Foreign Policy Perspective: The Return of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in an Election Stunner


May 18, 2018

 

Foreign Policy Perspective: The Return of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in an Election Stunner

By Richard Javad Heydarian

https://www.cfr.org/blog/strategic-implications-malaysias-election-stunner

Image result for The Return of Mahathir Mohamad

Malaysia’s recent national election was a stunner for many reasons. Not only did the election return a nonagenarian to power, but it also ended the six-decades-long one-party hegemony of Barisan Nasional (BN). For the first time in Malaysia’s post-independence history, the opposition is in power. Crucially, long-time opposition leader and democracy activist Anwar Ibrahim has been pardoned and released from prison, enabling him to eventually take the helm of the Malaysian state, paving the way for deep political reforms.

Yet Mahathir Mohamad’s return to power is not only potentially transformative for Malaysian domestic politics. It also has far-reaching strategic implications. First of all, Malaysia may revisit its increasingly cordial, if not acquiescent, bilateral ties with Beijing, which heavily invested in upgrading relations with the previous Najib Razak administration.

Similar to the case of the Philippines during the Benigno Aquino III administration, domestic anti-corruption initiatives in Malaysia could have a significant impact on external relations with China. Former President Aquino III’s good governance reforms primarily targeted Beijing-backed projects launched under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration. These anti-corruption efforts against China-backed projects, along with Aquino III’s tough South China Sea policy, led to an overall deterioration in Philippine-China bilateral ties, which reached its apotheosis in 2016 as the Philippines won a decision at an international tribunal in The Hague against Beijing’s claims to an expansive “nine-dash line” of territory in the South China Sea.

Malaysia under Mahathir may quickly implement anti-corruption reforms; he has already apparently barred Najib from leaving the country, and vowed that the government will reopen investigations into the 1MDB state fund scandal. A major issue driving the Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan coalition victory was the nationwide uproar against the 1MDB corruption scandal.

The former Prime Minister and his associates have been accused of embezzling as much as $1 billion from the state fund. The 1MDB debacle also sparked international investigations into the Najib government, as the United States, Singapore, and Switzerland, among other countries, froze accounts and launched investigations against Malaysia’s investment fund body.

But as Western governments began threatening criminal probes against top Malaysian officials, Najib began to fortify strategic and economic relations with China, which became a key source of investments for Malaysia. And the former prime minister was unapologetic about it.

As the new Mahathir government moves towards potentially prosecuting Najib after placing him under a travel ban, greater scrutiny of Chinese investments could be coming. Before the election, Mahathir complained about the potential for rising housing costs for Malaysians triggered by an expansion in real estate projects by Chinese companies, and a potential influx of Chinese property buyers. “Here we gain nothing from the [Chinese] investment… [W]e don’t welcome that,” he recently lamented. Mahathir also has repeatedly expressed concerns about over-reliance on Chinese technology, engineering and labor for Malaysian infrastructure projects.

Image result for China, Malaysia and South China Sea

Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad will review relations with Xi Jinping’s China

Among China-led projects that could be reconsidered is the $13 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) railway, connecting Kuala Lumpur with less developed eastern regions. Mahathir has indicated that he may scrap the whole project. He has also warned about the threat of a debt trap, citing the case of Sri Lanka, which was forced into humiliating debt-for-equity deals with China due to its inability to repay ballooning debts to Chinese state firms.

Secondly, Mahathir likely will take a stronger stance against China’s growing strategic assertiveness across Southeast Asia. Under the Najib administration, Malaysia remained reticent to openly highlight Beijing’s behavior in the South China Sea, eager to maintain booming economic ties with China.

Under Mahathir, Malaysia’s policy of strategic acquiescence toward Beijing could change. Unlike Najib, Mahathir seemingly views China as a potential strategic threat. He has described the Xi administration as “inclined towards totalitarianism” and increasingly belligerent, a government that “like[s] to flex [its] muscles” and “increase [its] influence over many countries in Southeast Asia” in a “very worrisome” manner. Mahathir further has warned against growing militarization of the South China Sea, where Malaysia is one of the four Southeast Asian claimant states.

Malaysia is currently occupying multiple land features, including the Swallow Reef, a reclaimed island with its own naval base. Historically, China has been less assertive within Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea than it has been in the economic zones of the Philippines and Vietnam, due to cordial bilateral relations with Malaysia. In recent years, however, Chinese navy and coast guard have been more active within Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone in the area. Nonetheless, the Najib administration adopted a softer tone than other Southeast Asian states such as Vietnam and the Philippines, which filed an arbitration case against China.

Finally, Mahathir could place his country, once again, at the center of Southeast Asian affairs, where senior, high-profile figures tend to play an outsized role in setting the regional agenda.

 

Image result for mahathir and lee kuan yew same school

In fact, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional organization largely owes its existence as well as peaceful evolution over time to the efforts of powerful, often domineering regional leaders like former Singapore Prime Minster Lee Kuan Yew as well as Mahathir during his previous two-decades-long stint as Malaysian Prime Minister from the 1980s to early 2000s Mahathir shaped ASEAN’s relations with great powers, including China, and its response to regional economic and strategic crises, especially the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.

Mahathir’s return to the center of power in Malaysia could also provide leadership and foster internal coherence within ASEAN, which has increasingly lost its way in recent years due to in-fighting among member states and the growing influence of China in Southeast Asia.

Mahathir is expected to build on the efforts of his predecessors, who managed to improve historically tense relations with neighboring Singapore, the current chairman of the ASEAN, over the past two decades. His personal gravitas, as a regional elder statesman, could also mean greater deference among his significantly more junior colleagues in the regional body.

“Notwithstanding his age (ninety-two years old) and his need to focus on domestic political challenges including the 1MDB scandal, rising inequality, and rebuilding political institutions, Mahathir’s return to the stage could give more purpose and substance to the ASEAN.”–Richard Javad Heydarian

In recent years, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has a dominant figure within ASEAN. Yet Duterte has been mired in controversy, coming under fire for his human rights record and, especially, too cozy relations with China. Last year, with the Philippines holding the organization’s rotating annual chairmanship, ASEAN kept largely silent over South China Sea disputes as well as the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, probably the two largest regional challenges. As a result, ASEAN often appeared irrelevant in shaping regional affairs.

Notwithstanding his age (ninety-two years old) and his need to focus on domestic political challenges including the 1MDB scandal, rising inequality, and rebuilding political institutions, Mahathir’s return to the stage could give more purpose and substance to the ASEAN. Throughout the decades, Mahathir has been a constant fixture in regional meetings, seen as a regional bigwig and an indispensable source of strategic wisdom across Southeast Asia. Indeed, it is likely that Malaysia’s Prime Minister will once again try to leverage his influence within ASEAN to advance not only his country’s interests, but also make the regional body a more relevant player in addressing key challenges, including in the South China Sea. Mahathir’s unlikely and stunning return could be not only a game changer domestically, but for the whole Southeast Asian region.

Richard Javad Heydarian is a nonresident fellow at ADR-Stratbase Institute, Manila, and the author of The Rise of Dutere.

Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir creates Council of Elders led by Tun Daim Zainuddin


May 13, 2018

Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir creates Council of Elders and appoints a team of our truly outstanding Malaysians led by Former Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has appointed a ‘council of elders’ comprising eminent persons who will serve as advisors to the government.

In a press conference today, he listed the former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, former Bank Negara Governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz, former Petronas President Mohd Hassan Merican, Yycoon Robert Kuok, and  Award winning Malaysian Economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram as members of the council.

“Many of us have little or no experience in running a government. We need some expertise on this.

“Of course, expertise must come from people with knowledge or previous knowledge of administration, or being in the government, or having held some responsible post. (That is why) we have decided to set up a council of elders, or rather a council of eminent persons,” Mahathir said in a press conference at the Bersatu headquarters today.

 

Image result for Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Award Winning Malaysian Economist, Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram (right) seen with Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar, Managing Director, Khazanah Malaysia Berhad

This council will conduct studies and prepare papers for the cabinet, he added, while ministries are being set up. It will also assist the new government in implementing its 100-day promises in its manifesto, and is expected to last for approximately the same duration.

“Eventually the papers for the cabinet will be prepared by the ministries, but in the interim, before we have proper ministries going, we need to do investigations into a lot of things.

“Some of these things may involve the ministries and the personnel themselves, so we need people who are not involved to be vetting and studying reports made, either by the ministries or by certain bodies which we will consult,” Mahathir explained.

Earlier in the press conference, he named Ministers for Finance, Defence and Home Affairs.

DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng was appointed Finance Minister, while the Presidents of Amanah and Bersatu, Mohamad Sabu and Muhyiddin Yassin, too the Defence and Home Affairs portfolios respectively.

 

Shock Election Outcome and Malaysia’s Future


May 11, 2018

Shock Election Outcome and Malaysia’s Future

Image result for Mahathir is sworn in as Prime Minister

By the early morning of May 10, results from the Election Commission indicated that Malaysia’s opposition coalition had secured enough seats to prevail in the country’s general election, effectively marking the end of the world’s longest continuing ruling coalition, led by scandal-ridden premier Najib Razak, and putting the country’s longest serving leader, Mahathir Mohamad, back into office.

Though an opposition coalition win would no doubt be historic, the election result has also quickly cast the Southeast Asian state into a period of uncertainty and raised questions about not just the transfer of power, but the future direction of its domestic politics and foreign policy.

“...one should not forget that it was Mahathir’s authoritarian rule for over two decades that paved the way for some of the trends the opposition rails against – from the erosion of Malaysia’s institutions to the lack of reforms in decades-old affirmative action policies. These are serious problems that cannot be fixed overnight no matter who is in office, and they are easier to talk about than to actually address.”

The opposition’s tally in the country’s 14th general election is nothing short of historic. Though the ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional (BN), had seen its support erode over the past decade under Najib – losing its much-prized two-thirds majority in 2008 and then the popular vote in 2013 – most had predicted BN would still nonetheless cling to power in GE-14 by employing its usual bag of political tricks, including gerrymandering and restrictions on the opposition. Instead, by early Thursday morning, results disclosed by the country’s Election Commission showed that the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition had surpassed the 112 of the 222 seats required in parliament with 121 seats, giving it an effective simple majority, with BN winning just 79 seats.

The result was above all an indicator of the high degree of frustration among the Malaysian electorate with the status quo. Najib’s declining popularity over the years had come amidst deep discontent – not just about the much-ballyhooed 1MDB scandal, but also policies such as the unpopular goods and services tax (GST) that hurt regular Malaysians.

GE-14 saw huge rallies for the Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition alliance during the election campaign, significant turnout by Malaysians, and record losses by BN in terms of parliamentary seats. The demand for change in Malaysia was clear for all to see.

Yet while the opposition victory might mark the end of a historic election race, it also represents the start of an age of uncertainty for the Southeast Asian state. Given the unprecedented nature of the opposition’s tally, the immediate focus was around whether or not there would be a peaceful transfer of power that would see Mahathir sworn into office again as Prime Minister and Wan Azizah, the wife of his former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim who he once deposed and is now behind bars, will be sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister.Whether or not this in fact occurs still remains to be seen.

Image result for Mahathir is sworn in as Prime Minister

After Victory, what’s next?

During Najib’s first press conference since his party’s defeat on Thursday morning, he stopped short of conceding power, noting that no single party had received a simple majority – if the 121 seats are to be broken down by the 104 seats contested under the PKR logo along with 9 seats for the Democratic Action Party and 8 seats for Parti Warisan Sabah –  and that the King would have to determine who the next premier would be.

“…the deeper concerns lie in how the electoral outcome is likely to affect Malaysian domestic politics and foreign policy. As of now, things still look quite unclear on both fronts.”

Meanwhile, Mahathir’s swearing in, initially said to be set for Thursday, was delayed. The added period of uncertainty had the effect of feeding into rumors that BN may not accept an opposition win and raising concerns about the potential outbreak of violence.

Even if a peaceful transfer of power does occur, the deeper concerns lie in how the electoral outcome is likely to affect Malaysian domestic politics and foreign policy. As of now, things still look quite unclear on both fronts.

Domestically, the election campaign ahead of polls was dominated by a focus on personality attacks and cosmetic promises rather than substance, in spite of the fact that the country’s true challenges are structural and transcend party or person.

Amid the vilification of Najib, for instance, one should not forget that it was Mahathir’s authoritarian rule for over two decades that paved the way for some of the trends the opposition rails against – from the erosion of Malaysia’s institutions to the lack of reforms in decades-old affirmative action policies. These are serious problems that cannot be fixed overnight no matter who is in office, and they are easier to talk about than to actually address.

It would also be a mistake to conflate a historic electoral victory with sustained political dominance should the opposition go on to govern. As remarkable a triumph as the Malaysian opposition’s is, the fact is that it took a slow accumulation of several developments – including the deepening 1MDB scandal surrounding Najib, Mahathir’s unlikely re-emergence in Malaysian politics, and deep frustrations that translated into record turnout – to get to this historic outcome. Sustaining that kind of momentum will not be an easy task, particularly if and when the opposition transitions from campaigning to governing – with Mahathir claiming he will eventually step aside – and supporters of the defeated ruling coalition begin realigning post-Najib using their deep patronage networks and other levers of influence. The pendulum could well swing back in the direction of continuity after sudden change.

Things are equally unclear on the foreign policy side as well. Beyond shallow slogans and cheap talk from the two sides – from Mahathir’s promises to restrict Chinese investments to Najib’s self-congratulatory note on the relatively good state of Malaysia-Singapore relations – there was little substantive debate about the structural problems have eroded the exercise of Malaysian foreign policy and constrained the country’s maneuverability. These include a meager defense budget that limits Malaysia from addressing growing security threats to a more divided country that dilutes the support needed for the country to wage an effective foreign policy and preserve its sovereignty from outside threats from state and  non state actors.

“The immediate headlines so far have focused on the Malaysian opposition’s historic election tally, and deservedly so. But as the days and months progress, it will be equally important to pay attention to the country’s new period of uncertainty and what that means for how it conducts itself at home and abroad.”

Some might turn to Mahathir’s foreign policy record for a guide as to what might play out should the opposition indeed take the reins. But it has been a decade-and-a-half since he was in power, and the domestic, regional, and global realities that Malaysia confronts have changed significantly. It is also still unclear how the management of foreign relations will work under the opposition’s tenure, as well as the extent to which mulled changes will actually find their way through bureaucracies into implementation. For these reasons among others, doomsday scenarios, whether with respect to neighboring states like Singapore or major powers like the United States and China, are less likely to play out than subtler re-calibrations in the country’s key relationships.

The immediate headlines so far have focused on the Malaysian opposition’s historic election tally, and deservedly so. But as the days and months progress, it will be equally important to pay attention to the country’s new period of uncertainty and what that means for how it conducts itself at home and abroad.

Trump Destroys the Iran Deal—and a Lot More


May 10, 2018

Trump Destroys the Iran Deal—and a Lot More

After months of threatening, President Trump withdrew from the historic Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday, unraveling the Obama Administration’s signature foreign-policy achievement and putting the United States on a collision course with allies, as well as with Tehran. “This was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” the President said. “It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.” Trump also announced that the United States is re-imposing economic sanctions on Iran and, over time, on companies in other countries that do business with the Islamic Republic.

Image result for iran deal trump

President Donald Trump announced on May 08 that the US will withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran and reinstate economic sanctions against Tehran. “We will be instituting at the highest level of economic sanction; any country that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States,” Trump said.

 

Trump said that he was prepared to negotiate a new deal, but it would have to cover several issues beyond Iran’s controversial nuclear program—including Tehran’s ballistic-missile program, its support for extremist groups, and other “malign” activities in the wider Middle East. In a rebuke to Trump, however, the leaders of Britain, France, and Germany expressed “regret” over Trump’s decision and vowed to remain in the pact, which also includes Russia and China. “We urge all sides to remain committed to its full implementation and to act in a spirit of responsibility,” they said. China also indicated that it would adhere to the accord.

In an initial reaction, Iran also appeared to reject new negotiations—and indicated that it might even stick to the original agreement, which curtails significant aspects of its nuclear program. President Hassan Rouhani said that his government would review the prospects of continuing to collaborate with the other five signatories of the pact, formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A.

“If, at end of this short period of time, if we come to the conclusion that with the collaboration of five countries it is feasible to attain what the Iranian people wish, despite the views of the U.S. and Zionist regime and also the impolite remarks by Trump, we should see whether it is possible to just keep up with J.C.P.O.A. and also take steps in line with regional peace and tranquility,” he said. (Iran refers to Israel as “the Zionist regime.”) But Rouhani—who won office in 2013, on a platform of negotiating a nuclear deal with the United States and getting a reprieve from economic sanctions in return—also suggested that Tehran was prepared for “subsequent measures, if needed,” including “starting industrial enrichment without limitations.”

Trump’s decision means that, technically, the United States is the first nation to violate the accord. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the U.N. nuclear watchdog, has issued ten reports that Tehran is in full compliance with its obligations. Iran is under the toughest inspections and verification-inspections regime ever imposed in an arms-control deal. In a rare public comment on Trump’s foreign policy, former President Barack Obama noted that the right to inspections disappears if the agreement ends.

“Every aspect of Iranian behavior that is troubling is far more dangerous if their nuclear program is unconstrained,” Obama said. “Our ability to confront Iran’s destabilizing behavior—and to sustain a unity of purpose with our allies—is strengthened with the J.C.P.O.A., and weakened without it.”

Critics were scathing about the U.S. withdrawal. James Dobbins, a former U.S. Ambassador to the E.U., who negotiated with Iran after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and now works at the RAND Corporation, said that the decision “isolates the United States, frees Iran, reneges on an American commitment, adds to the risk of a trade war with America’s allies and to a hot war with Iran and diminishes the prospects of a durable and truly verifiable agreement to eliminate the North Korean nuclear and missile threat.”

Trump’s decision is likely to have far-reaching impact. The premise of diplomatic outreach was to create conditions for eventual coöperation with Iran on other flashpoints in the world’s most volatile region. Instead, danger looms for deepening tensions in hot spots such as Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen—countries where the United States and Iran have rival interests. “By forfeiting American leadership in the one successful multilateral deal in the volatile Middle East, Trump could possibly make a bad situation worse,” Wendy Chamberlin, a former career diplomat who is now the president of the Middle East Institute, in Washington, told me.

Tensions between Israel and Iran have increased recently over Syria, where the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Lebanon’s Hezbollah have established footholds in three dozen military facilities during its seven-year civil war. Israel has launched more than a hundred air strikes on Syria, the majority on Iranian and Hezbollah targets. “Israel and Iran are headed toward a dangerous confrontation,” Chamberlin said.

The withdrawal from the agreement comes days before the U.S. moves its Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, another controversial decision that has inflamed anti-American passions. “Trump is pouring gasoline on a Middle East in flames already, with his Iran and Jerusalem decisions,” Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A., White House, and Pentagon staffer who is now at the Brookings Institution, told me.

Trump’s decision also undermines the transatlantic alliance, crafted after the Second World War, between the United States and Europe. The President defied a determined last-ditch pitch by America’s three most important European allies, made during visits by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson.

Trump’s decision to nix rather than fix the deal fits his “America First” agenda. “Withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal—alongside withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Accord [on climate]—completes Trump’s reneging on U.S. commitments and undermining of U.S. credibility,” Daniel Kurtzer, a former Ambassador to Israel and Egypt now at Princeton University, told me. “The United States used to be the leader, the convener, and the engine of international diplomacy. Trump’s actions have turned us into an untrustworthy and erratic diplomatic outlier.”

The Europeans are clearly hoping that the deal—the crowning achievement of the E.U.’s diplomacy as a continental body—will survive without the United States.

Re-imposing sanctions on Iran will create the greatest division between Europe and the U.S. since the Iraq War, Mark Fitzpatrick, the executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies office in Washington, told me. “Only this time it will be worse, since not a single European state sides with the U.S. on this matter.” Beyond Europe, American credibility worldwide “will go down the tubes,” he said. “Who will ever want to strike a deal with a country that, without cause, pulls out of a deal that everyone else knows has been working well? America will be seen as stupid, arrogant, and bullying. Pity the poor U.S. diplomats who have to explain this illogical decision to their host countries.”

Trump’s decision even benefits America’s adversaries, including Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. “We’re playing into Putin’s hand,” Michael McFaul, a former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, now at Stanford University, said on CNN. “For Putin, it means that the U.S. is on the outside—and Putin is still on the inside. Why are we isolating ourselves when we need other countries to coöperate with on issues like North Korea?”

The U.S. decision will have fallout both economically and politically inside Iran, where foreboding about Trump’s long-threatened decision has already had a psychological impact. The value of Iran’s currency has plummeted by a third since December. The timing intersects with systemic change—and uncertainty—in Iran over dramatic demographic changes, aging leadership, and long-standing structural deficiencies. “The post-revolutionary baby boom is inching toward middle age, with nearly universal access to information and communications technology and after decades of thwarted hopes for economic improvements,” Suzanne Maloney, a former State Department policy-planning staffer now at the Brookings Institution, told me.

“I don’t see a revolution on the horizon, but I think we are witnessing the slow-motion metastasis of the revolutionary system that is echoing through the economy and the establishment,” she said. “I don’t think this is solely or even primarily provoked by the collapse of the deal but, rather, the culmination of a range of internal forces: long-simmering frustrations, the stalemate of two decades of gradualism, demographic pressures, communications technology, and the anticipated imminence of leadership succession.”

As dramatic as Trump’s curt announcement was, the repercussions of his decision—one of the most important of his sixteen months in office—may take months to play out in Iran, among allies, and even among adversaries. At a White House briefing, the new national-security adviser, John Bolton, said that the Administration will continue to talk with allies, starting on Wednesday, about ways forward. But the prospect of healing the policy divide with the world’s other five major powers—much less getting Iran to agree to a new deal—seems remote, at best.

 

Making Sense of the Indo-Pacific Strategy: An Inheritance from the Past


May 10, 2018

Image result for asia-pacific bulletin

Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 423

Making Sense of the Indo-Pacific Strategy: An Inheritance from the Past

By Takuya Matsuda*

The term “Indo-Pacific” has gained wider currency as the Trump administration promotes the Indo-Pacific Strategy as its flagship policy towards the region. Since the substance of this strategy has yet to be made clear, one could easily make speculations that the Indo-Pacific Strategy is a “containment policy” towards China given the emphasis the new National Defense Strategy has given to great power competition.

However, a brief overview of this concept may offer a different narrative. It is worth highlighting here that this increasingly popularized term is nothing new. “Indo-Pacific” is a concept that emerged as a culmination of policy choices made since the mid-1990s to incorporate India into the US strategic framework in the Western Pacific and to encourage allies including Japan to upgrade their roles in international security. In other words, this concept, which originated in the mid-1990s, gained momentum in the 2000s, before Chinese maritime expansion started to challenge American primacy in the Western Pacific.

The strong defense relationship that Washington and Delhi enjoy today would not be possible without policy choices made by the Clinton and Bush administrations. The US tilt to India during the Kargil Crisis in 1999 is often cited as the first indicator of America’s interest in strengthening ties with India. The civilian nuclear deal negotiated and signed in the mid-2000s was also consequential in forging closer ties between the two nations by setting aside one of the contentious issues that complicated the relationship. These policy choices made in the 2000s were crucial in realizing the “Strategic Handshake” between the two nations with India’s “Act East” and the US “Rebalance” to Asia, which have made strong defense ties between the two nations increasingly visible since the Obama administration.

On the other hand, Japan’s resurgence as a proactive player in international security has occasionally been portrayed as a balancing strategy against China, often attributed to the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Balancing behavior is a relevant factor in explaining Japan’s security policy; however, it is also worth highlighting here that the origin of Japan’s proactive security policy can be found in the mid-1990s, before Chinese maritime expansion started to become a major concern for Japan’s national security. Tokyo’s embrace of a proactive security policy stems from its pursuit of international security in the post-Cold War era corresponding to Washington’s strategy. The initial motivation for Japan to reconsider its pacifist security policy was the criticism received for its “checkbook diplomacy” in the first Gulf War, which prompted Japan to seriously consider ways to contribute to international security in a more concrete manner, such as in Peace Keeping Operations (PKO). Chinese maritime expansion along with the looming challenge posed by North Korea also have certainly played a certain role in dictating Japanese security policy. However, it is noteworthy that the main motivation behind the Japanese reexamination of strategy has been to become a constructive contributor to international peace and stability.

The concept “Indo-Pacific” highlights a strategic framework, where these Asiatic powers—Japan and India — enhance their collaboration in the maritime domain. In fact, the term “Indo-Pacific” was first unveiled by Mr. Abe in front of Indian members of parliament in 2007 in a speech entitled as “Confluence of the Two Seas”. As he discussed the maritime connections between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, he used the expression “broader Asia (kakudai Asia)” as he encouraged India to be part of the Asian security framework. Mr. Abe has developed this idea into what he called “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond”, which advocated for stronger ties among the US, Japan, India, and Australia. These concepts have now evolved into the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”, which was announced by Mr. Abe at the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) meeting held in Nairobi in August 2016.

These observations highlight how the concept behind the Indo-Pacific strategy demonstrates the constant effort policy-makers in Washington have made in maintaining a robust US presence in the region. In other words, the Indo-Pacific strategy is rather an inheritance from past U.S. administrations along with ideas produced by allies and like-minded nations in the post-Cold War era.

The current strategic environment tempts one to label this strategy as a containment policy against China. However, the intentions that shaped this concept in the past quarter century deserve some attention in making sense of this concept. The idea of Indo-Pacific emerged as Washington, Tokyo, and Delhi sought their role in preserving the status-quo in the post-Cold War era. The maritime nature of this concept, which is underscored by the fact that it involves the three participants of the Malabar Exercise, an annual trilateral naval exercise, illuminates this point.

Moreover, this concept underlines the evolving nature of America’s alliance network in the region. Moving beyond a bilateral-based system that put constraints on allies, this concept illustrates how a multilateral security network is emerging out of the existing hub-and-spokes system. This maritime-based security network based on the Indo-Pacific concept underscores a status-quo preservation mechanism instead of a mere balancing coalition, where US allies and defense partners play a major part in fulfilling that role.

The increasingly hybrid strategic environment in the South China Sea, for instance, indicates new challenges that the Indo-Pacific strategy will need to address. Nevertheless, as the Trump administration considers ways to add substance to their regional flagship policy, it is helpful to bear in mind that this is an inheritance from past administrations with an origin that could be traced to a period before Chinese maritime expansion started to challenge American primacy. A brief look at the evolution of this concept reveals a nuanced picture of how this seemingly new concept has developed as a means to preserve the status-quo in the Indo-Pacific, through enhanced maritime awareness in the post-Cold War era.

*Takuya Matsuda is a PhD student in War Studies at King’s College, London and has his MA from Johns Hopkins/SAIS. He can be contacted at Takuya.Matsuda@kcl.ac.uk.
Click Here to view this piece on the East-West Center Website

 

APB Series Founding Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye | APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente
The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.
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.

Dien Bien Phu–A Battle That Changed the World


May 8, 2018

Analysis

Dien Bien Phu–A Battle That Changed the World

 by Mike Minehan

http://www.ideaschannel.com/index.php/analysis/2798-a-battle-that-changed-the-world

Image result for Ho Chi Minh.

In the rest of the world, May 7 may have passed as just another day. But in Vietnam, May 7 is the anniversary of a great victory. This is the victory of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, when in 1954, the French garrison surrendered to the Vietminh, a communist-led nationalist movement headed by a former London pastry cook, Ho Chi Minh.

The book, Battles That Changed History (Regfan, Geoffrey, 2002, Carlton Books) includes the Battle of Dien Bien Phu because this was the battle that ended French colonial rule in Indo China, leading to a resurgent North Vietnam that eventually prevailed against the might of the world’s greatest fighting machine, the US military.

Image result for Battle of Dien Bien Phu

The USA stil likes to believe that its retreat from Vietnam was not a military defeat, and that it retreated its forces from Indo China only as the result of domestic pressure from home. But as anyone trying to escape from Saigon in 1975 as the North Vietnamese approached the outskirts of the city will testify, this retreat was a rout that not only led to the victory of the North Vietnamese, but also changed the face of South East Asia and led to far reaching changes in how war is waged and how information about war is managed.

The Vietminh general who led the communist forces at Dien Bien Phu, General Vo Nguyen Giap, was a former history teacher with a law degree. He was motivated at least in part by the death of his wife, who had died in a French prison. Giap was a self-taught soldier who learned the art of war first by fighting against the Japanese occupation of Vietnam and later, by reading Mao Zedong’s writings on guerrilla warfare.

Image result for general vo nguyen giap

 

 

Giap was helped by the arrogance of the French. The French rationale was to create an outpost that would act as a lure to entice the Vietminh into an open battle, where French artillery and tanks would annihilate the communists. Navarre believed erroneously that poorly trained and badly supplied Vietminh forces would not be a match for 13,000 professional French soldiers and the air power supporting them.

Image result for general vo nguyen giap

But because the choice of the site had been based on out-of-date French maps, the terrain ended up favoring the Vietminh instead of the French.

In preparations for the battle, Giap managed to not only outnumber the French, he outgunned them by having heavy artillery manhandled up mountains and into commanding positions dug into the surrounding heights.

The Giap supply line consisted of thousands of peasants who used Peugeot bicycles purchased from prewar French shops. Each bicycle could carry up to 500 pounds of supplies and equipment.

Eventually, the French were completely surrounded and could only be supplied by air – that is, when the monsoon weather permitted. Also, the surrounding jungle and the soft ground rendered the tanks useless and they were sometimes abandoned in the mud.

The French artillery commander, Charles Pirot, had boasted that the Vietminh artillery would be destroyed by his own after they had fired only three rounds. Navarre also believed that most of the Vietminh’s artillery rounds were defective and would fail to explode. But the Vietminh had been supplied by China, and these new artillery rounds not only exploded, but devastated the French positions.

The battle itself was a bloodbath that ended with the Vietminh finally using tunnels and tranches to breach the defenses. The artillery commander Piroth killed himself by pulling the pin on a hand grenade in his quarters. Finally, the French were forced to surrender.

The following video was produced by Russia:

Of the 10,863 prisoners taken, including Vietnamese fighting for the French, only 3,290 were officially repatriated four months later.

 

According to the book Jump Up, Victorious Insurgencies: Four Rebellions that Shaped Our World (Jones, Anthony James, 2010. University Press of Kentucky), France’s defeat in Indo China seriously damaged its prestige elsewhere in its colonial empire, as well as with its NATO allies, most importantly, the United States.

Within the remaining French empire, the French defeat in Indo China served to accelerate independence movements in other colonies, notably the North African territories which had been a recruiting ground for many of the troops who fought at Dien Bien Phu (Ibid.)

Dien Bien Phu was also a springboard for a resurgent South East Asia, and the 7th May 1954 victory ended the misconception that the military might of the west was unassailable.

The lessons from Dien Bien Phu are studied today in military  academies around the world.