Najib will have two eyes meeting with his Finance Minister on 1MDB

Phnom Penh

dinat UCThis is a parody of sorts. It is arguably one of the best jokes I have heard on the 1MDB Scandal in recent months. Yet it rings true because it is what I had suspected for a long time. Prime Minister Najib Razak has been talking to himself and sleepwalking in the wee wee hours of the morning. He has been trying to convince himself that 1MDB has no problems whatsoever. Tun Dr. Mahathir, Tony Pua and Rafizi Ramli in the Opposition and the rest of us are making 1MDB the pretext to demand his resignation. It is the Finance Minister who should take full responsibility.

On his instructions the MACC with Tunku Abdul Aziz as its adviser cum leader of the investigation team will now look into the matter, leaving no stones unturned. I am sure that given MACC’s sterling record, they will recommend to the Attorney-General that the Minister of Finance should be charged for corruption and fraud.

The Auditor-General who will absolve the Prime Minister of any wrongdoing will likely find that Chairman Lodin Wok Kamaruddin and other 1MDB Directors have failed to perform their fiduciary duty diligently, and the management team led by a certain hot shot Mr. Arul has been dishonest and there is sufficient evidence to prosecute them. For that, Prime Minister deserves our applause for taking decisive  action to bring the 1MDB saga to a closure.–Din Merican


Najib will have two eyes meeting with his Finance Minister on 1MDB

PUTRAJAYA: Govt sources confirmed today (May 25) that upon his return from Japan, Prime Minister Najib Razak will attend a private two-eyed meeting with the Finance Minister to discuss ongoing problems with the heavily indebted 1MDB wealth fund.

“The PM knows ultimately the buck stops with him,” said a source, “but given 1MDB is a subsidiary of the Ministry of Finance, the Finance Minister must shoulder some responsibility for the rampant mismanagement of the nation’s funds.”

“Also attending the meeting will be 1MDB’s Chairman of the Board of Advisers as 1MDB was his idea, and was likely fully-aware of the fund’s unfortunate investment decisions.  The BN Chairman and President of UMNO will also sit in to weigh the damage 1MDB’s land sale to Tabung Haji did to the government’s credibility.”

Political transparency watchers were impressed with the move, “Hopefully with these great minds attending the two-eyed meeting we may soon learn ultimately who is responsible for this costly 1MDB train wreck!”

  – See more at:

The New Dictators Rule by Velvet Fist

May 26, 2015

Phnom Penh

The New Dictators Rule by Velvet Fist

Cambodia’s Pluralist Democracy in the Making

May 25, 2015

Phnom Penh

Positive developments in Cambodia towards pluralist democracy, Yes. I am personally optimistic that change will come under the pragmatic leadership of Samdech Hun Sen, but it will be gradual by a process of evolution towards  democracy with a functioning market economy. It is worth noting that throughout its proud history Cambodia never had a tradition of democratic politics.In that sense, what has been accomplished so far is quite amazing and indeed praiseworthy.

The Cambodian story must be told so that ASEAN and the rest of the world can appreciate what Prime Minister Hun Sen has achieved over the 30 years at the helm of his country in promoting peace and reconciliation,  national integration, and cooperation and economic development. Efforts in reforming the education system and public administration and creating a foreign investment friendly business environment are ongoing. More work ahead remains, no doubt, but the country is already moving forward in the right direction.–Din Merican.

Cambodia’s Pluralist Democracy in the Making: Interview with Sebastian Strangio

By Sophat Soeung

WASHINGTON—Editor’s note: The strong performance of the Cambodian oppositionSebastian-Strangio-f in the 2013 elections and subsequent call for leadership change surprised many observers. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Hun Sen continues his rule and has recently marked 30 years in power. Sebastian Strangio, a former reporter for the Phnom Penh Post and author of “Hun Sen’s Cambodia,” recently joined VOA Khmer for a TV interview at the Voice of America studios in Washington, to discuss the future of Cambodia’s political system.

You moved to Cambodia in 2008, the year there was an election that was arguably the height of the popularity of Hun Sen and the ruling party. Did the results in the elections five years later surprised you?

They did, yes. I think there were very few people who guessed what was going to happen. 2008 was an overwhelming victory for the Cambodian Peoples’ Party (CPP). And it seemed as if they had established their dominance to such an extent that it is now beyond challenge. But what 2013 showed is that we were mistaken about a lot of this, or we overlooked many of the social and economic changes that had taken place, not only over the past five years, but over the past two decades.

After the elections, the ruling party promised deep reforms. To what extent do you think they can deliver on that promise?

Well, it’s always going to be a challenge for them. I think that Hun Sen realizes the importance of reform and that if he doesn’t do it, doesn’t take steps to improve things for ordinary people, that the party is going to have a very difficult time being reelected in 2018. You can already see that they have started to take steps in education and environmental policy, but the problem with the Cambodian political system is that Hun Sen relies so heavily on a class of tycoons and business people and powerful military commanders and government officials. And his rule has been based on keeping these people happy. Now the $60,000 question is whether he will be able to reform the system enough to keep people from switching their vote to the opposition while still maintaining the power and support of these individuals who have supported his rule for so long.

What is your sense of that?

So far the contradictions remain. The government has taken some positive steps, reforming education, for instance, but when it comes to challenging the entrenched economic interests that exist in Cambodia, the powerful tycoons and their connection to things like logging and deforestation, land grabs, that link has been very difficult to sever. There is still an incredible inertia out in the provinces. The logging continues, land grabs continue, and I think that the government has only a limited amount of power to really stop it. The system relies too heavily on this. So only time will tell whether they’re ultimately successful in getting that balance right.

Part of the question also rests on the opposition, which has also been criticized for lack of leadership. I think you mentioned that somewhere in your book as well. Now do you see the opposition as a viable alternative in the next election? And what more should they do to actually live up to some of the promises that they’ve given?

It is very difficult for the opposition, because in a political system that’s based on patronage, which is the way Cambodia works today, and the bonds of loyalty between ministers and their staff and military commanders and soldiers that serve them. It’s very difficult for the opposition to simply slot into that system and command the loyalty of all of these civil servants and soldiers and police officials. And so in that sense they face huge challenges, and I think the best thing the [Cambodian National Rescue Party] can do at the moment is to work away slowly at promoting better policies and pushing their agenda in parliament and then hope that slow, incremental change allows them more and more say in how the country is governed.

I don’t think a rapid transition of power is likely in Cambodia, and, in the past, most transitions of power from one group to another have involved some sort of violence. So I think a slow sort of evolution is probably the best course, but I don’t think the party is in a position to immediately take control of the country, nor do I think Hun Sen is in a position or of an inclination to grant them that.

In your book, you seem optimistic about Cambodia’s younger generation. An analyst mentioned that the future of Cambodia rests on that generation’s ability to produce its own leaders to avoid what he called “old politics.” How and when do you think that might happen?

I think it is already starting to happen. The Cambodian population is more educated and more connected to the outside world than ever before. And so I think we’re already starting to see young people rise up, either in the NGO sector or the private sector, who have incredible leadership abilities. The question is whether the current political system will allow them to use their talents in government. So far the 18 months since the election have been pretty much politics as usual. It’s been old politics. It’s been negotiations between key individuals, a lot of egos, and not a lot of substance.

It is generally understood that Hun Sen is grooming his children for a future transition. What will be the consequence of that?

It’s too soon to say exactly what the CPP is planning. It is certainly planning some sort of generational succession. You see that with not just Hun Sen’s children, but also many other ruling party officials have maneuvered their sons and daughters into positions of power. But as with everything in the CPP, it depends not just on what Hun Sen wants but also on what all of the powerful people that have a stake in the current system, what they want. And I think that any potential candidate to take over from Hun Sen will have to have the loyalty of the majority of the country’s powerbrokers. And I think it is too soon to say who might be in a position to command that sort of loyalty.

You say in your book that the Cambodian story needs to be told. What do you think is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned from Cambodia that can be applied in the region?

I think it is the fate of Cambodia’s democratic transition. In places like Myanmar right now, we see a similar sort of transition happening: a move from a closed, isolated, and embargoed system, to one that’s welcoming international aid and foreign investment. But I think what Cambodia shows is the ability to engineer democracy in a country that has such a violent and unstable history and very little history of democratic government was always going to be a tall order, and I think it is a cautionary tale for the ease with which these sorts of systems can be simply built from the ground up. But the problem is that very few people pay attention to Cambodia anymore, and it is a pity, because I think these lessons are very clear and I think if people looked to Cambodia and analyzed what’s going on in the last 20 years since the UNTAC mission of the early 1990s, I think they would have much more temperate expectations about the democratic possibilities for somewhere like Burma.

This article originally appeared on VOA Khmer here.


STOP UMNO ‘s discrimination against Malaysians

May 25, 2015

Phnom Penh

STOP UMNO ‘s  discrimination against Malaysians

by Johan Bakri

This is of interest to those watching the development of Malaysia and Singapore I am currently reading two books in parallel:

Kim Quek's March to Putrajaya1]The March to Putrajaya This is about the recent and current happenings in Malaysia

Men-in-white-cvr2] Men in White. This is the history of Singapore and the Peoples Action Party for the last 50 years The contrast is most enlightening; not that one has to read the books to know. The books spell out the minutiae that is not intended for the public eyes. Needless to say the former by Kim Quek is banned in Malaysia.

In his 2010 article titled  UMNO and Population Engineering, Hussein Hamid wrote,

QUOTE: Since 1957 UMNO has effectively carried out the population Malaysianengineering of our country to ensure its long-term survival by creating the myth of a two pronged “Ketuanan Melayu”. “Ketuanan Melayu” for the Malay masses who are lulled into a feeling of being superior over the non-Malays because of their numbers and “Ketuanan Melayu” for the UMNO Malay political elites through the accumulation of massive material wealth for themselves and their cronies. And while UMNO has failed by almost any measure you chose to gauge them – good governance or morality – without question they have succeeded too well in the engineering of the population of this country of ours.

The duplicity of UMNO in proclaiming Satu Bangsa, Satu Negara while all the while undertaking a relentless program to whittle down the numbers of the non-Malays through very precise and focused initiatives is breathtaking in its effectiveness!

Consider this:

In 1957: – 45% of the population are Chinese.

– 12% of the population are Indians.

In 2010– 25% of the population are Chinese.

– 7% of the population are Indians.

Over 600,000 Chinese and Indian Malaysians with redIC were rejected repeatedly when applying for citizenship and possibly 80% of them had passed away due to old age.

Since 1957:

– 2 million Chinese have emigrated.

– 0.5 million Indians have also emigrated overseas.

– 3 million Indonesians migrated to Malaysia to become Malaysian citizens with Bumiputra status.

Now the non-Malays are well aware of this tinkering and engineering of our population and it would do us Malays no good to say that it was UMNO doing and that we had no hand in what happened. As a Malay I was then comfortable that UMNO was the dominant partner in the Barisan Nasional.

It was comforting to know that Malays controlled four of the five major banks. Education? Between 1968 to 2000:

– 48 Chinese Primary Schools closed down.

– 144 Indian Primary Schools closed down.

– 2637 Malay Primary Schools were built.

Of the total government budget for these schools 2.5% were for the Chinese Primary Schools, 1% for the Indian Primary School and 96.5% for the Malay Primary School .

PETRONAS Petrol Stations? Of the 2000 stations the Malays owned 99%. Yes we Malays were indeed in control. In control of what?

We were in control of the all the business licenses and permits for Taxis and Approved Permits.

We were in control of Government contracts of which 95% were given to Malays.

We were in control of the Rice Trade through BERNAS (Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary) that bought over 80% of Chinese Rice Millers in Kedah.

We were in control of UMBC, MISC and Southern Bank – all previously owned by Chinese (CIMB)

We were in control of bus companies. Throughout Malaysia MARA buses could be seen plying all the routes. Non-Malays were simply displaced by having their application for bus routes and for new buses rejected.

Every new housing estate built had a mosque or a surau. None, I repeat “no” temples or churches were built for any housing estate!

So why with control over all these highly visible entities and business opportunities are the Malays still unable to stand tall and with pride over and above the non-Malays? We are unable to so do because it was not the Malays that benefited from these opportunities – UMNO did.

Why must UMNO constantly harp about the need to spoon feed the Malays – about ketuanan Melayu when it is already in place and about Bumiputra status and all the privileges and rights that goes with that status?

And as a Malay I want to ask the non-Malays why do you still choose to live in a country whose government has by its actions and deeds done whatever it could to make you feel not welcome? The non-Malays I know have all told me the same thing – Malaysia is their country – they know of no other country they can call their own. And so they stay and put up with the abuses.

The difference now is that there are enough Malays who are shamed by the antics of this Malay political organization called UMNO. There are enough Malays to tell the non-Malays that we feel your pain. We understand your frustrations and despair at not being treated as equals in a country you call your own. And enough non-Malays have migrated abroad to cause our country to understand that their loss is another country’s gain. A loss, which our country can ill afford to sustain.

And more importantly all this ground swell of disgust and contempt at UMNO has manifested itself in a way these political idiots understand – losing our votes in the 12th General Elections. Amen for that. And so we wait for the 13th General Election which we hope will dish out the relevant karma for UMNO and its Barisan Nasional partners.

In the meantime understand what they have done to us all – not only the non-Malays but also to the Malays and do not allow Barisan Nasional led by racist and corrupt UMNO to play the race card and start their divide and rule antics on us again. You are one, with me we are two. UNQUOTE.

High time to wake up from our comfort zone, all of you out there. Malaysia is not doing alright at all. It is still not too late. United we stand, divided  we will fall. Those who know well should pass the message around to those are still sleeping. May God Help us to help ourselves.

Noor Farida Ariffin–The Catalyst for Change

May 25, 2015

Phnom Penh

G-25’s Ambassador Noor Farida Ariffin–The Catalyst for Change

by Mariam Mokhtar@

Noor_Farida_AriffinWith her razor-sharp mind and equally sharp tongue that can slice through any argument, Noor Farida Ariffin is every inch a fighter. So do not let her string of pearls, pale eye-shadow, pastel coloured jacket and welcoming smile fool you.

The effervescent Danny Quah, Professor of Economics and International Studies and Director of the Saw Swee Hock South East Asian Centre of the London School of Economics (LSE), helped facilitate Farida’s talk on “Fighting Religious Extremism in Malaysia” in London recently. Despite the exam period, when many students were not available, the event was packed with Malaysians and other nationals. There was standing room only at the back, and late comers were relegated to an adjoining room.

Quah called Farida a “patriot”, a “true public servant” and a “genuine Malaysian leader”. He also praised her peers in the G25. The G25 is a group of 25 prominent Malaysians, comprising former diplomats and heads of the civil service, who have sought to “reclaim Malaysia from racial and religious extremism”.

Quah said, “The kind of vitriol and rhetoric that is peddled by intolerant extremists threatens to poison the nation. “Now, more than ever, we need voices such as Her Excellency’s to speak out and help us all come together.”

Farida gave a brief but comprehensive review of the incidents of rising religious extremism in Malaysia. She expressed disappointment that the country’s so-called leaders had allowed Malaysia to slip downhill.

She said that Malaysia once prided itself as a model of racial harmony and a nation that could display a multicultural and multi-religious society to the rest of the world. But the current reality, she said, was a disturbing picture of Islamic NGOs and religious authorities wielding power over a cowed population, with the Malays being watched by a brutal and unapologetic moral police who act like thugs and the non-Malays and non-Muslims subject to intense provocation.

She gave a laundry list of vile acts which involved body snatching, the conversion of minors, the “Allah” issue, the seizure of Bibles and the actions of born-again Muslims. She also spoke of Muslims being persecuted through mindless acts perpetrated by the religious authorities.

In 2012, the mean-spirited religious authorities hounded Nik Raina Abdul Aziz, called her a lesbian, and made her life a living hell by persecuting her because the book “Allah, Liberty and Love” by Canadian author Irshad Manji was sold in the book store where she worked.

The book had not been banned by the Home Ministry. Despite the case being thrown out of court, JAWI lodged an appeal and refused to show any compassion towards Nik Raina and said that “it was not their problem”.

Concern over the disturbing developments of the last few years and the creeping Talibanisation of Malaysia prompted the members of the G25 to express their disgust at the corruption of Malaysia. The original G25 has expanded to 40 members and is still growing. Farida hopes that they would be the catalysts for change.

She said, “The secretaries-general of the various ministries, former diplomats, directors-generals, heart surgeons, etc are establishment figures. They are not rabble rousers. So, we said, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Farida added that an open letter from the G25 to PM Najib Abdul Razak had caused a stir in the nation, which had prompted more of the silent majority to begin speaking out.

Dr. Mahathir started the Politics of Islam

Najib Vs Mahathir

Farida was in no doubt about the start of the rot. She cited former premier Mahathir Mohamad’s role in changing the Constitution in 1988 to make syariah law on par with civil law. She said, “He declared Malaysia an Islamic state, which is not true.”

She expressed horror that fatwas were legally binding in Malaysia, whereas in the rest of the world, they were just legal opinions. She said that hudud law was in clear violation of the Federal Constitution.

“What they are doing is tarnishing the image of Islam,” she said. “The way they are interpreting the religion is wrong. They have hijacked the religion.”

Angry that the current leadership has politicised Islam for their own ends, she described the plight of the East Malaysians and said, “Who can blame the Sabahans and Sarawakians for wishing to secede?”

Her detractors have called her an apostate for opposing the implementation of hudud. She said, “Hudud is not Allah’s law. Corrupt businessmen, in cahoots with equally corrupt politicians, steal from the national coffers and get away with their crimes. An unemployed man steals to feed his family and gets his hands chopped off. Is this justice?

“What PAS wants is just to punish. The Quran mentions love, compassion, justice and mercy. The first principle of Islam is upholding justice. These people do not know what they are doing. From ancient times, the history of religion is of the priestly class always arrogating to themselves power and control over their followers. It is all about power.”

Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist.

*Dato’ Noor Farida  Ariffin served as Director-General at the Research, Treaties and International Law Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and  Ambassador-At-Large for the High Legal Experts Group on Follow-up to the ASEAN Charter (HLEG). She was a Civil Servant with over 40 years of experience, 25 of which was with the Judicial and Legal Service, 5 with the Commonwealth Secretariat and 12 with the Foreign Ministry.

She was the Co-Agent of Malaysia for the Pulau Batu Puteh Case has had a long and distinguished career spanning 36 years in the Public Service. She joined the Judicial and Legal Service in February 1971 where she served in various capacities including magistrate, senior assistant registrar in the High Courts of Kuala Lumpur and Penang, legal officer with the Economic Planning Unit of the Prime Minister’s Department, Director of the Legal Aid Bureau and Sessions Court Judge. She was seconded by the Government to the Commonwealth Secretariat in London for 5 years as Director of the Women and Development Programme, Human Resource and Development Group.

In February 1993, upon her return to Malaysia, she was transferred to Wisma Putra to head the newly established Legal Division of the Ministry. In September 1996, she was absorbed into the Administrative and Diplomatic Service and was appointed the Under-Secretary of the newly formed Territorial and Maritime Division of the Foreign Ministry. In August 2000, she was posted to the Netherlands as the Malaysian Ambassador to that country. She was also concurrently appointed the Malaysian Co-Agent to the International Court of Justice for the Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan Case against Indonesia and the Malaysian Permanent Representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which is based in The Hague. She was elected to the Chair of the 8th Conference of States Parties of the Chemical Weapons Convention in October 2003. Prior to that, at the First Review Conference of the above Convention (April/May 2003) she was elected to chair the Drafting Group on the Political Declaration. She was again appointed the Malaysian Co-Agent by the Government when Malaysia and Singapore agreed to submit the Pulau Batu dispute to the International Court of Justice.

She has been a Director of Eco World Development Group Berhad since March 20, 2015. She served as an Independent Non- Executive Director at S P Setia Berhad from June 18, 2009 to March 26, 2015. She completed her legal studies at the Inns of Court in London. She joined the Judicial and Legal Service in February 1971 where she served in various capacities including magistrate, Senior Assistant Registrar in the High Courts of Kuala Lumpur and Penang, Legal Officer with the Economic Planning Unit of the Prime Minister’s Department, Director of the Legal Aid Bureau and Sessions Court Judge. Her Qualifications include: Barrister- at- Law (Gray’s Inn), United Kingdom in 1970.–



Don’t use Islam to hide power abuse, Najib told

May 24, 2015

Phnom Penh

Don’t use Islam to hide power abuse, Najib told

by Ida

hakam_phillip_kohThe use of religion to distract from the alleged abuses of the government is a dangerous tactic that will destroy multicultural Malaysia, said senior lawyer Philip Koh in a warning to the government.

With Islamism filling the void of communal politics that has increasingly fallen out of favour in Malaysia, Koh urged politicians not to succumb to the temptation to use religion as a means to pit the various communities against one another.

“As we love this country, we try to shape this country, we ask the elite that is in power, please don’t use religion to protect your corrupt use of power; please don’t use religion to manufacture anxiety among Muslims who are decent people, who have lived for the last 60 or hundreds of years in harmony with the minorities.

“Please don’t abuse that to try to unite in a false self-deceitful way, what you attempt to call a kind of a way to glue and create an enemy. That will be the beginning and we are already in the midst of that — the death of the Malaysia that we know,” he warned when speaking as a commentator in a forum here.

Dr Dian Diana Abdul Hamed Shah, a Universiti Malaya (UM) lawhakam_Dian_Diana lecturer, pointed out that the protection of minorities’ religious rights  are set aside by  politicians who choose to appease the dominant ethnic group for electoral support.

“You can see parallels with the case of Malaysia, especially in the aftermath of the 2013 general elections. So mobilising support among the minorities by addressing concerns of religious freedom or religious rights have been less and less appealing to politicians in all three countries,” she stated.

Dian was comparing the violations of religious freedom despite constitutional protections in Malaysia and two other countries — Muslim-majority Indonesia and Sri Lanka, where the Sinhalese Buddhist community accounts for 70 per cent of the population.

“Constitutional arrangements — no matter how beautiful, no matter how innocently drafted, no matter how innocently intended, no matter how supportive of human rights — are by themselves insufficient to protect religious freedom.

“Especially where the judiciary is subservient to the government of the day, where the executive and law enforcement authorities lack accountability, and where politicians do not have incentives to protect human rights,” she concluded.

hakam_Malik_ImtiazSenior lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said the role of the government is to act as an “honest broker” in providing equal space for all to resolve their issues within the confines of the law.

He said that while non-Muslims are often thought of as the minorities in Malaysia, Muslims who did not fit within Putrajaya’s definition of Islam also saw themselves being labelled as liberal or deviationist.

The prevalence of race and religion started when then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad sought to outdo PAS in Islamist politics, followed by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Islamisation efforts in the 1990s. In 2001, Dr Mahathir also controversially declared Malaysia to be an Islamic state.

According to Imtiaz, Malaysians are now encouraged to think through the “toxic” lens of race and religion, which splits up the community.

When weighing in on the politically motivated use of race and religion, Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi said that appealing to people’s baser instincts encourages them to subscribe to groups such as the Ku Klux Klan supremacist group and India’s BJP party.

“Somehow there’s always attraction in hatred, the important thing is that those of us who don’t believe in this kind of things must also speak out,” the emeritus professor of law from Universiti Teknologi MARA said.

The constitutional law expert said Malaysia remains a fortunatehakam_Shad_Faruq country, noting that things were less incendiary when compared to his birthplace India, where deadly communal riots can happen easily if a cow’s head is thrown at a Hindu temple or a pig’s head is thrown at a mosque.

Cows are sacred to Hindus while pigs are considered unclean and forbidden animals for Muslims. “In this country, at least in this respect, up to now and I hope it stays, we may not like each other (but) we don’t kill each other.

“And I think it’s quite something because in many other societies — Sri Lanka, Thailand, Southern Thailand, Southern Philippines, Pakistan and India, things are much worse,” he said.

The four were speaking at the “Human Rights and Religion: Are the two compatible?” forum, which was jointly organised by National Human Rights Society and the UM law faculty’s human rights research group.

Book Review: Chinese Politics in the Era of Xi Jinping

May 21, 2015

Phnom Penh

BOOK Review

Book Review: Chinese Politics in the Era of Xi Jinping

by John Berthelsen

Renaissance, reform or retrogression?  By Willy Wo Lap Lam. Routledge, 323 pp, softcover, available in local bookstores

China by JBIt often appears there are two Chinas – one fast-rising, showing an aggressive face to the world, building an infrastructure empire, a network of Silk Roads that stretches from Pakistan’s Gwadar Port to the corners of Southeast Asia, dominating the South China Sea, pillaging resources from as far away as Africa, with all roads leading to Beijing much as they led to Rome in the Roman Imperium.

There is a second China, however, that is in a welter of ferment.  It is this China that preoccupies Willy Wo Lap Lam, a widely recognized authority on China, who has formerly held senior editorial positions with the South China Morning Post, CNN and Asiaweek and is now an academic. From the very introduction of this book onward, it is clear that he is a pessimist on China and is not a fan of Xi Jinping, who has battled his way to the top.

“While China is on course to overtake the United States as the world’s biggest economy soon,” he writes, “Chinese who do not belong to the ‘red aristocracy’ – a reference to the unholy allowance between top cadres and their offspring, on the one hand, and big business groups, on the other, see no cause for optimism.” 

Certainly Xi represents a dramatic change from his predecessor Hu Jintao, who with Premier Wen Jiabao presided over historic economic change while the party stultified and fell into a stew of venality. But although Xi has kicked off the biggest anti-corruption campaign since the advent of Communist government, with as many as 200,000 people arrested or otherwise disciplined, it is still unclear whether the cleanup masks a surgical expedition to clear out Xi’s enemies and potential rivals.  The  biggest to fall is famously Zhou Yongkang, “Uncle Kang,” the former head of China’s security apparatus and an ally of Bo Xilai, the now-imprisoned boss of Chongqing and a major opponent.  Zhou is the highest public official ever to be prosecuted. But Xi has also cleared out the entire top of the country’s oil and gas sector – where Zhou’s son was a top official.

Lam’s 323-page analysis of Xi’s rise to power is deeply detailed and essential reading for anybody who is interested in the China that lurks behind the confident consolidation of government that has gone on since he became the head of the government in November 2012.  In particular,  of interest is the reversal of philosophy from that put in place by Deng Xiaoping, who in the wake of the terrors and capricious actions that characterized Mao Zedong’s later years, created a collegial and collective leadership. 

Xi is clearly having none of that. He has sidelined or pushed aside most of his rivals. The first to go was Li Keqiang, the prime minister put in power as his Sancho Panza, who quickly learned that he was a distant number two. Li rose through the ranks in the Communist Youth League and was an ally of Hu Jintao, the former leader. Hu was unceremoniously dumped by Xi in the 2013 party conference that brought Xi to power, unable to retain any of his former titles including those connected to the military. Although Li is a trained economist and touted “Likonomics” at the outset of his premiership, Xi is clearly in charge of economics, along with everything else.

“…Compared to both ex-presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu, the leader of one-fifth of mankind is a relatively simple person committed to defending what he regards as self-evident truths,” Lam writes. Including those is a notion that “the nature of the Party will never change.”  There has been no  thought of democratization and no letup on the war on intellectuals, the press and those who do not believe in communist orthodoxy. “Any idea that the party will undergo ‘peaceful evolution’ is out of the question.”

The Internet, perhaps the most opportunistic venue for subversion, is being tightened even further. Since Lam’s book has come out, the “great cannon” has been added to the “great firewall” as a new tool for censorship, pouring massive sprays of traffic against enemies in an attack called “distributed denial of service or DDOS target two anti-censorship sites in the US and closing them for days.

David Shambaugh, for decades one of China’s most optimistic backers in the west, shocked the world of sinologists by saying the China system was inevitably doomed.  Is Lam that pessimistic?

“Even more than factors such as shifts in China’s foreign and defense policies,” Lam writes, “the most important determinant of the trajectory of China’s development in the twenty-first century will be domestic questions. Foremost is whether China will pick a development path that favors the construction of a real market economy and a just and passionate society that embraces values such as the rule of law and equal opportunity.”

The next decade of China’s development under Xi probably isn’t going to meet those goals. Lam quotes Xi as saying the country could be undermined by “subversive mistakes.” What he meant, Lam says, “are economic, social or political policies that would compromise the monopoly on power that is enjoyed by the CCP – or more specifically, the party’s ruling elite, also known as the “red aristocracy.”  That is not a cause for optimism.