandal and political repression in Malaysia.

Image result for Malaysia buys BoeingMany Malaysians were dismayed by the commercial “value proposition” offered by Najib to the United States.

 

In terms of deliverables, many Malaysians were dismayed by the commercial “value proposition” offered by Najib to the United States. Najib had announced that Malaysia Airlines, whose majority stake is owned by state sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional, will purchase high-capacity, long-distance Boeing aircraft worth $3 billion, with the possibility of more purchases in the future. Additionally, Najib stated that Malaysia’s retirement fund, the Employers Provident Fund (EPF), intended to invest $3-4 billion in Trump’s initiative to redevelop American infrastructure. Malaysians were indignant at possible diversion of funds to the US instead of fixing deteriorating infrastructure back home. And with the rising cost of living being a sore point for many people, the political opposition ridiculed Najib as being aloof and for selling Malaysia’s assets for his personal benefit. Najib’s fiercest critic, former Prime Minister Mahathir laughed at the idea of a developing country helping a developed country and opined that this was another illustration of Najib giving money to obtain political support.

“Exercises, training, and interoperability are the new emphases, and many Southeast Asian countries – unlike most in the South Pacific – no longer need extra funding to participate in exercises.”

The importance of protecting human rights aspect in the joint statement will appear ironic to many Malaysians as the authorities have been prosecuting opposition members and dissenters and stifling civil society activism in recent years

1MDB – the Elephant in the Room    

  
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The 1MDB issue was conspicuously left out at the Trump-Najib Meeting

At the time of the meeting, the 1MDB scandal continued to dog Najib. The US Justice Department was in the midst of civil lawsuits seeking to seize US assets worth about $1.7 billion linked to 1MDB. But the subject was conspicuously left out in all official proceedings. The only response from the White House communications when quizzed by reporters after the meeting was that they weren’t aware of conversations that came up in the meeting.

To Najib, his political coalition, and supporters, this omission was strategically crucial because it lent legitimization to Najib’s position as Malaysia’s leader and it gave him a strong case to repudiate the opposition’s charge linking him to the 1MDB scandal. Najib flying in to meet Trump without being denied entry or arrested by US law enforcement – as was claimed would happen by the political opposition – was spun by Najib’s supporters as proof that the opposition’s 1MDB allegation was nothing more than a political ploy. Domestically, Najib hopes to capitalize on this by allaying suspicions supporters and political fence-sitters have about his culpability in the scandal.

About the Author

Matthew Kah Weng Wong is a former researcher at the East-West Center in Washington. He can be contacted at matthew.wongkw@gmail.com.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111

East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995

East-West Center in Washington, 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036

Home and away, Najib has a China dilemma


September 22, 2017

Home and away, Najib has a China dilemma

While the Malaysian leader relies on Beijing for economic succor, he’s still viewed skeptically by his country’s ethnic Chinese voting bloc with tight polls on the horizon

Singapore
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Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak looks on duringIndependence Day celebrations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia August 31, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

 

Prime Minister Najib Razak addressed Malaysia’s Chinese community at a well-attended gathering last week to urge support for his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition government ahead of new national polls.

The leader called for stronger Chinese representation in his United Malays National Organization-led (UMNO) government and doubled down on promises of delivering prosperity and quality education across all of the country’s ethnic groups.

“If the Chinese voice is stronger in BN, then you are able to shape the policies and possibilities of this government even better and even stronger,” Najib said. “Without peace in the country, the Chinese will be the first to be targeted and that is why we are a moderate government committed to peace and mutual harmony.”

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While Najib placed emphasis on Malaysia as a multiracial nation and struck an overall moderate tone, others interpreted his remark as a fear-mongering veiled threat. Opposition parliamentarian Liew Chin Tong accused the premier of trying to win votes by “singling out the ethnic Chinese,” a move he said would actually undermine support for his government.

Malaysia’s next election is due by August 2018, though there is speculation that early polls could soon be announced. Najib’s outreach to the Chinese community signals an attempt to re-engage the minority voter bloc following general elections in 2013 where the BN coalition delivered its worst-ever election performance.

At the time, Najib acknowledged how ethnic Chinese voters had supported the opposition in droves, controversially characterizing their voting behavior as a “Chinese tsunami.” Najib initially vowed to undertake national reconciliation following the electoral upset, but instead has moved to burnish his Islamic credentials in a bid to consolidate support from conservative and rural ethnic Malay voters.

Ethnic Chinese communities make up around 23% of Malaysia’s population and are seen to be largely in opposition to Najib’s continued rule. His term has been defined by the international multi-billion dollar money laundering controversies related to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state development fund he created and until recently oversaw.

Lesser noticed, however, have been perennial allegations of money politics, elite corruption, stark political polarization and a widening cultural divide between Malaysia’s ethnic and religious groups that some fear could tip towards instability if not effectively reconciled.

Image result for Najib and HadiThis strange alliance with Hadi Awang may prove costly to Najib Razak in East Malaysia where Islamisation is viewed with anxiety and suspicion.

Recent studies show nearly half the country’s ethnic Chinese population have a strong desire to leave Malaysia due to perceived discrimination, political disenfranchisement and fears of Islamization. Nearly 88% of the 56,576 Malaysians who renounced their citizenship in the decade spanning 2006 to 2016 were ethnic Chinese.

Shortly after assuming office in 2009, Najib introduced the 1Malaysia national concept, a governing philosophy which placed emphasis on ethnic harmony, national unity and efficient governance. Following the 2013 election, the Prime Minister has placed less pretense on the talking points of the scheme, opting to posture as a defender of Islam and Malay unity.

“Political parties from both sides of the divide are centered around the Malay agenda, winning votes in Malay majority constituencies. Meanwhile, government efforts like 1Malaysia and its subsequent rebranding has neither substance nor strategy,” political analyst Khoo Kay Peng recently wrote. “The concept of unity is not even at the forefront of societal discussion.”

An important aspect of Najib’s domestic agenda in recent years has been the formation of a loose alliance with the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which has an electoral stronghold in Malaysia’s rural and conservative north and advocates a hardline sharia punishment code known as hudud.

Abdul Hadi Awang, PAS’ influential President, was given tacit government approval to table a controversial hudud bill in parliament in 2015, which sought to ease some of the constitutional restrictions imposed on sharia courts in order to implement more severe punishments, subjecting offenders to longer prison sentences and corporal punishment.

Though observers were initially dismissive of Najib’s support for hudud, his government attempted to take over Hadi’s bill last year. The prime minister reversed course in March due to strong opposition from other BN coalition partners – notably from the Malaysian Chinese Association and other ethnic minority parties – and concerns it would dampen foreign investor sentiment.

Against a backdrop of political controversies and a deepening cultural divide, Malaysia’s upcoming general election is expected to be one of the tightest in decades. The political opposition, once a fractured grouping of disparate parties, appears more cohesive under the leadership of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who defected from UMNO and embraced opposition parties to form the Pakatan Harapan coalition.

Comeback kid: Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, 92, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Putrajaya, Malaysia, March 30, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

 

Saving the Chinese from Racist UMNO–Don’t Depend on Najib Razak and MCA


September 21, 2017

Saving the Chinese from Racist UMNO–Don’t Depend on Najib Razak and least of all, MCA

by Ambassador Emeritus Dennis Ignatius

At last year’s UMNO General Assembly, Prime Minister Najib warned members of his party that the DAP, which is regularly derided as a “Chinese party” (and taken as code for Chinese in general), posed an almost existential threat to the Malays and Islam.

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Malay First Prime Minister Najib Razak needs Malay support to remain in power

He warned them that if the DAP ever came to power, everything that the Malays had fought for, everything that they had worked so hard to achieve, all their hopes and dreams, would be wiped out. He also went on to suggest that Bumiputra institutions like MARA, FELDA, RISDA and FELCRA would become “extinct and disappear.”

Should UMNO fall, he intoned, it would be a “nightmare” that would jeopardise the very existence of Malay-Muslims in the country.

Taken together with the slew of anti-Chinese comments that came out of that assembly, the message was clear enough: only UMNO could defend Malay interests from the so-called Chinese threat.

Having unabashedly fanned the flames of anti-Chinese sentiment to consolidate his grip over the party and to secure Malay support for UMNO, he turned his attention on Friday to cajoling Malaysian Chinese into giving him their support, suggesting that their very survival might now depend upon it.

Targeting the Chinese

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MCA President is  Honorary Member of UMNO

Standing before an MCA gathering absurdly themed ‘The Malaysian Chinese Patriotic Rally” (as if the patriotism of Malaysian Chinese was ever in doubt), he warned that Malaysian Chinese would be “the first to be targeted if there is no peace in this country.”

While he subsequently went on to make references to the IS threat as well, his message was widely perceived as a warning to Malaysian Chinese that if UMNO loses power in the next elections, they would be the first to be targeted.

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For a country still traumatised by the 1969 race riots, the warning to Malaysian Chinese was undoubtedly clear.

MCA’s damage control

In the wake of the furore that the Prime Minister’s remarks quite naturally generated, MCA leaders went into damage control mode claiming that his remarks were taken out of context and that he was referring more to the IS threat rather than anything else.

In the first place, Najib’s remarks as well as his intentions were clear enough to most people who saw the video which quickly went viral. In these days of instant replay, claims by politicians to have been misquoted or misrepresented are harder to sustain.

In the second place, there has never been any indication that Malaysian Chinese are the primary target of ISIS. According to the Police, ISIS has targeted our security forces and senior officials, endeavoured to disrupt the SEA games and the Merdeka celebrations, and planned attacks on some churches; no mention of Malaysian Chinese specifically. If anything, it is Muslims themselves that have suffered more from IS attacks than others.

In any case, if there were doubts as to the real meaning of his remarks, a simple clarification by the Prime Minister would have quickly settled the matter. That he has preferred to let things simmer suggests otherwise.

The indispensable party

In the absence of further clarification from the Prime Minister, we are left with the strange conclusion that Najib is now demanding Chinese support on the grounds that only UMNO can protect them from the very racism which UMNO itself champions and thrives upon.

Taken to its logical conclusion, it means that UMNO will now be defending the Malays from the Chinese and the Chinese from the Malays while simultaneously instilling fear in both.

What a cunning strategy to ensure that it remains the indispensible political party! The British would, no doubt, be envious of his divide and rule skills. 

A Prime Minister for all the people

If Najib and UMNO truly want to win the support and admiration of all of Malaysia’s diverse ethnic groups, he should first and foremost put an end the racist politics that has become synonymous with his own party.

As well, instead of making threats, he should ensure that the security and rights of all citizens are protected and safeguarded at all times, whether they vote for him or not. It is, after all, his constitutional obligation, his sacred duty, his solemn oath to the nation. Appeal for support by all means, but to threaten an ethnic community the way he did is simply beyond the pale.

For the MCA, the rally, which was called to help revive support for the party ahead of the elections, has turned into an unmitigated disaster, laying bare the disdain that UMNO leaders have for minority parties and generating a new wave of disgust and anger among its erstwhile supporters.

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The Hero of Petaling Street–China will protect its Diaspora. Malaysian Prime Minister will have his cojones squeezed if he allows UMNO Red Shirt Gangsters to harm the Chinese.

In the light of these developments, one can only wonder whether the hero of Petaling Street, the urban legend who single-handedly stared down the Red Shirts a few years ago and prevented a bloodbath in the centre of Kuala Lumpur, is quietly mulling his options.

Malaysia’s Foreign Policy is Clear and Consistent


September 17, 2017

Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman: Malaysia’s Foreign Policy is Clear and Consistent

by Anifah Aman

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COMMENT | I refer to the comment article written by Rais Hussin, a supreme council member of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), who also heads the Policy and Strategy Bureau of PPBM, entitled All that glitters is not gold in US-Malaysia relationship which was published by Malaysiakini on 15 September 2017.

I noted Rais Hussin keen interests on the conduct of Malaysia’s foreign policy. As Rais Hussin would appreciate, Malaysia’s foreign policy is clear and consistent. Malaysia continues to pursue an independent, principled and pragmatic foreign policy, with the overarching thrust to safeguard its sovereignty and national interest as well as to contribute meaningfully towards a just and equitable community of nations.

The conduct of Malaysia’s foreign policy will continue to be guided by the principles of respect for independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and non–interference in the affairs of other nations, peaceful settlement of disputes, peaceful co–existence and mutual benefit in relations.

Therefore, I am perplexed to discover inaccurate and false narrative in his comment article, and wonder whether Rais Hussin was being deliberately obtuse. As such, I am compelled to address the inaccurate and false narrative, point by point as below:

1. Malaysia has entered the orbit of Chinese influence both commercially and militarily. On any given week, many illegal Chinese fishing vessels cruise along the coasts of West and East Malaysia.

As a small nation that relies heavily on international trade, Malaysia has no choice but to have relations with all countries in the world. As threats to peace and security become more complex, Malaysia has no choice but to work together with all countries in the world.

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Increased economic and investment activities between Malaysia and China were the result of globalisation and the law of supply and demand. Likewise, increased activities in the sphere of security would include closer military cooperation. It should in no way be construed as a sign that Malaysia has entered the orbit of Chinese influence. Malaysia has similar relations with many other countries, including the United States of America, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, France, Australia, Singapore, etc.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agencies (MMEA) will arrest any fishing vessels that conduct illegal fishing activities in Malaysia’s maritime areas. MMEA vessels and aircraft, as well as vessels and aircraft belonging to the Malaysian Armed Forces conduct routine patrol and surveillance of Malaysia’s maritime areas. Chinese fishing vessels have been spotted only sporadically, and therefore it is completely untrue and utterly erroneous to suggest that Chinese fishing vessels cruise along the coasts of West and East Malaysia on a weekly basis.

2. More oddly, the Foreign Minister Anifah Aman has allowed two Chinese submarines to dock in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, with the most recent berthing taking place just before Trump met Najib in the White House. The very act of allowing Chinese submarine to break into Malaysian waters, all without the formality of conducting a joint exercise, suggests that Malaysia is now a quasi-alliance of China that is willing to listen to Beijing at every turn. Thus, how can the US-Malaysia relationship serve as a building block of a stronger international maritime order?

It is true that Chinese warship and submarine made a port call at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah in early September 2017. That was not the first time that Chinese military vessels make a port call at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and would not be the last.

Military vessels from numerous countries including the United States of America, Australia, Japan, France, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, etc., have made port calls to various Malaysian ports, including at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and will continue to do so.

Therefore, it is clearly a fallacy to equate the recent docking of Chinese military vessels as a sign of Malaysia quasi–alliance with China.

Military vessels undertake port call at foreign countries to replenish supply, provide shore leave to the crew after long period at sea, as well as to undertake minor maintenance. Port call by foreign military vessels also contribute to local economies.

With regard to the procedure, any foreign military vessels planning to make port call at Malaysian ports, including at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, must submit such request to the Government of Malaysia through diplomatic channels. Such request would be considered by the relevant Malaysian agencies before being submitted to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, for final approval.

It is also timely to state at this juncture that Malaysia upholds the supremacy of the rule of law. Malaysia believes that international law is the equaliser amongst states, regardless of their political, economic or military power. All countries must work together to ensure peace and stability, as well as maritime order.

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3. Fourthly, Malaysia did nothing monumental with regards to ASEAN and the East Asian Summit in 2015 when Putrajaya was the chair of both entities, except holding grandiose and well-choreographed meetings as a public relations stunt.

4. Yet, 2015 was the year when China’s militarisation of the South China Sea began in earnest.

5. If Malaysia couldn’t contain the situation in the South China Sea and North Korea, why should one believe that without chairing Asean and the East Asian Summit, Malaysia could wield even more influence?

Malaysia’s Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015 was well–regarded by many countries. Malaysia’s constructive approach on various issues including the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula (and North Korean nuclear issue) was well-received.

Malaysia has done admirably in advancing discourse on these issues, taking into account that ASEAN works on the principle of consensus, and as chairman, Malaysia is merely a facilitator.

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Malaysia’s policy on the South China Sea is clear and consistent. Throughout its chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015, Malaysia has impressed upon all countries the need to ensure peace, security and stability and to avoid the threat or use of force, as well as to avoid activities that could escalate or complicate situation. Malaysia further stated that recent activities have eroded trust and confidence amongst parties. Malaysia also called on all parties to ensure non–militarisation in the South China Sea.

Malaysia’s principled and consistent position was well–received and well–accepted, and reflected as agreed texts in various documents issued during Malaysia’s chairmanship including the various chairman’s statements, joint communique of Asean ministerial meeting, etc. The texts were also used in various documents during Laos chairmanship in 2016.


ANIFAH AMAN is Minister of Foreign Affairs.