Demise of Liu Xiaobo: a case of lose-lose for China


July 21, 2017

Demise of Liu Xiaobo: a case of lose-lose for China

by Kerry Brown

http://asaa.asn.au/demise-liu-xiaobo-case-lose-lose-china/

China’s treatment of its Nobel Peace Prize laureate, writer, literary critic, and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, raises difficult and penetrating questions, writes Kerry Brown

The loss of Liu Xiaobo is a tragedy. For him, a personal tragedy but there are far wider ramifications.

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The final decade of his life was spent in jail. The books he could have written, the contribution he could have made to Chinese and global society, the influence he could have had as a highly regarded public intellectual.

The silencing of Liu has robbed Chinese society of an important, forensically sharp, and creative voice at a time of huge internal change when it needed diversity of opinion.

The outside world has been robbed of the perspective of a truly authentic, engaged, highly erudite and insightful scholar. The body of work that Liu published in Chinese and English before his incarceration provided immensely useful insight for understanding the complexities of China’s current position. More of this would have been very helpful. But it was not to be.

That he died suffering from terminal cancer is just about the worst possible outcome for the Chinese government. Eight years into his 11-year sentence, the world saw heart-breaking photos of him and his wife, Liu Xia, while he undertook palliative treatment in hospital and received some kind of care.

Stain on China’s reputation

While Xi Jinping, China’s President, attended the G20 in Hamburg, back home a man in a hospital ward in the north-eastern city of Shenyang was making the sort of headlines that the Chinese government would have preferred to avoid during its new era of global influence.

The Chinese state often talks about win-win outcomes. In the case of Liu, it has turned out to be lose-lose. No one comes out of this happily. For Liu, his family and friends, the situation is very obviously a terrible tragedy. For the Chinese government, who of course will be blamed for the entire situation, it is a great stain on its reputation.

We have to remember the crime that Liu was said to have committed. He never physically harmed any one. He never stole. He was never accused of blackmail or bribing or breaking any law recognisable under most standard justice systems.

His crime was subversion of the state. And the evidence for this was articles he wrote on websites, most of which were blocked in China and had no more than a few hundred readers.

When we reflect on the meaning of Liu’s case, we have to wonder why it was that every step of the way over eight years, right to the end, the Chinese government did not compromise, despite paying a huge price in terms of its reputation and image.

Since the Olympics in 2008 in Beijing, the Chinese state has poured huge resources into promoting itself abroad. Under Xi Jinping, it has made a concerted effort to communicate the ways in which its role in the world is now beneficial and positive. At the same time, this one case gave its most implacable enemies endless ammunition.

The horrible irony was that this was the first-ever peace prize to a citizen of China, resident and also in detention

Take, for instance, the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu. The horrible irony was that this was the first-ever such prize to a citizen of China, resident and also in detention. For a government that had been pursuing its dream of getting Nobel recognition for decades, this was a huge slap in the face. But its management of the issue afterwards made a bad situation even worse.

Liu became for Chinese officials a symbol of how they would not bow to Western pressure. In a sense, he became a test case for how emboldened they felt in the face of criticism about their rights record. So, the refusal to allow him to attend the Oslo ceremony, and the empty seat that was used to represent him, was a powerful and emotive symbol. A single image represented just how problematic Chinese government treatment of rights issues had become.

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On top of this, there was the treatment of Liu Xia in the years since. Her incarceration in her own home despite never being accused of a single crime summed up the zero-sum approach of the Chinese security apparatus. Images of her weeping in the street, reports of her deep depression, and sporadic stories about her pitiful condition, provided a parallel, contradictory narrative to the bolder, positive message China was trying to spread under its new leadership.

One of the most worrying aspects of the Liu case is how it points, not to the Chinese government’s strength and confidence, but to its weakness. As uncertainty spreads everywhere, the world is increasingly inclined to want and to believe in a China that is stable, predictable and confident. The fact the Chinese state has been willing, right until today, to expend so much precious political capital, such disproportionate effort on this case, looked like tangible evidence of a mighty party state rattled by the actions of one man.

The answer lies in trenchant comments that appeared in Liu’s essays

Western leaders have to contend every hour of every day with fierce and sometimes savage criticism, without recourse to placing their opponents in jail, yet China made such an effort to deal with a single individual? The question this inevitably provokes is a simple one: why were they so frightened?

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The answer lies in trenchant comments that appeared in Liu’s essays. For him, what broadly typified the Western posture towards politics and culture was a sceptical, questioning attitude. He contrasted this with a much more managed, coerced contemporary Chinese practice.

Questions will linger

Liu’s work repays attention, as does his case. His treatment after his leading role in the demand for more human rights in Charter 08 generates endless, worrying questions about the control of the ruling Communist Party in China, and their mandate.

These are questions they have so far responded to by simply closing down debate, silencing Liu and people like him. One wonders how this approach can be sustained.

From the Oslo 2010 ceremony, from society in China during his imprisonment, and now through his death, it is Liu’s absence that proves so powerful. This is remarkable.

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Liu’s contribution is to leave unanswered questions lingering for years to come. These questions, which can perhaps be evaded but not ultimately avoided, relate to the real inner confidence and conviction of the political system that imprisoned him. His final disappearance will not stop these questions, only make them more penetrating and difficult to answer.

In his life, Liu worried the Chinese state. With his demise, Liu’s questions should worry us all.

 

 

Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Ugly Feud with Dr. Mahathir Mohamad reflects the shallowness of Malaysian politics


July 19, 2017

Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Ugly Feud with Dr. Mahathir Mohamad reflects  the shallowness of Malaysian Politics

Possibility of snap election looms as ex-leader backs a jailed former foe

by Takashi Nakano, Nikkei staff writer

http://asia.nikkei.com

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (Photo by AP), left, and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad are sniping over the state of the country’s leadership.

SINGAPORE — An ugly feud is intensifying between Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and predecessor Mahathir Mohamad, with Mahathir throwing his support behind an old nemesis in hopes of unseating the administration, and Najib sniping back.

Mahathir ruled Malaysia for 22 years through 2003, and the country’s profile on the world stage grew under his hard-charging leadership. He has vocally criticized Najib, who has been in power for over eight years — and is in sight of a yet longer term — but has recently come under fire amid an embezzlement scandal. Rumors have swirled that Najib may dissolve parliament this year, leading to a general election.

The two figures’ mudslinging, if it drags on, may diminish Malaysian politics in the eyes of observers at home and abroad.

The enemy of my enemy

In 1998, Mahathir sacked Anwar Ibrahim, then Deputy Prime Minister, who stood in opposition to him. Anwar was then arrested and imprisoned for six years on charges of sodomy and corruption. In Malaysia’s last general elections in May 2013, Anwar led an opposition coalition against Najib’s ruling one, but in 2015 was convicted of fresh sodomy charges and given another five years behind bars.

Anwar Ibrahim © Reuters

Early this month, Mahathir told The Guardian, the U.K. newspaper, that the popular Anwar had been “unfairly treated.” “The decision of the court was obviously influenced by the government,” he said, “and I think the incoming government would be able to persuade the King to give a full pardon for Anwar.” The statement sent shock waves across the country.

Since the time of Anwar’s first arrest, the independence of the Malaysian Judiciary has been in doubt. Mahathir’s championing of Anwar even at risk of drawing fire for his own past actions shows the intensity of his drive to topple the Najib administration.

In June, at the International Conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo, Mahathir also said that Malaysia’s present administration was doing badly by the country, and that he hoped for the opposition to score an electoral victory and drive Najib out of office.

Najib quickly fired back via his blog. He said it was “ironic that Mahathir now needs Anwar, the man he sacked and jailed,” and that the former prime minister’s “crusade is motivated not by the national interest, but by selfish personal interest.”

No winners

Najib, having built up a stable political base, appears to have the upper hand in this fight. Mahathir cannot hide the shrinking of his political clout. And while Anwar’s popularity may run deep, he cannot run for office from prison. With the term of the lower house of Malaysia’s Parliament set to expire next June, Najib is waiting for the moment to play his trump card: the right to dissolve the legislative body.

But the Najib government has a major Achilles’ heel in the scandal surrounding state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, or 1MDB. U.S. authorities are investigating the apparent misappropriation of at least $4.5 billion from the fund, and several people close to the Prime Minister have been implicated.

Najib’s administration has objected, noting that Malaysian authorities conducted extensive inspections and no crime came to light. But overseas authorities have turned a stern eye. The Monetary Authority of Singapore, for instance, has taken steps to punish a number of financial institutions and people whose actions contributed to the 1MDB scandal.

The ties between Mahathir, Najib and Anwar not only show the fierceness of Malaysia’s power struggle, but expose the shallowness of its political benches. Since it won independence in 1957, the country has not undergone a significant change of government, and it has not cultivated a culture in which the politicians that will bear responsibility for the next generation sharpen one another in friendly rivalry.

With its per-capita gross domestic product having reached the $10,000 level, Malaysia is at a crossroads and in need of a new growth model. Its ruling and opposition parties are constantly bickering instead of engaging in more robust economic debate, casting doubt on the nation’s hopes of joining the ranks of the world’s developed countries.

Trump Family Values and America’s Diminished Global Leadership


July 18, 2017

Trump Family Values and America’s Diminished Global Leadership

Amid revelations of Donald, Jr.,’s misguided meeting with two Russians, the President shows once again where his only loyalties lie.

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In the September 11, 1989, issue of The New Yorker, a twenty-eight-year-old writer named Bill McKibben published a lengthy article titled “The End of Nature.” The previous year had been especially hot––the country suffered one of the worst droughts since the Dust Bowl, Yellowstone was ablaze for weeks––and some Americans, including McKibben, had taken note of the ominous testimony that James Hansen, a NASA climatologist, gave before a Senate committee, warning that, owing to greenhouse gases, the planet was heating up inexorably. McKibben responded with a deeply researched jeremiad, in which he set out to popularize the alarming and still largely unfamiliar facts about climate change and to sharpen awareness of what they implied for the future of the planet and humankind:

Changes in our world which can affect us can happen in our lifetime—not just changes like wars but bigger and more sweeping events. Without recognizing it, we have already stepped over the threshold of such a change. I believe that we are at the end of nature.

By this I do not mean the end of the world. The rain will still fall, and the sun will still shine. When I say “nature,” I mean a certain set of human ideas about the world and our place in it. But the death of these ideas begins with concrete changes in the reality around us, changes that scientists can measure. More and more frequently these changes will clash with our perceptions, until our sense of nature as eternal and separate is finally washed away and we see all too clearly what we have done.

Last week, a hunk of Antarctica the size of Delaware, weighing a trillion metric tons, hived off from the Larsen C ice shelf and into the warming seas. Such events now seem almost ordinary—and harbingers of far worse. It is quite possible, the environmental writer Fen Montaigne wrote recently, in the Times, that, should the much larger West Antarctic Ice Sheet thaw and slip into the ocean, sea levels across the globe could rise as much as seventeen feet. This would have devastating implications for hundreds of millions of people, disrupting food chains, swamping coastal cities, spawning illnesses, sparking mass migrations, and undermining national economies in ways that are impossible to anticipate fully.

Around the time that this event was taking place, Donald Trump, who has lately detached the United States from the Paris climate accord and gone about neutering the Environmental Protection Agency, was prowling the West Wing of the White House, raging Lear-like not about the fate of the Earth, or about the fate of the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was dying in captivity, but about the fate of the Trump family enterprise. In particular, he decried the awful injustice visited upon him and his son Donald, Jr., who had, in a series of e-mails last June, giddily advertised his willingness to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-connected lawyer, to receive kompromat intended to undermine the reputation and the campaign of Hillary Clinton. He did not mention another participant in the meeting: Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born lobbyist, who admitted to the A.P. that he had served in the Soviet Army, but denied reports that he was ever a trained spy.

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Natalia Veselnitskaya (L) and Donald Trump Jr.

The President argued that his son, “a high-quality person,” had been “open, transparent, and innocent.” This was a statement as true as many, if not most, of the President’s statements. It was false. Donald, Jr., had concealed the meeting until he could do so no longer. Social-media wags delighted in reviving the Trump-as-Corleone family meme and compared Donald, Jr., to Fredo, the most hapless of the Corleone progeny. This was unfair to Fredo. On Twitter, Donald, Jr., had spoken in support of cockeyed conspiracy theories and once posted a photograph of a bowl of Skittles, writing, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem. . . . Let’s end the politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first.”

Still, the President, loyal to nothing and no one but his family, argued that “a lot of people” would have taken that meeting. Leaders of the U.S. intelligence community did not whistle their agreement. They were quick to say that such a meeting was, at best, phenomenally stupid and, at worst, showed a willingness to collude with Moscow to tilt the election. Michael Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A., told the Cipher Brief, a Web site that covers national-security issues, that Trump, Jr.,’s e-mails are “huge” and indicate that the President’s inner circle knew as early as last June that “the Russians were working on behalf of Trump.” In the same article, James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, said that the e-mails were probably “only one anecdote in a much larger story,” adding, “I can’t believe that this one exchange represents all there is, either involving the President’s son or others associated with the campaign.” Intelligence officials speculated that the tradecraft employed in setting up such a meeting was possibly a way to gauge how receptive the Trump campaign was to even deeper forms of coöperation. In any case, the proper thing to have done would have been to call the F.B.I. Now the country is headed toward a “constitutional crisis,” Clapper said, and the question has to be asked: “When will the Republicans collectively say ‘enough’?”

Good question. Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, business leaders such as Stephen Schwarzman and Carl Icahn, and a raft of White House advisers, including the bulk of the National Security Council, cannot fail to see the chaos, the incompetence, and the potential illegality in their midst, and yet they go on supporting, excusing, and deflecting attention from the President’s behavior in order to protect their own ambitions and fortunes. They realize that Trump’s base is still the core of the G.O.P. electorate, and they dare not antagonize it. The Republicans, the self-proclaimed party of family values, remain squarely behind a family and a Presidency whose most salient features are amorality, greed, demagoguery, deception, vulgarity, race-baiting, misogyny, and, potentially—only time and further investigation will tell—a murky relationship with a hostile foreign government.

In the near term, if any wrongdoing is found, the Trump family member who stands to lose the most is the son-in-law and consigliere, Jared Kushner, who accompanied Donald, Jr., to the meeting with Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin. Kushner seems to see himself and his wife, Ivanka, as lonely voices of probity and moderation in an otherwise unhinged West Wing. Why they would believe this when their conflicts of interest are on an epic scale is a mystery. But such is their self-regard. It is said by those close to Kushner that, if he fears anything, it is to repeat the experience of his father, Charles, who, in 2005, pleaded guilty to charges of making illegal campaign contributions and hiring a prostitute to entrap his brother-in-law, and spent fourteen months in an Alabama penitentiary.

Meanwhile, as the Trump family consumes the nation’s attention with its colossal self-absorption and ethical delinquencies, the temperature keeps rising. ♦

This article appears in other versions of the July 24, 2017, issue, with the headline “Things Fall Apart.”

 

Taking on the Fourth Estate –Trump, Saudi Arabia and The Free Press


July 18, 2017

Taking on the Fourth Estate –Trump, Saudi Arabia and The Free Press

by Azmi Sharom@www.thestar.com.my

What’s the real reason for the demand that Qatar shut down the Al Jazeera Arabic channel?

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WHAT is the similarity between Donald Trump and the Saudi Government?Well, apart from a penchant for sword dancing, they both have taken a hard line on the free press.

Both have taken different levels of action, though. Trump, being the type of person that he is, reacts with thin-skinned petulance when the press say things he disagrees with or when they criticise him. His fingers will reach for his phone and tweets will come flying out as fast as his little digits can type.

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These tweets are in equal mea­sure childish, misogynistic and – how shall I put this delicately – lacking in any sort of sophistication.   He has, however, upped the ante recently by having a video of him “wrestling” posted.

This is an old video from when he was merely a media mogul and had some sort of role in the WWE and it was, of course, staged. The thing is the video has been changed a bit with the wrestler’s face superimposed with a CNN logo.

So far, so infantile. It’s a bit less funny when you think that recently a Republican candidate actually body-slammed a journalist from The Guardian because he did not like his line of questioning. A strangely prescient wrestling move that Trump applauded. Of course.

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The American press feel a little under siege and nervous because they argue that what their President is doing is essentially saying it’s OK to attack the press and their members, even in a physical way.

Of course, one could pooh-pooh this as a bunch of entitled journos being a bit limp.

After all, unlike many journalists around the world, the Americans do not suffer governments who actually have oppressive laws and the lack of ethics to use those laws against the press. Nor are they subject to brutal murders and other acts of serious violence.

Still, knowing how some Trump supporters are – again, how shall I put this delicately – simple, I suppose these concerns can be given some credence.

The situation is somewhat diffe­rent in the Middle East. The Saudis and their allies are attacking Qatar, at the moment only economically. The reason is ostensibly that Qatar is supporting terror groups.

The rights and wrongs of this claim are not the subject of discussion here.

Neither will I discuss the irony of a country that exports a most lite­ralist brand of Islam, which provides the ideological grist for terrorist mills, calling another nation supporters of terror.

The point I want to talk about is that among the terms that the Saudis have made on the Qataris if they want the blockade lifted, is that Qatar must shut down their news channel, Al Jazeera Arabic (AJA).

Here’s the thing though: is that really the reason for it or is it because AJA is the only Arabic-language news channel that is consistently critical of the governments (mostly unelected) in the Middle East?

That they provide aspirations for democratic governance and civil liberties, and that they give space to voices which would normally be suppressed in the Arab world?

At the end of the day, I think it boils down to simply this: there are governments and leaders that do not like being criticised and they will do all that they can to shut the media up.

They will try to justify their attacks on the press, whether it be by screaming “fake news” in every other sentence, or by claiming that the media is biased against them, thus casting aspersions on the vali­dity of reports; they can use laws to cower the press; or they can go the whole hog by threatening war.

And what is the press to do? Roll over and play dead? Merely think of their livelihoods and their shareholders? Or does it keep striving and pushing? Does it keep on working in a professional, well researched, impartial manner, to provide news that can be relied on?

Because in this age of the Internet, there is a lot of rubbish floating around, and as retro as this may sound, the mainstream press (and by this I mean all journalistic endeavours that are professional and working within the ethical boundaries of their profession, including online news portals) is still vitally important.

If the media does not play their role as the Fourth Estate properly, the question then is, what is their purpose?

 

Trump’s rosy attitude toward Russia and President Vladimir Putin


July 16, 2017

Trump’s rosy attitude toward Russia and President Vladimir Putin

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://www.washingtonpost.com

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The latest revelations about Russia and President Trump’s campaign are useful because they might help unravel the mystery that has always been at the center of this story. Why has Trump had such a rosy attitude toward Russia and President Vladimir Putin? It is such an unusual position for Trump that it begs for some kind of explanation.

Unlike on domestic policy, where he has wandered all over the political map, on foreign policy, Trump has held clear and consistent views for three decades. In 1987, in his first major statement on public policy, he took out an ad in several newspapers that began, “For decades, Japan and other nations have been taking advantage of the United States.” In the ad, he also excoriated “Saudi Arabia, a country whose very existence is in the hands of the United States,” and other “allies who won’t help.”

This is Trump’s worldview, and he has never wavered from it. He has added countries to the roster of rogues, most recently China and Mexico. On the former, he wrote in his presidential campaign book, “There are people who wish I wouldn’t refer to China as our enemy. But that’s exactly what they are.” During the campaign, he said: “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country.” A few months before announcing his candidacy, he tweeted, “I want nothing to do with Mexico other than to build an impenetrable WALL and stop them from ripping off U.S.”

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Donald Trump and Andrew Jackson

Trump is what historian Walter Russell Mead calls a “Jacksonian” on Foreign Policy (after Andrew Jackson), someone deeply skeptical and instinctively hostile toward other nations and their leaders, who believes in a fortress America that minds its own business and, if disturbed, would “bomb the s—” out of its adversaries and then retreat back to its homeland.

This was Trump’s basic attitude toward the world, except for Russia and Putin. Ten years ago, when Russian money was pouring into the West, Trump began praising the country and its leader: “Look at Putin . . . he’s doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia period.” In 2013, Putin wrote an op-ed in the New York Times to try to dissuade the Obama administration from responding to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. In it, he argued that the poison gas was actually used by the Syrian opposition to trick Washington into attacking the regime. Trump’s reaction was lyrical. “I thought it was an amazingly well-written . . . letter. . . . I think he wants to become the world’s leader, and right now he’s doing that.”

Trump so admired Putin that he imagined that the two of them had met, making some variation of that false claim at least five times in public, and playing down any criticisms of him. “In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that,” he said in 2015. “Have you been able to prove that?” When confronted on this again earlier this year, he dismissed it, saying, “We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?” Trump could not have been making these excuses for any political advantage. The Republican Party was instinctively hostile toward Russia, though in a sign of shifting U.S. alignments, Republicans today have a more favorable view of Putin than Democrats by 20 points.

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“There’s nothing I can think of that I’d rather do than have Russia friendly,” Trump declared at a news conference last July. His campaign seemed to follow this idea. He appointed as a top foreign policy adviser Michael Flynn, a man who had pronounced pro-Russian leanings and, we now know, had been paid by the Russian government. Paul Manafort, who was for a while the head of Trump’s campaign, received millions of dollars from Ukraine’s pro-Russia party. During the Republican convention, there was a very unusual watering down of hawkish language on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And once elected, Trump chose as his secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who had been awarded one of Russia’s highest honors for foreigners and had a “very close relationship” with Putin. Finally, there are the repeated contacts between members of Trump’s campaign and family with key Russian officials and nationals, which again appear to be unique to Russia.

It is possible that there are benign explanations for all of this. Perhaps Trump just admires Putin as a leader. Perhaps he has bought in to the worldview of his senior adviser Stephen K. Bannon, in which Russia is not an ideological foe but a cultural friend, a white Christian country battling swarthy Muslims. But perhaps there is some other explanation for this decade-long fawning over Russia and its leader. This is the puzzle now at the heart of the Trump presidency that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will undoubtedly try to solve.

 

Lessons from the Brexit Debacle — All very British Bulldog


July 16, 2017

Lessons from the Brexit Debacle– All very British Bulldog

by Dr. Munir Majid@www.thestar.com.my

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FORMER British Prime Minister David Cameron went for the Brexit referendum to strengthen his position in the Conservative party and end the warring among the Tories over the European Union, thinking the Brexiteers would lose.

His complacent and cavalier approach to the referendum in the British system of representative (not direct) democracy, without a robust presentation of the facts, resulted in a campaign driven by passion, emotion, prejudice and lies – and the vote by a whisker a year ago to get out of the EU.

How that was to happen was hardly touched upon. What was exposed instead were the deep divisions that exist in Britain.

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Cameron left the Brexit fiasco to Theresa May whose “Hard Brexit” campaign rhetoric was a typical British Bulldog mess

Cameron resigned and left the mess with his successor Theresa May. Her contribution to the momentous decision was: Brexit means Brexit. Indeed, as a former Remainer, she bent over backwards to go for a “Hard Brexit”, rather like converts to a new religion who become extreme to show how true they are to the faith.

Indeed, she called an early general election to consolidate her position in the party and to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations. Her “Hard Brexit” campaign rhetoric was: no deal was better than a bad deal. All very British Bulldog.

In the event, the Conservatives lost their majority in Parliament, Theresa May’s position in the party is threatened and her hand in the Brexit negotiations weakened. She and her party stay in power through an unsavoury arrangement with the Democratic Ulster Unionists (DUP, who have an abhorrent set of beliefs – one of which is the Pope is the Anti-Christ – and who were able to extract £1.5bil from the prime minister who had famously said there was no “magic money tree” when nurses in the National Health Service sought a pay rise).

After the election last month, the Institute of Directors found a negative swing of 34 points in confidence in the British economy from its last survey in May.

Many epithets have been attached to Theresa May since. She has become rather like “Calamity Jane”. There is an appropriate Malay word that could be applied: kelam kabut. At sixes and sevens. Shooting every which way.

Meanwhile, the much-maligned leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who did so much better in the election than expected, has been elevated to being, as described by a commentator, “a cross between zen master and Star Wars character Obi-Wan Kenobi”.

This is a romantic notion, of course. The Labour Party is as divided as the Conservative Party, on Brexit as on anything else. Corbyn represents the far left, whose economic management for sometimes laudable social policies has many a time led Britain to a fiscal and monetary dead end.

The swing of support for the Labour Party came largely from young voters attracted to Corbyn’s promise to abolish university fees – although May’s political gymnastics and calamitous proposal to put a cap on state support for the old in retirement homes did not help the Tories.

At the first Prime Minister’s Question time after the election, Corbyn was straining at the leash to push his advantage, especially as the Grenfell Tower fire in London has exposed incompetence and division in British society yet again.

He was well armed with facts and figures and had May on the back foot. However, he was not able to put her to the sword. When the British Prime Minister cleverly turned the argument against him by saying it was the last Labour argument that had presided over the housing regulations that allowed the cladding that caused the Grenfell Tower fire to become an inferno, he did not get back at her.

He should have argued any government in power – and May certainly wanted to be in power – has no right to refer to the past (it was a Conservative government that got Britain into Europe) when its duty is to govern with responsibility here and now. Really not very Star Wars of Corbyn.

Britain divided

Be that as it may, both leaders are polarising figures. Britain is deeply divided along the lines of class, income, race, region and age. There is not a whiff of an Emmanuel Macron figure to try and unify recalcitrant constituencies, to find a new belief and a centre to move Britain forward.

Instead it looks as if Britain is going through a death by a thousand cuts. What are the lessons from all this – the sad tragedy that is being played out in Britain – that can be learned for our country and region?

The most important lesson is the threat of division in a country and society that builds up from a long period of neglect which is always exploited in politics.

United Kingdom Independence Party exploited xenophobic instincts among both the British upper class and the underclass, by playing on their fears, whether driven by racism and dislike of foreigners or by perceived rule from Brussels (the new Rome). These emotive references are easy points from which to get support.

Facts can also be twisted, as was evident from the many false numbers that were given on the cost of EU membership. Once a base is founded on base instincts, it is not difficult to whip up falsehoods as self-evident truths.

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In Indonesia and Malaysia, many positions are being taken on race and religion which divide society and cause minorities to become victims. This has been happening for some time and these countries should be mindful of destabilising eruptions.

In Britain, destabilising developments have been caused through the vote. The rule of law holds back the ugliest ramifications of deep social division. One wonders how they might be expressed in less developed political systems in ASEAN.

The other division is in income. We applaud ad nauseam the splendid economic growth rates in the region, and how ASEAN as a whole is the seventh or sixth largest economy in the world, and could become the fourth largest in 2050 or whenever, but do we give enough attention to income disparities and maldistribution of wealth?

They are increasing in ASEAN, within and between member states. Together with other divisive factors, the crunch time in Britain came in the form of Brexit and a hung parliament. In the United States, in the form of Trump. What form could it take in ASEAN countries where the ballot box is not always the preferred means of securing change?

Even with the economy, even as it grows, disruptions are now happening with digitisation, which displaces employment.

Employment for cheap manufacturing cost is increasingly becoming an attraction of the past. What are ASEAN countries like Indonesia and Myanmar doing about training and education, and retraining, for the digital economy? What will happen to micro-, small and medium enterprises and employment levels?

There is much research which shows, and empirical evidence that confirms it, that those at the lowest rung of education and skill level are the most exposed to this fourth industrial revolution.

Displacement of employment, with the already large income disparity, is going to divide society again.

Disruptions and fissures must be anticipated and filled. Otherwise, divisions in society will cause severe problems later on. And sometimes even earlier rather than later on.

We can become smug in Asia, or ASEAN – indeed, in individual countries – at how well we are doing. Even superior, when looking at the travails of other countries. We must resist this. We must learn lessons and understand we are so very far from perfect.

Dr. Munir Majid, Chairman of Bank Muamalat and Visiting Senior Fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.