The Jamal Khashoggi Murder and Malaysia’s Foreign Policy


The Jamal Khashoggi Murder and Malaysia’s Foreign Policy

by Dato Amb. (Rtd.) Dennis Ignatius

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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Malaysia’s Novice Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah

Amid growing international outrage over the brutal and gruesome murder of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (pic above) reiterated that “Malaysia’s bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia remain strong”, to quote one local report covering Putrajaya’s response to the killing. He was further quoted as saying that, “We are a friendly nation. We look at the big picture.” There was not even a hint of concern.

Many Malaysians, no doubt, found his comments deeply troubling. Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, however, quickly set the record straight: not mincing any words, and dismissing all that “big picture” nonsense, he asserted that Khashoggi’s killing was “an extreme and unacceptable act of tyranny” that “cannot be condoned”. He added that it is not something that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government can accept.

Murder most foul

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad addresses the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28, 2018. — Bernama pic

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad @ UNGA, New York

According to Turkish authorities, the murder of Khashoggi was carried out by a professional team of Saudi officials who lay in wait for him at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. After being overpowered, he was reportedly dismembered while still alive by a forensic specialist (part of the Saudi team) and his remains disposed of.

The official Saudi narrative of the murder has been anything but credible. After insisting for days that Khashoggi had left the consulate alive, the Saudis, faced with mounting evidence of their complicity, now admit that Khashoggi was indeed killed in the consulate. However, they conveniently maintain that it was the work of rogue agents acting without official sanction.

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Observers familiar with the way the Saudi Kingdom operates insist that such an operation could not have been carried out without the knowledge of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (also known as MBS), the real power behind the throne. The Prince has, in fact, a history of rash and reckless behaviour.

Whatever it is, Khashoggi’s  brutal murder has shocked the world. Even some of Jeddah’s strongest supporters were disturbed by the sheer barbarity of it all and are demanding a full and transparent investigation. In the meantime, many senior business and political leaders are boycotting the ongoing “Davos in the Desert” conference (a key initiative of MBS) while both the German Chancellor and the Canadian prime minister have called for a ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

A Foreign Policy that reflects the new Malaysia

Under such circumstances, the  novice Malaysian Foreign Minister’s reiteration of business as usual with the Saudi government was clearly inappropriate.

More than that, it is an indication that the Foreign Ministry (Wisma Putra) has yet to think through what the new Malaysia stands for and how best to reflect the values and hopes of a free and democratic society premised upon respect for the Rule of Law.

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Wisma Putra

The Prime Minister’s Address and his pledge to ratify all outstanding UN human rights conventions should have been seen as an indication of Malaysia’s new commitment to human rights, among other matters.

It is one thing for the Foreign Ministry to table the Prime Minister’s UNGA Address  in Parliament and declare it to be our policy; it is quite another to give it  well thought expression in the positions we take on international issues.

The limits of Islamic solidarity

Clearly, one of the things that needs to be addressed going forward is the lack of a consistent human rights dimension in our Foreign Policy. Out of a misguided sense of Islamic solidarity, we have, for example, tended to keep silent when Muslim despots target their own people.

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Even now, we remain largely ambivalent to the carnage that Saudi Arabia (with US and UK support) is inflicting on Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world. More than 10,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed while millions are on the brink of what the UN warns might be the “largest famine the world has seen for many decades”. What the Saudis are doing to Yemen is nothing short of a crime against humanity; silence is simply not an option anymore.

With MBS now working with the hawks in Washington and Tel Aviv to plot regime change in Tehran, things are about to get a lot worse. Hasn’t the slaughter and destruction in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria been enough? Have we learned nothing of the horrendous consequences of regime change? How many more bombed-out cities, how much more death and destruction do we need to see before we demand that the Saudis and their backers in Washington stop this madness?

Before they came to power, many PH leaders expressed outrage against the carnage in Yemen and pressed for the withdrawal of all Malaysian armed forces support personnel from the Saudi-led coalition. There was no talk then about “big picture” diplomacy.

A principled Foreign Policy

With his remarks on the Khashoggi murder, Mahathir has sent a clear message that there are limits to Islamic solidarity, that a principled foreign policy obliges us to speak out against injustice and to actively promote the cause of peace in the world.

The days when we close our eyes to human rights abuses and war-mongering for the sake of political expediency are now over. Wisma Putra, like other ministries, must rise to the challenge of Malaysia Baru and give expression to the values that premise it. The people expect no less.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

Cambodia’s Assertive Foreign Policy


Cambodia’s Assertive Foreign Policy

ttps://www.khmertimeskh.com/50542473/cambodia-foreign-policy-in-defiance-of-hegemony/

EDITORIAL

Cambodia is keen to lead the Non-Aligned Movement, and revive its glory days when it was a bulwark against hegemonic powers. Reuters

Cambodia’s Foreign Policy stance is now more assertive after the formation of the new government in the Sixth legislature. Prime Minister Hun Sen is determined not to bend to international pressures and intervention, especially with regard to democracy and human rights.

Cambodia is building the foundation of democracy based on its own experiences and strengths. Recently, Prime Minister Hun Sen told Kyodo News in Tokyo that the Japanese model of democracy is more suitable in the a Cambodian context. Early this year, spokesperson of the Cambodian People Party (CPP), Mr Suos Yara, told media that the party’s interest was in pursuing a centrist democracy.

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In his remarks at the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in September, Mr Hun Sen stated, “human rights nowadays have become ‘a mission to impose civilisation’ for some powerful nations or, perhaps, as their operating standards as the pretext for the interference under the name of political rights protection”.

Moreover, during his talks with the Cambodian community, when he met them, in Tokyo early this month, the prime minister called upon Cambodians to stand up to defend their independence and sovereignty at any cost – even sacrificing foreign development assistance. He said, “If we Cambodians wish to be independent, we must be brave. I bow to no one”. So, what has made Cambodia more assertive?

At the global level the international system is becoming more uncertain, even anarchic, and the power shift from a unipolar to multi-polar world is in the making. There is no guarantee that a multi-polar world will be more stable. What we do know is that geopolitical risks and uncertainties are high.

In such an increasingly fluid international system – some analysts have argued that the world is entering a new Cold War – Cambodia is forced to be more cautious and determined to protect its independence and sovereignty especially under the framework of the non-aligned movement (NAM).

In his conversations with the Cambodian community in Brussels, Mr Hun Sen declared his intention to revive and lead NAM after getting re-elected in the seventh general election in 2023.

This signals that Cambodian ruling elites predict the world is moving towards a Cold War 2.0 and thus the need for Cambodia and other developing countries to stay independent and united to protect each other’s interests under the framework of NAM.

NAM, a group of independent states that do not want to align with any major power bloc, was formed in 1961 in the context of a heightening Cold War between the two opposing blocs led by United States and the Soviet Union. The then Prince Norodom Sihanouk was one of the founders of the movement. Now, NAM has more than 100 member countries.

At the regional level, ASEAN is thriving to stay neutral amidst a tug of war between China and the US. Some ASEAN member states are treaty allies and strategic allies of the US while other members have close strategic ties with China. ASEAN risks being divided if it cannot forge a united front and takea common stance on external relations.

Cambodian ruling elites are of the conviction that ASEAN is an important shield to ward off adverse impacts from geopolitical competition between major powers.

Aligning ASEAN with NAM will help ASEAN members become more resilient. ASEAN needs to expand and deepen its global networks particularly in strengthening its strategic partnership with global organisations such as the United Nations, NAM, and World Trade Organization to maintain and strengthen a rules-based international order.

At the national level, domestic politics is also evolving fast. In such a transitional period, the risks remain high for ruling elites to maintain the power status quo. The opposition or resistance movement remains active although some of them are quiet. The opposition movement is capable of organising a series of protests against the establishment if there is a leadership compounded with triggering factors. This in turn will lead to political and social instability.

Being aware of the risks, the Cambodian ruling elites have taken measures to counter and preempt future chaos that might be orchestrated by the opposition movement. Therefore, negotiations leading to political reconciliation and between the ruling party and the outlawed opposition party will be slow. Political trust is the main stumbling block of the national reconciliation process.

Within the context of rising uncertainties and risks at the global, regional and national levels, a strong, transformative political leadership is required. Whoever that can lead and navigate Cambodia through such uncertainties will earn public trust, confidence and support. Cambodia’s foreign policy will need to be more flexible and pragmatic in tactics and strategies but firm on core principles and values, which include independence, sovereignty, neutrality, and non-alignment.

Three foreign policy strategies that Cambodia should pursue are the promotion of a rules-based international system, smart implementation of a hedging strategy, and proactive strategic diversification. Building an international alliance against hegemonic power is one of the main objectives of Cambodia’s foreign policy in the new era.

Cambodia will chair the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in 2020 and ASEAN again, in 2022 in a rotating chairmanship. These are the two main occasions  when Cambodia can play its international role. In addition, in early 2019, Cambodia will launch the Asian Cultural Council, an affiliate body of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties, to promote its soft power through cultural diplomacy.

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Members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces ready for deployment on peacekeeping missions. KT/Mai Vireak

There is an urgent need to create a new world order, not dictated by either the US or the European Union or one global policeman. Cambodia can pave the way for a new world that is non-aligned and joined together in the deepest feelings of fraternity and brotherhood.

Mahathir’s UN speech proposed as basis of Foreign Policy


October 16, 2018

Mahathir’s UN Speech proposed as basis of Foreign Policy

 

PARLIAMENT | The Foreign Ministry today tabled a motion in the Dewan Rakyat for the speech of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept 28 to be set as the basis of Malaysia’s foreign policy.Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah also proposed that the Dewan Rakyat agree with the direction of the country’s foreign policy as stated in the Address of the Prime Minister.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Salahuddin Ayub seconded the motion.

In tabling the motion, Saifuddin said the prime minister’s speech outlined, among others, the position and foreign policy of the country based on principles such as not favouring any power, neutrality and practising the “prosper thy neighbour” philosophy.

“The Prime Minister also emphasised Malaysia’s relations with the world’s major powers, as well as other issues such as the situation in Palestine, the plight of the Muslims in Rakhine (Myanmar) and the trade war between the economic powers,” he said.

Saifuddin said Mahathir also noted the importance of the UN as a key platform to resolve universal issues and expressed the hope that the UN will continue to play an important role in maintaining international peace and security.

“The Prime Minister’s speech also outlined the objectives and plans of the foreign policy of the New Malaysia to support the sustainability of economic, political and social developments within our own country,” he said.

Saifuddin said the motion was tabled to enable the government to obtain inputs, views and feedback from the members of the Dewan Rakyat because the government needed to have a foreign policy framework as a select committee on foreign policy has yet to be formed and the new Parliament has yet to have a caucus of MPs on foreign relations.

“We propose that Malaysia’s foreign policy framework comprises four key components, the major strands of foreign policy which have been largely disclosed in the Prime Minister’s speech at the UN; empowering the foreign ministry; strengthening inter-agency cooperation; and increasing the people’s participation,” he said.

Bernama

Small states must play smart


October 5, 2018

Small states must play smart

by Chheang Vannarith

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“Cambodia is pursuing a light hedging strategy and striving to strengthen multi-lateralism through an omi-enmeshment strategy – a diversification strategy to create an interlocking network of partners with common economic and security interests.”– Chheang Vannarith

The foreign policy of small states is constrained by the size and location of the country and its natural resources and population. Small states are more vulnerable to external changes and shocks, the level of dependency on external sources for security and development, and the perception of their national roles.

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Size does matter for small states. They find it difficult to have favourable foreign policy outcomes than larger nations. To make up for this, small states tend to focus on their immediate geographic area and economic diplomacy, with an emphasis on international rules and norms, while promoting multilateralism and international cooperation.

The primary objective of small states is to ensure their survival and strengthen their position and relevance in a fluid or even anarchic international system. The fast-evolving international system together with global power shifts is posing more challenges for small states to adjust and realise their foreign policy objective. Hence they must play smart and be innovative in order to achieve their foreign policy goals.

Cambodia is thriving to stay relevant in the international system through the implementation of a dual-track diplomacy: bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. Recently, Cambodia has taken a relatively proactive approach in strengthening multilateralism and a rules-based international order as these two norms are under stress and threat caused by unilateralism and protectionism. The US retreat from multilateral institutions has caused severe disruptions and turbulence in the international liberal order.

Cambodia’s foreign policy is at a critical juncture as the country remains at the frontline of geopolitical rivalry in the Mekong region – a new growth center and strategic frontier of Asia. Geopolitical risks are heightening as major powers are vying to create their own sphere of influence in the region. The Kingdom is very much vulnerable to becoming a pawn of major power politics if foreign policy is not managed carefully. The evolving geopolitical dynamics thus demands that Cambodian leaders be more adaptive, flexible, resilient, and pragmatic.

As geopolitical risks and vulnerabilities rise further, Cambodia’s foreign policy options could be more constrained. The strategic space for Cambodia to manoeuver is getting narrower. Once geopolitical power rivalry becomes clear-cut and all-out, Cambodia could lose its balance and would be structurally forced to hop on the bandwagon of a major power for its survival.

At the moment, Cambodia is pursuing a light hedging strategy and striving to strengthen multi-lateralism through an omi-enmeshment strategy – a diversification strategy to create an interlocking network of partners with common economic and security interests.

Hedging is the best strategic option for Cambodia, especially in dealing with uncertainty. However, implementing this strategy is a huge challenge. It requires strategic articulation on certain issues and strategic ambiguity on others. Even sometimes it requires to have contradictory views on certain issues but it must be implemented smartly in order not to lose trust with any major power.

The key challenge now for Cambodia is how it could gain trust from all major powers. At the moment, Cambodia’s relations with the US faces a serious trust deficit. It is urgent that Cambodia and the US find common grounds and explore innovative pathways to restore trust and normalize their bilateral relationship.

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Economic pragmatism, strategic diversification, a denial to a regional hegemonic power, and regime legitimization are the key components of a hedging strategy. ASEAN as a regional grouping is an important shield for Cambodia and the group’s other members to neutralize and cushion the adverse effects created by rivalry between the major powers.

Yet ASEAN faces the risk of being marginalized by two competing institutional frameworks – China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the US-initiated Free and Open Indo-Pacific. Unless ASEAN member states are able to stay united and forge a common foreign policy position, they risk becoming the proxy states of major powers. Consequently, the region will be divided into two diametric poles: the pro-China camp versus the pro-US camp.

To avert these risks, ASEAN must be more innovative and adopt a bolder approach to protect common regional interests. Just playing it safe and keeping a low profile is not a solution. ASEAN must be bold enough to stand up against any major power that intends to build its hegemonic dominence in the region at the expense of the core interests of its member countries.

Cambodia is of the view that ASEAN driven multilateral institutions and mechanisms play a critical role in constructing an open and inclusive regional order that can accommodate all major powers. ASEAN is widely regarded as the main vehicle for its members to engage and integrate major powers, and hopefully shape the behaviour of major powers.

Engaging major powers is a viable strategic option for small states. Engagement is a means to integration. Small states like Cambodia can partially contribute to constructing an international order by engaging and integrating major powers into a rules-based international system and getting them to assume responsible leadership role in multilateral institutions.

Dr. Chheang Vannarith is a board member and Senior Fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP).

Dr. M’s UNGA Address should hit right home


September 30, 2018

Dr. M’s UNGA Address should hit right home

Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s Address to the United Nations General Assembly was poised, articulate and to the point.

He did not mince his words when he spoke about global political, economic, social and environmental conditions since his last address 15 years ago, in 2003.

The gist? That the world has not changed much in terms of reform; that the developing world is still being bullied by powerful nations; that the trade war between the US and China continues to impoverish poorer and smaller countries; that there is a growing ambiguity of social values, and that the notion of freedom has become skewed, at best.

Intellectually-sharp and laudable, Dr. Mahathir delivered his poignant message, that the “new Malaysia” is not naive. He told the UN General Assembly that Malaysia will continue to soldier on with other countries, through the United Nations, to make the world a better place, economically, politically, socially and environmentally.

In foreign policy jargon, Mahathir delivered a warning against the acts of dangerous, threatening Hitlers and the misconceptions of peaceful, law-abiding allies.

Overall, his Address championed the aspirations of the developing world and smaller non-aligned nations. However, there is more that we should take away from his Address, in order to render his thoughts more relevant in the domestic Malaysian context.

There are three key areas the new Malaysia should focus on. Mahathir spoke of global terrorism. Although he did not specify the actual definition of the term (or of the word “terrorist”), one can read between the lines. He lamented that there is “something wrong with our way of thinking, with our value system. Kill one man, it is murder, kill a million and you become a hero”.

What he actually means is that the powerful have the capacity to define concepts in order to justify certain acts. Terrorism, as coined by the powerful, is a notion applied to non-state actors, jihadists and transnational communities of oppressed people who react violently to achieve justice.

Powerful states have the sole purpose of pushing their economic and political agendas and so a global understanding of the concept of terrorism was born after 9/11.

Yes, about 3,000 died mercilessly at the World Trade Center in 2001. But almost 130,000 (mostly civilians) perished in one day, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 1945. This is more than 43 times the death toll at the hands of the so-called Islamic terrorists.

Yet, throughout the decades after World War Two, the acceptable narrative describing US geo-political advances (and those of her allies) was never termed “terrorist” or “terrorism”.

I am not condoning such acts as no mass killing of civilians can be considered civilised behaviour. However, we must consider here the socio-political manipulation of labels.

In the Malaysian context it is happening all around us to the detriment of the common people. For instance, the notion of “the rights of Malays” and “the welfare of the Malays”. What rights are we focusing on? The right to get a job based on race or the right that all qualified and capable Malays should be appropriately awarded?

For me, it is the latter. Yet, certain politicians still choose to speak about the unfair treatment of the Malays and that the new Pakatan Harapan government should be tasked to help bring them up to greatness and to be protected.

The label of “rights” is bandied around but its meaning is deliberately couched in ambiguity for an ulterior political motive.

Using Mahathir’s example of the plight of the Rohingyas, his message was an appeal for “caring”; that just because a nation is independent it does not mean the world should close an eye to domestic suffering and injustice.

He reiterated that nations need to solve the problems of global conflict, racism and bigotry by going back to the root causes.

Similarly, the state of Malaysia’s education system needs care and we need to identify the root causes of the inequality that exists in our schools and universities.

Agreed, our teachers and professors are not being massacred, and neither are our students. But mentally, the massacre began 61 years ago.

The public university leadership has failed to produce thinking professional graduates and to my mind, this is humanity’s greatest form of oppression.

We are all aware that our public university leadership is more concerned with national and international rankings, administrative positions of the academic staff, titles and research funding.

But are the research funds, for instance, channeled into meaningful projects to help society overcome real problems of poverty and discrimination?

Are the researchers and academics “caring” enough to plan such research even though they may not be awarded a future government contract or a datukship?

This brings me to my next point: values. Mahathir commented that there is something wrong with our way of thinking.  To my mind, the sole purpose of an education is to instil good values. These include moderation, dignity, integrity, hard work, perseverance and honour. No matter what religion or creed one belongs to, these are universal values.

In post-election Malaysia, this topic has surfaced many times. But I fear it is just a narrative with no substance.

There are many issues that have surfaced since PH took over. From the appointment of key ministerial positions, to presidents of universities, to the PD move, to child marriage, the list goes on.

Nepotism, cronyism and corruption still loom over us but it is not too late for values reform. What better way to start than to realise that, while it is important for us to preach values to the international community, we should apply this to our own society.

There is a need for all Malaysians to delve deeper into Mahathir’s UNGA Address because he was not only sending a message to the superpowers and their allies.We should also see his message as a warning to tackle our own domestic crises; problems that have arisen as a result of past mistakes, on-going stubbornness to address those mistakes and a lack of foresight.

Dr.Sharifah Munirah Alatas is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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