ASEAN — finding middle path in the US-China conflict


 

November 9, 2018

Opinion

ASEAN — finding middle path in the US-China conflict

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Despite local uncertainties, the region must be bold in shaping its own future

For almost a decade, the basic strategic issue for Southeast Asia has been how to respond to the changing dynamics of the Sino-American relationship as it enters a new phase of heightened long-term competition.

The U.S. and China will not quickly or easily reach a new modus vivendi. Southeast Asia will have to navigate a prolonged period of unusual uncertainty.

U.S.-China rivalry in the South China Sea has emerged as something of a proxy for their competition. Strategically, the situation is a stalemate. China will not give up its territorial claims and the deployment of military assets. But neither can China stop the U.S. and its allies operating in the area without risking a war it does not want because it cannot win.

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The Trump administration has given the 7th Fleet more latitude to conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea. Japan and other U.S. allies are beginning to push back against China’s claims. The U.S. has signaled its intention to conduct even larger shows of force. This raises the risk of accidental clashes. Still, that risk does not at present seem unacceptably high.

A premeditated war is improbable. China will feel it must fight only if the U.S. supports Taiwan independence. This is unlikely. If an accidental clash should occur in the South China Sea or elsewhere, both sides will probably try to contain it. The Association of Southeast Nations ought to be able to cope with situations short of a U.S.-China war. ASEAN has previously managed far more dangerous circumstances. But this will require greater agility, unity and resolve than ASEAN has shown recently.

 

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The most obvious manifestation of increased Sino-American competition is U.S. President Donald Trump’s “trade war.” Trade is the means; the objective is strategic competition. China accuses the U.S. of using trade to hamper its development. China is not wrong.

Although attention has focused on the tit-for-tat tariffs, the more significant aspect is new U.S. legislation to limit technology transfers to China, which sets new rules that future administrations will find hard to change.

Trump’s attitude toward China is no aberration, but reflects a bipartisan view — widely shared in business as well as politics — that the U.S. has been too accommodating to Beijing. Whoever succeeds Trump will likely stay tough on China.

The Trump administration has often been described as isolationist, but this is a distortion. Rather, it believes that this is an era of great power competition and is determined to compete robustly, with a preference for bilateralism over multilateralism, and a return to “peace through strength.”

China has misread the implications of the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 by believing its own propaganda about the U.S. being in irrevocable decline. It missed the souring mood of U.S. business toward China, mainly over intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. These concerns are shared by businesses in other developed economies, which support Trump’s goals although they may disagree about his methods.

President Xi Jinping’s 19th Party Congress speech a year ago abandoned Deng Xiaoping’s approach of “hiding light and biding time.” But his main focus was domestic. Xi said China’s new “principal contradiction” was between “unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life.” This poses a fundamental challenge. Unless those needs are met — which will require immense resources — Communist Party rule could be at risk.

To find a new growth model, the party must balance control and market efficiency. An enhanced role for markets implies a loosening of control.

It remains to be seen what Xi will do. So far he seems to have opted for stronger control, and may have sharpened the problems he faces.

The Belt and Road Initiative is as much about this domestic challenge as China’s global ambition. The BRI exports the old growth model based on state-led infrastructure investment. The BRI buys time to find a new balance between the market and the party.

But the BRI rests on the foundation of U.S.-led globalization. Can it succeed if the world turns protectionist? China may well be the main loser if that global order frays. China cannot replace U.S. leadership. An open international order cannot be based on a largely closed Chinese model. BRI partner countries are pushing back, including in Southeast Asia, and implementation will be problematic.

China is not happy with every aspect of the post-Cold War order based on U.S.-led globalization. China wants its new status acknowledged. But Xi has championed and profited from globalization. The trade war is now hurting China and slowing growth. China may seek to become more self-sufficient technologically, but this will take time while the pressures are immediate.

Some have speculated that there may be opportunities for ASEAN if foreign companies shift production from China. This is possible. But doing so is easier said than done and no one will forgo the Chinese market. ASEAN members must also resist temptations to act as a backdoor into the U.S. for Chinese companies.

A prolonged trade war and concerns that China may have compromised the security of supply chains, are likely to upend existing supply links. This could seriously complicate ASEAN members’ efforts to move up the value chain, for example if U.S. groups relocate business back to America. In response, ASEAN must attract higher grade investments by improving infrastructure and skills, and assuring investors their technology is secure.

Low labor costs and a potential market of 700 million consumers are no longer sufficient to make Southeast Asia an attractive investment destination. The attitude of ASEAN members toward China and the extent to which they are beholden to it are likely to become important considerations in investment decisions.

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BALI, Oct 12 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has lamented ASEAN for not fully tapping its potential as an economic powerhouse, despite having abundant resources and a consumer market of nearly 700 million people.

ASEAN needs to move decisively to hedge against long-term uncertainties, while taking advantage of available opportunities.

Reforms such as the removal of non-tariff barriers and harmonization of ASEAN’s approach toward services and labor mobility could help make Southeast Asia a common production platform. Member states meanwhile should implement plans to upgrade skills and infrastructure. But internal political changes in some member countries could undermine the goal of closer economic integration. Unfortunately, ASEAN has, in recent years, become too timid for its own good.

 

 

Ambassador A Large Bilahari Kausikan, a former Permanent Secretary at Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is Chairman of the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.

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China’s Foreign Policy under Xi Jinping


October 24, 2018

China’s Foreign Policy under Xi Jinping

by Neil Thomas, University of Chicago

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/10/21/chinese-foreign-policy-under-xi-jinping/

  …”contrary to some recent commentary, it seems unlikely that ‘world power’ or ‘world domination’ are China’s priorities. The CCP observed the Soviet errors of external overreach and antagonism toward the US-led system during the Cold War. China now interacts with the international order like other major states: it complies with the order because to do so serves its interests and tries to influence this order where it does not”.–Neil Thomas

There is a risk of a ‘new Cold War’ between the United States and China. After decades of bilateral engagement and multilateral collaboration, the Trump administration’s first National Security Strategy (NSS) branded China a ‘revisionist power’ that seeks to ‘displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region’ and ‘shape a world antithetical to [US] values and interests’ in an age of renewed ‘great power competition’.

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Rising powers like China rattle ruling powers like the United States because their ascendance creates tension within existing structures of global power. US power lies in its unmatched military capabilities and the ‘international order’ of multilateral institutions, interstate rules and global norms that promote economic openness and rules-based dispute resolution. The charges of ‘revisionism’ levelled in the NSS show that the Trump administration fears that China will replace the United States as global hegemon and threaten the basic tenets of international order.

China has indeed become a more active participant in global affairs under the leadership of Xi Jinping, who took office in November 2012. Signs of China’s rising power, though, are a natural result of its growth. More important is what China intends to do with its newfound capabilities. Does Xi want to revolutionise Chinese foreign policy? Stop opening China’s economy? Overturn the international order?

International policymakers must study Xi’s words because he, as the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) General-Secretary and head of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, is pivotal in setting the overarching orientations and strategies of China’s foreign policy. The most authoritative articulation of Xi’s policy agenda is his ‘Report’ to the 19th CCP National Congress in October 2017.

An analysis of Xi’s foreign policy discourse suggests that there may exist more continuity than often assumed between the strategies of Xi and his predecessors. This intersection between past and present is captured neatly in the foreign policy section of Xi’s Report: ‘Following a path of peaceful development and working to build a community of common destiny for humankind’.

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What’s new is that Xi stamped his authority on CCP foreign policy under his signature formulation of ‘building a community of common destiny for humankind’ — although Hu Jintao had used the phrase previously. The ‘community of common destiny’ is basically an international system in which deeper economic integration and political dialogue eases conflict and bolsters security. Xi is proactively ‘building’ this future through an intense focus on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and global governance.

What’s not new is that Xi retains the ‘peaceful development’ strategy articulated by Hu in the mid-2000s, which derives from the CCP’s ‘basic line’ of ‘peace and development’ in international relations that Deng Xiaoping introduced in 1985. In the Report, Xi framed the foreign policy achievements of his first five-year term, including the BRI and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, as ‘new contributions to global peace and development’. He has told Party leaders that the ‘peace and development’ strategy is ‘aligned with the fundamental interest of the country’ and is a ‘fundamental foreign policy goal’.

This ‘peace and development’ strategy reflects the belief that China’s economic development requires a peaceful external environment and cooperative relations with major powers. It replaced the Maoist creed of inevitable conflict between the capitalist and socialist worlds as the CCP’s official ‘assessment of the international situation’. Deng believed this strategy would help China ‘exert a much greater influence’ in a global system that the CCP perceived as dominated by Western powers.

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Xi’s policy statements imply that the overarching concern of China’s foreign policy remains the creation of a ‘more enabling international environment’ for China’s continued development. As China’s interests continue to expand, so too does its desire to participate in global affairs.

But contrary to some recent commentary, it seems unlikely that ‘world power’ or ‘world domination’ are China’s priorities. The CCP observed the Soviet errors of external overreach and antagonism toward the US-led system during the Cold War. China now interacts with the international order like other major states: it complies with the order because to do so serves its interests and tries to influence this order where it does not.

Xi’s Report also reaffirmed Deng’s ‘opening to the outside world’ as a ‘basic national policy’. ‘Opening’ for Deng meant China would integrate into the global economy, enter international institutions and improve living standards in a manner that sustained CCP control.

Xi has insisted that China ‘absolutely must not waver’ from ‘reform and opening’ because it is the ‘propelling force’ behind China’s ‘international status’. He even framed his signature economic policy — a ‘new normal’ focused on consumption, services and markets — as a ‘new structure’ of reform and opening that ‘improves its quality and level’.

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Xi’s continuation of key strategies like ‘peace and development’ and ‘reform and opening’ suggest he may not have changed China’s objectives so much as the means by which the CCP pursues them. Xi’s China is ‘revisionist’ in the narrow sense of hoping for changes that reflect new realities but not in the existential sense of wanting to supplant the current order or global hegemon.

Until recently, White House views on China were quite consistent: the United States would ‘welcome the rise of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous China’ and ‘reject the inevitability’ of ‘confrontation’ if China acted within the international order. But the latest NSS said the ‘engagement’ strategy had ‘failed’.

The endurance of ‘reform and opening’ and of ‘peace and development’ in Xi’s foreign policy discourse imply that engagement is not such a failure. The continuance of these two key foreign policy concepts intimate that, while Xi’s CCP does want to project China’s power, it is still constrained by a belief in the benefit to China of global order and stability.

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US relative power in global affairs is declining, but this trend is mostly the result of other countries’ embrace of the international order built by the United States, which nonetheless retains significant advantages in military, diplomatic, commercial, technological and cultural power. It would best advance its national interests by accepting but proactively managing China’s rise within an improved iteration of this order. We should avoid a ‘new Cold War’.

Neil Thomas is Research Associate in the Think Tank of The Paulson Institute at the University of Chicago.

This article appeared in the most recent edition of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Asian crisis, ready or not’.

On China– Civilization or State


October 13,2018

On China– Civilization or State

by Dr. Rais Hussin

http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | Take away the invention of paper, gunpowder and the abacus, three of the finest contributions of the Chinese civilisation to humankind, there is a motley collection of philosophical systems in China that makes China one of the most progressive and advanced entities in the world.

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Indeed, it was the late Dr Lucian Pye, a political scientist at MIT, who famously said that “China was a civilisation pretending to be a state.” Pye wasn’t making the observation in jest. He was simply commenting in a matter-of-factly manner.

The problem with China is it switches on and off, with this civilisational awareness. To the outside world, China has urged at least 68 countries to be a part of its “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI). Thus from October 2013 onwards, President Xi Jin Ping fired the first salvo in Almaty, Kazakhstan, followed by a second boost by urging Indonesia to be a part of the BRI too.

Surely, China could not have missed the plain fact that these were two Muslim countries that have renounced Communism in all its forms.

 

Yet, regardless of whether it was Kazakhstan or Indonesia, the leaders of these two countries dealt with China, alas, as a “state” even as a civilisation, too, since China was propagating the importance of restoring the ancient

For the lack of better word, these two countries, including Malaysia, adopted the Confucian concept of “Chung Yung” or “the Middle Way.”

Instead of trying to distance themselves from China or BRI, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, and Malaysia, three of the most progressive Muslim countries the Islamic world has yet witnessed, sought to engage China, indeed, to give President Xi Jin Ping’s grand strategy a huge boost.

While it is true that China has pledged close to US$100 billion to fund the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) with another US$50 billion for the Silk Road Fund, it is also true that some countries who took the loans have found themselves unable to repay these debts.

Sri Lanka, Maldives, Pakistan, potentially and Tonga in the Pacific, are now on this list. Even Venezuela, which falls out of the scope of BRI, has faced immense headwinds. Caracas has had to make good on its debt commitments to China by way of bartering their oil exports back to China.

Beijing, for the lack of better word, isn’t giving cost-free financial assistance and loans. They carry a huge impact on the recipient countries.

Even the Philippines, which was promised a total of US$2.6 billion worth of Chinese development aid – largely to build up Mindanao and Manila – has yet to see the Chinese money rolling in. When the money does not come in, President Roberto Duterte is subsequently accused by his political opponents and the people of having been misled by the Chinese.

The political cost to Duterte, once again, is huge, as his support would begin to bleed as long as the Chinese financial support does not come flowing as had been promised.

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In Malaysia, one of our own infamous citizens, Jho Low seems to be cowering under the protection of China. Some Chinese shell companies, if the accounts of the Ministry of Finance in Malaysia are to be taken at face value, have been used as a scheme to launder the money of 1MDB.

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In spite of the high tolerance of China’s “dream”, “design” and “development” priorities, many Muslim countries are now expected to just sit and watch – with their mouths shut – when up to one million Uyghurs in China are subject to “re-education” camps.

‘Made in China’

The authorities in Xinjiang (known earlier as Urumqi) appear to challenge the habits and lifestyles of local Muslims wholesale, by fighting what they called “pan-halal” tendencies.

Muslims have heard of “kosher” which is Jewish dietary preparations consistent with Islamic standards but none have ever heard of “pan-halal” habits.

Thus it must surely come as a shock to more than 1.8 billion Muslims the world over that their potential sensitivity to the sources of their food and consumer items can now be regarded in China as something verging on “extremist tendencies.” Does this mean Muslims are not welcome in China?

This is odd because as Japan is preparing for the Tokyo Olympics 2020, the authorities in Japan have asked more Islamic countries, especially Malaysia, to guide them on how to serve halal food. Beijing has hosted the 2008 Olympics before and the 2010 Shanghai World Exhibition.

In fact, “Made in China” is practically the three word that keeps the world of manufacturing – which includes canned food – thriving and growing from 1976 onwards when China opened up to the rest of the world. How can China now be biting the hand that feeds it?

In all the confusion, Muslims are told to find the Middle Way. This is known as the Aristotelian Way of the Mean too. China, as mentioned, had earlier been ingrained with the concept in the form of “Chung Yung”. In fact, Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides once affirmed that when all laws failed, the one principle to guide anyone is “to not do others what you do not want others to do to you” – which again is a Confucian concept familiar to China.

“Pan-halal,” is befuddling and confusing, since it is an extra-judicial attempt to ask all Muslims in Xinjiang (Urumqi) and China to conform to the diktat of the Chinese Communist Party.

But how can those countries in the Islamic world, especially Turkey, that wants to help China in BRI, do exactly that when China isn’t friendly to its Muslim brethren? It is time for China to give the world some clear answers. And, the clarity cannot morph into scripted answers on how the campaign to stop “pan-halal” habits is a way to contain “separatism,” “secessionism,” and “splittism”; also known in China as “the three evils.”

The “three evils” are not a crucible supported by any member state in BRI, as all are aware of the extent to which these three tendencies will introduce chaos to the utmost degree. But no one wants to see Islamophobia in China too, especially one that is drummed up by the local party cadres in Xinjiang (Urumqi). The sooner China respects Muslims within its own confines and the larger Islamic world, the better.

By this token, contrary to what was reported in The Star Malaysia, that Malaysia is ‘defying’ China by releasing 11 Turkic Uyghur from detention, and allowing them to fly to Turkey, it should be stated that Malaysia is a country that follows the rule of law since the electoral turn over of the government on May 9, 2018.

If China should wish to challenge the release, they are welcome to do so in a court of law too in Malaysia.The world sure hopes we are not witnessing another Tibet in progress. This time in Urumqi or Xinjiang.

Dr. RAIS HUSSIN is a supreme council member of Bersatu. He also heads its policy and strategy bureau.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

China & Malaysia: Co-Existing with Asia’s Leviathan


September 28, 2018

China & Malaysia: Co-Existing with Asia’s Leviathan

by Dennis Ignatius

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China’s Dark Spots

Of course, China is far from perfect. Indeed, there is a dark and sinister side to the modern China of high-speed trains and gleaming skyscrapers.

For one thing, not everyone is enjoying the fruits of its progress. Forty million children, for example, still live in poverty. And each day, some part of China is rocked by angry, often violent protests as disaffected and marginalized groups rebel against injustice and governmental abuse of authority.

The lack of religious freedom, too, is appalling. According to UN reports, Xinjiang Province is home to vast gulags where thousands of Muslim Uighurs are incarcerated in “re-education” camps. Falun Gong followers are savagely repressed and yet another brutal crackdown on Christians is now underway.

The Communist Party of China is also entirely dismissive of  basic human rights in violation of its own constitution. Hundreds of human rights activists are routinely jailed, often tortured as well. The death of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo in a hospital prison last year was a potent reminder of Beijing’s utter contempt for basic human rights.

Thankfully, Malaysia has not seen the kind of brutal and repressive measures that are routine in China today. We can learn a lot of things from China but it is certainly not a country we want to emulate in everything.

China: Vision, Planning and Leadership equal rapid Progress

Perhaps the one lesson we can learn is that where there is vision, planning and leadership, countries can progress rapidly. Countries don’t have to get everything right; success in just a few critical areas can make a huge difference.

China did precisely that and in 33 years has become a behemoth that now challenges our own sovereignty. As I have noted elsewhere, few realize how close we came to compromising our sovereignty under former Prime Minister Najib. His reckless borrowing and lopsided infrastructure projects would have turned us into “a wholly-owned subsidiary” of China.

Whatever one may ascribe China’s rapid rise to, there’s no escaping the fact that we now have a leviathan  at our doorstep and we must, as a nation, rise to meet the challenge it poses.  China is going to cast a long shadow over Malaysia and the region. And we have to be ready for it.

Every Malaysian politician, certainly every Pakatan cabinet minister, would do well to spend time in China – to  learn, to see what’s possible and to understand what we are up against. Perhaps they may return home with a new realism and a fresh determination to prepare our nation for a future in which China is going to figure very significantly.

Preparing for the 4th Industrial Revolution

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The other great challenge that we face is the rapid technological advances – the Forth Industrial Revolution – that is already gathering pace.

As Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the Word Economic Forum (WEF) put it: “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”

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A recent WEF study estimates that some 65% of children entering primary school today will end up doing a job that does not even exist now. Artificial intelligence will make millions of existing jobs obsolete while many of the skills we now value will become redundant.

Naveen Menon, President of CISCO Southeast Asia, warns that those most at risk will be those “lacking IT skills and ‘interactive skills’ such as negotiation, persuasion and customer service skills….”

Are we ready for this new world? It’s going to require a massive effort on the part of government, business and educators to ensure that our workforce will have the skills to compete and prosper in the coming decades, not just against China (which is already making quantum leaps in technology)  but even against our immediate neighbours.

It is a sobering reminder that we can no longer afford to dissipate our energies in destructive and divisive arguments and policies that detract us from facing up to the real challenges we face.

Running out of time

Simply put, we are running out of time as a nation. We cannot continue to keep fighting old battles; we either fight amongst ourselves and be left behind or unite to compete with the rest of the world.

Whether we like it or not, we cannot turn back the clock of history:

Malaysia is a multicultural nation with a rich blend of ethnicities, languages, cultures and traditions. We can either make it our  greatest strength or allow it to become our greatest weakness.

 

Likewise, we can harness the power of our respective belief systems to inspire the kind of  unity, integrity and work ethic that is necessary to build a prosperous and peaceful nation or we can use it to justify exclusionary and extremist policies that diminish us all.

We are a nation of many that must become one to prosper, to face the challenges that confront us.

The Challenge of Leadership

Of course, the challenges are enormous. How do you change the mindset of a nation that has long been conditioned to think and act in racial terms, that has long been taught to view each other with suspicion and distrust? How do you even promote much-needed policies that, in the short-term at least, might be deeply unpopular?

How does the government persuade the nation to rise to its greatness when the opposition is trying to drag it down into the gutter of bigotry?

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But that is the true challenge of political leadership: to take a nation where it must go, not where it necessarily wants to go. If anyone can do it, it is surely Dr Mahathir and this government.

Dr Mahathir has shown that he is not afraid to do what is unpopular if it’s good for the nation. And, at 93, he knows he doesn’t have the luxury of time to wait for evolutionary or incremental change; there must be a drastic reordering of the way we do things or nothing will change.

The greatest legacy he can give to our nation is to leave behind a nation with sound national institutions, a grand vision for the future and a reformatted mindset that pulls us together rather than drives us apart. It is perhaps no coincidence that circumstance has brought back the very man who dared to dream of “a Bangsa Malaysia” to lead us again when national unity is most needed.

We have perhaps a five-year window of opportunity (till the next election) to dramatically change our nation for the better. Fate has given us another chance to reinvent ourselves, learn from our mistakes and build that better nation we all long for. If China can do it, so can we.

Let us be that transformational generation  – the generation that makes the transition from the old Malaysia to the new Malaysia.

       

3 scenarios for post-election Malaysia


September 23, 2018

3 scenarios for post-election Malaysia

Yang Razali Kassim / Khmer Times Share:
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The shocking fall of the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional government in the recent general election was not only historic but also game-changing. As Malaysians usher in a new era, three evolving scenarios are worth watching, writes Yang Razali Kassim.

The ruling juggernaut, the UMNO-led coalition, had never been defeated since independence in 1957. The coalition finally lost power at the hands of the country’s most potent political duo: Mahathir-Anwar. In the aftermath, at least three evolving scenarios are worth watching:

Scenario 1: A New Order?

If the newly-elected Pakatan Harapan (PH, Alliance of Hope) coalition government can last at least two terms, we will see a different political order take hold. The people’s rejection of the governing Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and UMNO is a new phenomenon in Malaysian politics. Increasingly, the emerging narrative is that of a “New Malaysia”.

What this New Malaysia is, however, has yet to be clearly defined, as it seems to mean different things to different people. The popular view is that it is simply the antithesis of the old era; anything that was bad about the old must not be part of New Malaysia. Even Mr. Mahathir himself has called for a break from the past:

“The New Malaysia should even be an improvement on the period during which I was prime minister for 22 years.” The government should “have to go back to democracy and the rule of law and respect the wishes of the people.”–Mahathir Mohamad

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Two wishes in particular: First is cleaning up the mess of corruption left behind by the Najib administration. Reformism will be the order of the day, possibly leading eventually to some form of systemic change. Ironically, Mr Mahathir, who was known as an autocrat, has become the “New Reformer,” embracing Anwar Ibrahim’s battle-cry of ‘Reformasi’.

Second, Mr Mahathir and his team will be under pressure to prove that the new government can fulfill the people’s expectations. The previously disparate alliance will have to demonstrate that it will not be a photocopy of the old regime.

Scenario 2: Existential Crisis

All that said, the power vehicle the PH alliance overthrew is not to be trifled with. At the core of the dethroned BN coalition is UMNO, the linchpin party that won independence from the British. Once thought to be invincible, BN disintegrated as soon as it lost power. Several partners deserted it, leaving only three original component parties, the pillar of which is UMNO.

UMNO itself is facing an existential crisis. It is under threat of being deregistered for failing to hold internal party elections, in breach of political regulations. Should it be struck off, this will not be the first time after surviving one in 1987, ironically when Mr. Mahathir was its president; but the political impact of a replay will be far-reaching, as the party, though out of power, still symbolises the aspirations of the majority ethnic group.

In this battle for survival, UMNO is going through an internal debate over direction and its own identity. The future of UMNO now depends very much on how far the younger generation will succeed in taking over the leadership and charting a new course. Nevertheless, the introspective search for a new identity for UMNO is unprecedented, reflecting the country’s new terrain.

The course taken by UMNO will partly be influenced, if not defined, by the broader political landscape now dominated by the Mahathir-Anwar leadership 2.0. Collectively, the deadly duo has come to symbolise a political ethos around “post-identity”. If PH succeeds, Malaysian politics may increasingly move away from primordial attachments towards a common centre, where greater acceptance and tolerance of each other will be the new norm. How far this will go will also depend on how effective the pushback is from a tentative UMNO alliance with the Islamist opposition PAS.

Scenario 3: Beyond the Border

The political shifts do not stop at Malaysia’s border. As one of the most developed economies in Southeast Asia, the country’s political dynamics – especially those that affect its stability and security – will be of importance to its neighbours in the region and beyond.

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Nothing underscores this better than Mr Mahathir’s wooing of Indonesian President Jokowi for a partnership to stave off European pressures on their palm oil industry.

With neighbouring Singapore, Mr Mahathir also created some ripples when he threw a spanner in the works of a joint high-speed rail project signed by the Najib government, though this has been deferred for now. Mr Mahathir also suggested renegotiating the long-standing supply of water from Malaysia’s Johor state, a strategic resource for Singapore.

Mahathir’s biggest challenge is, however, further afield, in Beijing. China is at the heart of some financially troubling megaprojects initiated by Mr Najib. Mr Mahathir has taken issue with the Asian giant for financing these projects, which were placed under investigation in Kuala Lumpur following the defeat of the BN administration.

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Mr Mahathir himself traveled to Beijing in August to re-negotiate with Chinese leaders the China-funded projects in Malaysia, part of a larger goal to cut down on the massive national debt inherited from the previous government.

At the end of his trip, Mr Mahathir announced at a press conference in Beijing that Malaysia would now cancel the frozen projects – only to tone it down later to “defer” them instead – a decision he said Chinese leaders had “agreed” on. “We do not want a situation where there is a new version of colonialism,” said Mr Mahathir after his meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang.

What is equally troubling Mr Mahathir is the Chinese model of economic collaboration. At issue is Beijing’s preference for extending loans with high interest rates rather than investing directly in the projects, and for payments to Chinese contractors based on timelines rather than project deliveries.

Another is the Chinese propensity to use their own resources, workforce and expertise for the projects, instead of relying on local firms and creating jobs domestically. This model that some call Beijing’s “debt trap diplomacy” has also been questioned in several countries in Asia and Africa for the problems and social tension they generate.

Mr Mahathir, however, is striking a careful balance in resolving the mountain of debt left behind by his predecessor. Important to him also is preserving good relations with a rising economic superpower that is a significant market for Malaysian products. “We do not blame the Chinese government because their companies signed an agreement or several agreements with Malaysian companies under the auspices of the government of the day,” Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah told The Straits Times.

Unlike in the past, the political earthquake in Malaysia this time is clearly reverberating beyond Malaysia’s border. Before he finally calls it a day again expect Mr Mahathir to make more waves as he brings his assertive persona to the international stage, perhaps even to the United Nations. It’s in his DNA.

Yang Razali Kassim is senior fellow with the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. This is part of an RSIS series on Malaysia’s 14th general election and its aftermath.

Select Committee makes 22 recommendations to deal with fake news threat to Singapore


September 20, 2018

Select Committee makes 22 recommendations to deal with fake news threat to Singapore

Singapore “has been and can expect to be subject to foreign disinformation operations”, the report says.

Image result for Singapore: Members of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods addressing media on Sep 20, 2018. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

Members of the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods, (from left) Mr K Shanmugam, Mr Charles Chong, Dr Janil Puthucheary and Mr Pritam Singh. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

 

Read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/select-committee-fake-news-online-falsehoods-recommendations-10739834

SINGAPORE: The Select Committee tasked to look into the problem of combating deliberate online falsehoods has made 22 recommendations to deal with the issue, saying in its report released on Thursday (Sep 20) that Singapore has “been the subject of foreign, state-sponsored disinformation operations”.

In the voluminous report, numbering hundreds of pages, the committee detailed the process through which it sought the views of industry players and the public, which include 170 written representations. Oral representations from 65 individuals and organisations were also heard during the eight-day public hearings in March this year.

During a media briefing on Thursday, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary said the committee, of which he is a member, is convinced that deliberate online falsehoods are a “live and serious threat” that puts Singapore’s national security at risk, based on the evidence and representations put forward.

Through these, it said the findings that relate to Singapore could be categorised into three observations: Foreign disinformation has likely occurred and can be expected to happen again, the country’s societal conditions make it “fertile ground for insidious ‘slow drip’ falsehoods that can cause long-term damage” and the region’s tensions and circumstances are a source of vulnerability.

For the first observation, the committee said the evidence showed that disinformation campaigns have been conducted by “various states”. It cited S Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ (RSIS) Dr Gulizar Haciyakupoglu who described some indicators of such information warfare conducted here, including an unnamed state’s use of news articles and social media to influence the minds of segments of the local population and to legitimise the state’s actions in the international arena.

It was also given a confidential briefing by a security agency which provided information that “Singapore has indeed been the subject of foreign, state-sponsored disinformation campaigns”.

READ: ‘Some indicators’ Singapore was target of information warfare recently, says academic

The report noted that besides disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks are part of a set of tools that external parties rely on to wage a kind of non-physical or “non-kinetic” warfare. And there have been a number of such online attacks against the country, including the one against healthcare provider SingHealth earlier this year, it added.

Reasons for why Singapore remains an attractive target for such disinformation campaigns were also fleshed out. They include the alleged availability of the means and tools for such campaigns in the region that can easily be turned against the country.

Image result for Singapore

“For example, some national security experts pointed out that cyber armies which have been deployed to aid sectarian or political agendas exist in several of our neighbouring countries, which can easily be repurposed and deployed against Singapore,” the report stated.

Insidious Nature of “SLOW DRIP” Falsehoods

As for the second observation, the report called out “slow drip” falsehoods as insidious to Singapore society given its multiracial, multi-ethnic nature. National University of Singapore’s Mathew Mathews was cited as saying that “low-level” falsehoods could raise tensions little by little. “Emotions may not be high initially, but falsehoods could make them stronger,” the report stated.

One example cited was the false news spread by now-defunct online site The Real Singapore, purportedly about a complaint by a Filipino family that resulted in a commotion between Hindu participants and the police during a Thaipusam procession in 2015. The story gained traction quickly and led to xenophobic comments online, the report noted.

Another instance cited in the report was the written representation by Prakash Kumar Hetamsaria, who related how another online site, All Singapore Stuff, posted a fake story about a new citizen who was purportedly disappointed with Singapore and thinking of giving up his citizenship, and used his picture to accompany it.

“The article was shared over 44,000 times. Mr Hetamsaria and his family, including his young daughter, were impacted by the xenophobic comments that followed. The falsehood hence also inflamed xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiments in Singapore,” the committee’s report said.

Thirdly, the committee also received evidence on how Singapore’s regional context can contribute to its vulnerability to harmful falsehoods online.

READ: Strong trust in public institutions essential to combat fake news, says Select Committee

For one, societal fault lines run across national borders, it said. Nanyang Technological University’s Liew Kai Khiun was mentioned citing an example relating to the crisis faced by Muslims in the Rakhine state of Myanmar and how reports by local media on the crisis would attract comments on their social media pages refuting the reports.

“These denials appeared to come from Myanmar-based user accounts, and were accompanied by comments with Islamophobic overtones, triggering backlash from accounts that appeared to belong to Singaporean Muslim users,” the report said.

The spillover of tensions from the region into Singapore is also a cause for concern, and the committee cited media academic Cherian George’s study of hate propaganda as an example. Dr George’s study found that hate groups in the region and around the world “are far more formidable than anything we have needed to deal with”, and he cautioned that it would be reckless to assume Singapore would not be impacted by the religious and racial policies of its neighbours.

“Response must be multi-pronged”

Concluding that the phenomenon of deliberate online falsehoods is a “real and serious problem” here and around the world, the committee in its report said Singapore’s response should be guided by the core values and aspirations of its society.

To this end, it said that the response must be “multi-pronged”, such as addressing the capacity of people’s ability to discern falsehoods as well as supporting journalists and fact-checkers in their work. It should also look into supporting the wider digital ecosystem, particularly the role of technology companies, the committee added.

The response should also address the lopsided nature between the growing power of technology and the capacity of society and countries.

“The phenomenon and its problems demonstrate a growing gap between the power of technological developments and the capacity of societies and governments to deal with them,” the report said.

READ: Select Committee – tech giants need to be more accountable; new laws possible

The committee is also of the view that legislative and non-legislative measures are required and “there is no silver bullet”.

“While building the capacity of individuals and other stakeholders through non-legislative measures is crucial, these alone are insufficient to deal with the strength and serious consequences of deliberate online falsehoods,” it said.

That said, the committee is aware that government intervention requires calibration as falsehoods can appear in a broad spectrum of circumstances – from deliberately fabricated content to satire and parodies – as well as varying degrees of impact. Intervention should thus be calibrated to take these factors into consideration, it said.

It is also aware of the “valid and important” concerns involving the impact of such intervention on free speech, and proposed for “calibrated interventions and legal and institutional safeguards”.

With these in mind, the committee recommended 22 measures to achieve the following objectives:

– Nurture an informed public.

– Reinforce social cohesion and trust.

– Promote fact-checking.

– Disrupt online falsehoods.

– Deal with threats to national security and sovereignty.

“Ultimately, what is desired is a public that is informed and respects the facts, a society that is cohesive and resilient, and a people whose sovereignty and freedom are safeguarded,” the committee said.

READ: Public education necessary to fight against deliberate online falsehoods, says committee

In response, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) said it has received a summary of recommendations on how it can strengthen trust between the people and the Government.

These recommendations, it said, revolve around the principles of communication, accountability, transparency and participation in the Government’s policy- and decision-making processes.

The ministry said it already builds capability across the people, private and public sector “so that there can be broader involvement among Singaporeans and organisations to partner the government and each other, to build the Singapore we want to see”.

“These efforts speak to the recommendations received by the Select Committee, and the Government is heartened that we are on the right track,” MCCY said.

“However, we acknowledge that there is always room for improvement and we will strive to do so, as a collective effort with Singaporeans.”

The committee was also asked on Thursday when the Government can be expected to formulate a bill on the recommendations, to which chairman Charles Chong said: “I don’t have a time frame … I’m not sure how long (the Government) would take. We look forward to their response.”

 

Source: CNA/cy