The Passing of An American Foreign Policy Strategist and National Security Adviser of The Jimmy Carter Era– Zbigniew Brezinski at 89


May 27, 2017

The Passing of An American Foreign Policy Strategist  and National Security Adviser of The Jimmy Carter Era– Zbigniew Brezinski at 89

America’s past and future collide on a single day in Europe


May 26, 2017

Today's WorldView

America’s past and future collide on a single day in Europe

 By Ishaan Tharoor

Call it a tale of two Presidents. On the same day that President Trump visits the gleaming new NATO headquarters in Brussels, his predecessor will give a high-profile speech in Berlin.

Former President Barack Obama is expected to return to the Brandenburg Gate on Thursday, basking in the admiration of his many European admirers while speaking alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a leader with whom he has a famous friendship. Obama will be participating in the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant church. That it coincides with Trump’s tour of the Belgian capital is a scheduling quirk, but it’s a coincidence that feels fraught with symbolism.

On Wednesday, Trump entered the den of the proverbial globalists. Brussels is not just the headquarters of the West’s preeminent military alliance, but also the heart of the European Union and home to the sort of technocratic elites that Trump and the continent’s far right frequently rage against. Before he entered the White House, Trump deemed NATO “obsolete” and seemed to suggest that he would welcome the further dissolution of the European Union after Brexit.

“The mere fact that Trump has agreed to visit a city filled with international organizations he once called ‘obsolete’ is a victory,” The Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum and Anthony Faiola wrote.  And although a few months in office appear to have moderated Trump’s message, Obama’s star turn in Berlin will only deepen the sense of dissonance surrounding his successor.

An editorial in the Leipziger Zeitung newspaper said Obama’s presence in Germany would be that of a “healer.” Obama, the newspaper declared, “is a painfully missed ex-president,” an “eloquent, charismatic preacher.” These are qualities, it claimed, that Trump entirely lacks.

No matter the polarization that seems to define American politics, Obama remains an incredibly well-regarded figure in Europe. An estimated 200,000 Germans rallied around Obama in Berlin before his first election in 2008, and that enthusiasm endured. A Pew Research Center survey last June found that 77 percent of Europeans had confidence in Obama, while only 9 percent felt the same way about Trump.

Obama’s popularity was even greater in Germany, where 86 percent of respondents said they had confidence in him. His Thursday appearance at the Brandenburg Gate, where Ronald Reagan famously upbraided the Soviet Union’s final leader, may reaffirm the spirit of American friendship — or at least spark some nostalgia for a cuddlier past.

“The choice of the location seems like a staging for the ‘good American’ Germans would have liked to have seen in office,” Thomas Jäger, Professor of international politics and foreign policy at Cologne University, said to my colleagues. “Trump, on the other hand, in the German perception embodies every negative American stereotype … a grandstander, too loud, successful in a way that one doesn’t like at all.”

The expectations surrounding Trump’s time in Brussels are not particularly high. At NATO he will stick to a familiar and safe script, urging the United States’ partners to share more of the burden in maintaining international security and emphasizing the need to focus on the war against Islamist extremism — two issues where he will find no resistance among NATO’s member states. Conspicuously, serious discussion about the challenge of Russia is not on the agenda. Trump will also meet several European leaders, including recently elected French President Emmanuel Macron, who campaigned with Obama’s blessing from afar and at times seemed to point to the perils of Trump’s presidency as a reason to vote against his own right-wing opponents.

 

But now that the sitting U.S. president is in Europe, his interlocutors on the continent will hope he can be persuaded to embrace the institutions and the wider liberal order he railed against just months ago.

“There’s still a high degree of uncertainty when it comes to the aims and objectives of the Americans,” Cornelius Adebahr, an associate fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, said to The Post. “One of the main objectives is to convince the Americans of the value of these formats.”

Trump is “someone who doesn’t believe in the whole idea of engaging with European allies,” Tomas Valasek, head of the Carnegie Europe think tank, said to my colleagues. “At least part of the European countries’ strategy for dealing with Trump is essentially to hunker down and wait until he goes away.”

Ahead of the Group of Seven meeting in Sicily, where Trump will be in attendance, Merkel called for unity in the fight against global warming. The move was seen in part as a bid to push back against the Trump administration’s apparent desire to pull out of the Paris climate accords — a pact championed by Obama. There is hope among European officialdom that the “grown-ups” in the White House will coax Trump away from extreme positions and keep his foreign policy more in line with that of a traditional Republican president. Others caution against such complacency.

“European policymakers hope that [Trump] will listen to his team, live up to their promises, and not destroy the NATO alliance or the European Union in a fit of pique,” wrote Jeremy Shapiro of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “They would be wiser to hedge against his predictable unpredictability and seek their own means of securing their position in the world.”

 






The Real Crisis in North Korea–A Perspective


May 21, 2017

The Real Crisis in North Korea–A Perspective

by Gianluca Spezza

PhD candidate at the International Institute of Korean Studies, University of Central Lancashire, and founding contributor at NK News

https://www.irinnews.org/opinion/2017/05/18/real-crisis-north-korea-not-one-you%E2%80%99ve-been-hearing-about

Image result for The KIMs of North Korea


The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has been in the news a lot lately, with the DPRK testing new missiles and the United States moving a naval strike group off the Korean peninsula. The commentary almost always revolves around strategic issues, especially North Korea’s nuclear programme.

In focusing so narrowly on the country’s military and its leader, Kim Jong-un, however, the debate largely overlooks the North Korean people.

This has two major implications. First, it perpetuates an image of the country that is not in line with reality. In fact, the younger Kim does not enjoy the kind of monolithic influence held by his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, or his father, Kim Jong-il. Power structures in North Korea began to disintegrate under Kim Jong-il and are now widely ramified. Security apparatuses are no longer under one single point of command; neither are military corps. This is something that the administration of US President Donald Trump seems to be oblivious to, but it should take into account when formulating policy.

Second, and most important, the world’s myopic attention to Kim Jong-un precludes recognition of the nearly 26 million people that live in the country. They represent the true issue at stake, once the current regime – which is living on borrowed time – is gone.

What do we know about DPRK and its people?

Oddly enough, since the early 1990s the international community has accumulated a larger knowledge base on North Korean society than intelligence agencies have ever had on its military. Yet, most media insist on reporting obsessively on the latter. This is shortsighted.

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The Hermit Nation–Kim and his Military Men

The questions we ought to ask instead, if we are to understand where the country is headed, are: What is the current state of North Korea? What do we know about its society and economy? What kind of country will emerge once the regime is gone?

These questions matter, because with each crisis, the possibility of regime change or collapse becomes more real. With that, the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe increases, and neither South Korea nor China are well prepared to respond.

North Korea represents an anomaly, for both aid organisations and experts of international politics. But things are changing.

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For a long time, the country may have deserved its moniker of the hermit kingdom. But today, after 22 years of humanitarian assistance and development, the DPRK is an aid-dependent country, stuck in a paradoxical situation. Its economy crashed in the mid-1990s and never recovered, while its social indicators went from good, to terrible, to decent over the last two decades.

The North Korean development indicators for children’s welfare, as well as immunisation and education, are well above countries with a much higher GDP, but the economy does not reflect this relatively healthy development status. The DPRK produces very little of value, and its people find survival in the black market rather than state-provided jobs.

North Korea, in other words, has the economy of an underdeveloped country, with levels of social development of a middle-to-high income country. It is time to take a look at the country beyond military parades.

How did North Korea get so poor?

Upon the demise of its first leader, Kim Il-sung, in 1994, the DPRK faced a combination of domestic and international factors that negatively affected all sectors of society and state institutions. External circumstances included the loss between 1991 and 1993 of its main allies and economic partners, the Soviet Union and China. In addition, in 1993, China started to demand payments at regular market rates for oil and fuel, which had until then been provided at very low prices and constituted the main source of energy for the DPRK.

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In this rapidly changing international scenario, the DPRK, which had become heavily dependent on subsided trade with its former communist partners during the Cold War, found itself with no economic safety net. At the same time, the country was hit by a series of droughts and floods, along with a sudden shortage of energy sources. This devastated an agriculture system almost entirely dependent on chemical fertilisers and mechanised irrigation.

With diminishing amounts of food, the effectiveness of the Public Distribution System that regulated the allocation of basic goods decreased gradually, forcing the population to seek alternative means of subsistence. Housewives, factory workers, doctors, nurses, teachers and students alike had to fend for themselves in order to secure food and heating material during winter.

The crisis caught many North Koreans by surprise, and it was aggravated by economic mismanagement. It should be noted that the Public Distribution System did not collapse altogether, but the degree of functioning of the system varied between different provincesBetween 1994 and 1998, GDP declined by almost half. This, in combination with the progressive dysfunction of the PDS, severely reduced access to food, medications, and primary goods, leading to a famine and to the general deterioration of the population’s ability to withstand further calamities.

The economy: China dominates

Today, it is safe to say that, in effect, China runs North Korea’s economy. Chinese currency is widely used in the unofficial markets that have mushroomed around the country since the crisis of the mid-1990s.

China gets the lion’s share of trade with North Korea and provides the bulk of its food and energy. Luxury items, if and when they manage to come into the DPRK, do so from across the border region of Yanbian or Chinese ports.

To be sure, North Korea does have a few economic niches, but these too are largely influenced by China’s presence. The DPRK’s significant mineral resources are almost exclusively exploited by Chinese companies, and Chinese visitors make for the majority of customers in North Korea’s trade fairs and Special Economic Zones.

In other words, simply by looking at the economy of North Korea, one could surmise that as long as China is there to support it, the country could muddle along with no substantial changes for a very long time. A look at North Korean social indicators, however, offers a different perspective.

Demography is destiny

The key indicators of a country’s state of health and future prospects are its social statistics, particularly those on demographics. According to combined data from the Central Bureau of Statistics in Pyongyang, the World Bank Institute, and the UN gathered in 2008, and data by UNICEF gathered in 2014, the DPRK’s average population growth rate for 1990-2004 was 0.9 percent, or equivalent to that of upper middle-income countries. The same data provide trends for 2004-2020 that place growth at 0.4 percent, or equivalent to that of high-income countries.

At the same time, North Korea’s birth rate dropped to 16 per 1,000 people in the late 2000s – the level of middle-income countries – whilst the fertility rate is slowly approaching the levels of most Western countries. It sits between parity – two children, which is the minimum requirement for a population to continue replacing itself over time – and one child or none per couple, which is deemed not enough to avoid extinction in the long run. The latter is where Germany, Italy, and most EU countries are at present.

What does this mean for the future of North Korea?

If we read population increase as an indication of economic and social stability, the DPRK looks further removed from the so-called “failed states” it is often compared to – like Somalia, Yemen, or South Sudan – which are all on the verge of famine (or, in the case of parts of South Sudan, already experiencing it). North Korea is in fact undergoing the same “cradle crisis” that characterises advanced countries, from Japan to Germany.

However, the same statistics, viewed from the standpoint of overall death rates and infant mortality rates suggest the DPRK is right there with low-income countries. Its average death rate is as high as 11 per 1,000 people, and rates of infant mortality that have not yet fully recovered from the 1990s crisis.

This has a number of implications: North Korea doesn’t have the problems that South Korea has at the moment, with an increasingly aging population placing stress on the social welfare system. As a matter of fact, the DPRK welfare system has been simply downsized and slowed to a minimum since the 1990s. Today, North Koreans live on average six to eight years less than South Koreans and about nine years less than the Japanese.

In Malthusian terms, this means that the government has less to worry about in the short-term. Considering the chronic economic stagnation, most North Koreans alive today could well get old before they even have a chance to elevate their economic status.

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At the same time, with a slow but steady recovery from the famine and the crisis of the mid-1990s, the DPRK seems to have reached a level of relative social comfort at which most middle-to-high income countries stop having enough children for the maintenance of native population. At this stage, they will slowly begin to fade out unless they adopt open immigration policies – an option that is unpopular in South Korea and Japan, and next to impossible in the DPRK.

If the trend continues – and the figures from 2008 and 2014 suggest it will – North Korea may one day run out of people to maintain its workforce. That would be one more reason for the regime to push towards reunification. While its rival state south of the demilitarised zone is also growing older, it is still twice as populous, and immensely richer by comparison. Still, if nothing changes at the economic level, any effort of reunification will require the equivalent of a mini-Marshall Plan for the entire peninsula.

This is the real North Korean conundrum: The country has faced challenges it is hard to imagine any other regime surviving: famine, floods, droughts, economic collapse, energy shortages, sanctions, and leadership changes. This has left a North Korea that is a mass of contradictions.

Few consider that the country making headlines for its nuclear technology has a basket case economy, but also one of the highest literacy rates in the world. There is no other country with such low economic indicators that can at the same time build and at test nuclear devices and achieve universal literacy, while still being aid-dependent.

Is aid the answer?

To explain the North Korean anomaly, we have to look at the nature of aid itself with three key questions: What is aid? Why is aid provided? Is it accomplishing what it is supposed to?

From an economic perspective, we can think of aid as a measure of socioeconomic welfare, like the one used for families and individuals, but on a much bigger scale. Welfare policies are supposed to work as a safety net in times of emergency – fostering growth and preventing recession when families and individuals go through hardships. At any rate, welfare is conceived to be a temporary measure and aid doesn’t come for free.

Aid represents an extension of foreign policy from donor states to recipient nations. Donors and international organisations expect recipients to correct their course and adopt policies that move them towards a free market economy, and adherence to international treaties on human rights, environmental protection and sustainability.

North Korea has become chronically dependent on aid since the mid 1990s. Yet, it has remained impervious to outside pressure for change. When it shows any degree of compliance with international norms, it does so only in fields where its interests converge with those of international organisations. Education and environmental protection are two examples.

On the other hand, North Korea has no relationship with global economic bodies like the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund. It makes no concessions on the issues of nuclear proliferation and allows no inspections from human rights organisations. But its population does require foreign assistance in order to survive.

The socioeconomic emergency that swept the country between 1995 and 1999 was rooted in a combination of political, climatic, structural, and geopolitical factors. By 2005, the government declared the food emergency to be over and asked a number of NGOs – but not UN agencies – to leave. Nevertheless, the country has continued to rely on foreign assistance, just as the UN agencies at work in the DPRK kept monitoring a situation that requires periodical emergency assistance, year in-year out, in combination with development programmes.

If North Korea were a family, or an individual who has been in need of aid for 22 consecutive years, would this be considered normal? It’s unlikely. Yet, aid needs to reach the people of the DPRK on a yearly basis or a new humanitarian emergency may break out, according to the UN.

There is a consensus among humanitarians that as the North Korean people have no say on their government policies, they should not be the ones suffering the consequences. Therefore, the international community has responded with aid. However, a look at what North Korea has become since 1995 reveals that aid has not made North Korea strong enough to stand on its own.

This is the most pressing problem with North Korea, aside from its periodically aggressive military posture. The country needs aid because what once was a functioning infrastructure for a command economy, in which the state plays the primary role, has ceased to exist. More than this, it needs important economic and political reforms. Currently however, North Korean politics withhold economic restructuring and growth. At the same time, aid agencies and donors tend to look at technical issues and do not tackle the lack of political decisions that could steer the country away from perpetually looming humanitarian disasters.

 A new approach?

Aid has been invaluable in pulling the country out of the humanitarian catastrophe of the mid-1990s, and it has helped North Korea maintain decent levels in development indicators such as health and education since then on. But aid cannot help the country provide a decent standard of living on its own for its people. That can only be done through political reform.

The real political story about North Korea today is that the “Stalinist fortress” – the impenetrable polity devoted to hardline communism – is no longer Stalinist, nor a fortress. North Korea scholars and South Korean government experts concur in saying that Kim Jong-un holds a fraction of the power that his father and grandfather wielded.

The elites that have emerged from two decades of black market activity are aware that there are only a few obstacles to a reunification that could see them prosper, while lifting millions of North Koreans out of poverty. These factors are their “political guilt” (for they contributed to keeping the country in a state of repression over decades), and the risk of losing whatever wealth they have accumulated.

If the United States and South Korea could agree to leave some of these families in power, providing them amnesty, they could ask in return for a soft removal of the Kim family, and open the door for a gradual economic rebuilding of the country. Financial incentive, or the lack thereof, in North Korea is the key issue. The average annual income in North Korea is a little below $1,000. In the South, it is over $30,000. No amount of foreign aid can ever bridge this difference.

The Criminal 45th POTUS?



May 17, 2017

The Criminal 45th POTUS?

http://www.nytimes.com

After the revelations of the past 24 hours, it appears that President Trump’s conduct in and around the firing of the F.B.I. Director, James Comey, may have crossed the line into criminality. The combination of what is known and what is credibly alleged would, if fully substantiated, constitute obstruction of justice. It is time for Congress and a special counsel in the executive branch to conduct objective, bipartisan inquiries into these allegations, together with the underlying matters involving Michael Flynn and Russia that gave rise to them.

First, the facts. On January 26, Sally Yates, then the acting Attorney General, informed the White House that Mr. Flynn had apparently lied about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador. The next day, President Trump hosted Mr. Comey for a private dinner, during which he allegedly asked Mr. Comey repeatedly whether he would pledge his “loyalty” to him, which Mr. Comey declined to do.

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Sally Yates–Acting Attorney-General

On February 14, the day after Mr. Flynn’s resignation as National Security Advisor, President Trump allegedly held Mr. Comey back after a meeting to say that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong and that, “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Mr. Comey declined to drop the investigation, going on in March to confirm before Congress that it was ongoing, and later requesting greater resources from the Department of Justice to pursue it.

Finally, on May 9, President Trump fired Mr. Comey. We were first told he did so because Mr. Comey bungled the F.B.I.’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email. Two days later, President Trump changed his story: “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’” The day after that, President Trump threatened Mr. Comey on Twitter, warning him against leaking to the press.

Image result for James Comey

Any one of these facts or allegations, by itself, likely would not constitute obstruction of justice. After all, as the F.B.I. Director himself stated, the President has the undisputed power under the Constitution to hire and fire members of his administration in the normal course of government business.

But what he cannot do is exercise that power corruptly, to spare himself or those associated with him, like Mr. Flynn, from scrutiny and possible criminal liability. To do so would run afoul of a series of federal statutes that define the crime of obstruction of justice. They are variations on the theme that anyone who “corruptly” or by “any threatening letter or communication” tries “to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice” will be subject to criminal penalties.

The operative word here is “corruptly.” It means “an improper purpose,” or one that is “evil” or “wicked.” There is no precise formula for defining it; those involved in the administration of justice must continually wrestle with its interpretation.

Here, the evidence strongly suggests that the president acted corruptly. That starts with the demand for loyalty from Mr. Comey, the account of which the White House disputes. That demand can reasonably be understood to mean that Mr. Comey should protect Trump and follow his bidding, rather than honoring his oath to follow the evidence. It is also an implicit threat: Be loyal, or you will be fired.

When Mr. Comey did not seem to take the hint, Mr. Trump made his meaning crystal-clear on February 14: Let the investigation go, and let Mr. Flynn go, too. The president denies this as well, of course, as he has denied so much else that has proven to be true. Who are we to believe: Mr. Comey, who would have no reason to accuse the President of obstruction of justice, and who has apparently preserved meticulous notes of his conversations? Or the President, who fact-checkers have demonstrated has told more lies in less time than any other modern occupant of the Oval Office?

While Mr. Trump might have been within his rights to fire Mr. Comey, this pattern of demands to protect himself and Mr. Flynn, followed by retaliation when the demands were not met, if proven, is a textbook case of wrongful conduct. Add to this the fact that Mr. Flynn was already offering testimony about the Russia connection in exchange for immunity from prosecution, and Mr. Trump’s clumsy attempt to dissemble the cause of the firing, and it is clear that a cover-up was afoot.

Finally, Mr. Trump topped things off with his tweeted threat to Mr. Comey; witness intimidation is both obstruction of justice in itself, and a free-standing statutory offense.

Taken together, this evidence is already more than sufficient to make out a prima facie case of obstruction of justice — and there are likely many more shoes to drop. Mr. Comey reportedly took notes on all of his encounters with the president. If what has emerged so far is any indication, this is unlikely to offer much comfort to Mr. Trump.

And there remains the core question of the President’s motives. Is he withholding his taxes because they show evidence of “a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” as his son once stated, or do they show no such thing, as his lawyers claim? Why is Mr. Trump so fervently protecting Mr. Flynn: out of loyalty to a friend, or because Mr. Trump fears what that friend would say if he received immunity?

We have previously called for Congress to set up an independent 9/11-style commission on the Russia and Flynn investigations, and for the Department of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor. This appointment is necessary because Congress can’t actually prosecute anyone who may have committed crimes, including obstruction of justice, in connection with the Trump-Russia matter. This week’s revelations about the president, the most powerful man in the country, emphasize the need for these independent structures to be erected and to encompass these new allegations.

At least for now, we need not address the question, fully briefed to the Supreme Court during Watergate, but never resolved, of whether a special prosecutor could indict the President; as with Nixon, the question may again be obviated by other events, like the House initiating impeachment proceedings and the President resigning.

In the meantime, the House and Senate must continue their existing investigations and expand them, with the Judiciary Committees of both bodies immediately beginning hearings into the president’s abuse of power. Congress must be prepared to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.

Richard W. Painter, a Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, is the Vice Chairman and Norman L. Eisen is the Chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. They were chief White House ethics lawyers for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively.

Malaysia, UMNO and Zakir Naik: What is the Game here?


May 17, 2017

COMMENT: One of my doctoral students at Techo Sen School at The University of Cambodia who monitors political developments in Malaysia on a regular basis asked me pointedly what is Malaysia’s Foreign Policy? I asked him back, does Malaysia have one in the first place?

All I see I said is a series of politically motivated actions which are contradictory, inconsistent, self defeating, unprincipled and often unrelated to Malaysia’s national interest. Furthermore, I see my present  Prime Minister Najib Razak hoping from one country to another (in recent months  between India and China) with a begging bowl to save his own political skin. His Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and other loose cannons in his Cabinet are mere chorus boys  including those  others in the civil service and ulamakdom.

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The Magnificent Men of the 1960’s

Wisma Putra’s influence in the making of foreign policy too has been minimal since that role is supplanted by the so-called policy wonks on the 4th Floor, Prime Minister’s Department in Putrajaya. I expect our Minister Anifah Aman to react defensively with his comments on my blog soon. But he cannot escape the fact that Wisma Putra is today a mere shadow of what it used to be when Tun Muhammad Ghazalie Shafie was Permanent Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs.

As a young foreign service officer in the 1960s, I was taught by Tun Ghazalie  that international relations is about how in the pursuit of its national interest Malaysia relates to and interacts with other sovereign states. basically with members of the United Nations in the realm of politics and security, and geo-economics.We make friends in diplomacy he never ceased remind my colleagues and I. This depends on our foreign policy.

Image result for Najib in China for One Silk Road Summit

Prime Minister Najib Razak has yet to come to grips with reality that he is immensely unpopular and cannot be trusted to defend Malaysia’s National Interest.

I define national interest as the sum total of the individual and collective interests of Malaysians, that it is about safeguarding or advancing the collective welfare and economic well being of  all us, not of a single individual like Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Foreign policy is in reality an extension of Malaysia’s domestic policy; it is about how our elected government protects our security, improves and sustains our aspirations and priorities and addresses our concerns and calms our fears and anxieties. This principle No.1 and that is foreign policy begins at home and defines our relations with other nation states. In turn, foreign policy outcomes have a reciprocal effect on domestic political discourse.

As a nation,  Malaysia must see value in an international or bilateral relationship as a way of securing benefits for Malaysians, whether in security, politics or geo–economics. It is an interaction of our wants and needs. And it always involves a give-and-take attitude and disposition. Malaysia must, therefore, aim for win-win partnership that is beneficial, acceptable and sustainable to its united citizenry. This is the second principle.

Finally, a coherent  Malaysian foreign policy based a careful calibration of our national interest must receive the continued support of all Malaysians. It cannot be driven by the political survival needs or whims and fancies of our incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak and his cohorts at our collective expense.

The Zakir Naik case is a case in point. How can we as a people accept this Islamic extremist wanted in his homeland India  for wanton acts of promoting terrorism, and grant him permanent resident status when thousands of Malaysians born and bred in Malaysia are still stateless. It is not in our national interest to harbor this felon and conceal his whereabouts and deny India its right to bring him to the Indian courts to stand trial.

Mr. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs, Dr. Zahid Hamidi, you are reckless, unconscionable, and irresponsible. Your job is to protect the security and safety of all Malaysians. It is equally your top priority to locate those missing and unaccounted for because they belong to other religions than Islam. Do that or just resign and fire your Inspector-General of Police. As for our Prime Minister, I say this–your day of reckoning is coming to you soon.–Din Merican

Malaysia, UMNO and Zakir Naik: What is the Game here?

by P. Ramasamy@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Zahid Hamidi and Zakir Naik

If the controversial Mumbai preacher Zakir Naik is not in Malaysia, then where is he? Is Malaysia distancing itself from the controversial preacher?

A few days ago, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi assured the Malaysian Associated Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Maicci) that Malaysia would not give sanctuary to any fugitive, even if the fugitive happened to be Zakir Naik.

Zahid also informed the delegation that Zakir was not in the country and his exact whereabouts were not known. Zahid pretended that he was not in the know, but surely he was aware of the movements of Zakir.

Zakir Naik is not just an ordinary person, for he has become an infamous person in international circles. He is not just an occasional visitor to Malaysia, but a very very important person with the status of permanent resident.

But the relationship between the Malaysian authorities and Zakir Naik might not be the same anymore. There is a slow but sure attempt to distance themselves from the actions of Zakir. In short, Zakir is no longer a ‘darling’ to the Muslim masses in Malaysia, or elsewhere.

Two warrants of arrest have been issued by the authorities in India for his arrest for alleged involvement in terrorist and money-laundering activities. The Indian authorities impressed upon a Mumbai court to issue the warrants, having provided the necessary evidence of the alleged nefarious activities of Zakir Naik.

Recently, it was only after India sought the red notice alert through the Interpol that Zakir Naik might have realised that India was serious about arresting him.

Malaysia has probably realised that Zakir’s presence in the country and his allegedly incendiary speeches might not be conducive to the long term interests of the country. Zakir single-handedly, through his speeches, caused apparently irrepairable damage to ethnic relations in the country.

Malaysia might have welcomed Zakir Naik earlier, but his presence in the country seems detrimental to UMNO-BN in the long run. Earlier, his speeches might have appealed to UMNO to gain Malay-Muslim support, but this perception might not be sustainable any longer.

UMNO-BN might have lost substantial non-Muslim support in the past, but it is not willing to write-them off yet, considering the general election around the corner.

Zakir is a popular figure in the Islamic circles in Malaysia. However, the changing political scenario could have rendered him a liability to UMNO and others in the  Barisan Nasional coalition. Zahid might not say it openly, but he is probably embarrassed by Zakir’s presence in the country.

There is a growing realisation in the official circles that Zakir may have outlived his usefulness.

P RAMASAMY is Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang and the state assemblyperson for Perai.

Where is Malaysia heading with China?


Where is Malaysia Heading with China?

by Dr. Shankaran Nambiar

Where is Malaysia Heading with China?

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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s father, Tun Abdul Razak, the then Prime Minister, initiated diplomatic relations with China in 1974.  At the time it was a bold step.  China was then a peripheral country because it did not count for anything in terms of political and economic power.  In addition, it espoused an ideology and had a political system that could only attract derision.  Nazib Razak, like his father, is bold ( or desperate, Dr. Nambiar?–Din Merican) in pursuing Malaysia’s ties with China.  What is less clear is his sense of purpose and direction.  In the wider context of things, Najib’s attempts to engage with China seem like a flurry of events in search of an overriding theme.

… it is unclear if Malaysia is seeking greater engagement with China because it thinks the US is an unreliable ally, or because it is a declining power, or… because Malaysia wants to align itself with the power of the future.

Najib’s visit to China in October 2016 was a significant one.  It was noteworthy for several reasons, yet it failed to define Malaysia’s stance within the wider landscape.  It is precisely because it escapes clear definition that it becomes worthy of interpretation.

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The Stressed Out and Aging Najib Razak on a trip to China

The thrust of the Malaysian premier’s visit to China lay in the many economic deals that Malaysia struck.  Economic cooperation is often a part of these official visits.  But there are distinct characteristics to the investment agreements signed at this meeting.  The investments from China that were agreed to were wide-ranging, covering the building of ports, railway lines, and property development projects.  Also included was the purchase of a Malaysian power plant by the Chinese that will supply power to the national energy company, Tenaga Nasional Berhad.

The terms of financing, in the case of these projects, have not been clearly disclosed.  Neither has it been clearly presented if these projects will exclusively employ local human capital, imported Chinese workers, or a mix.  It would be understandable to have key Chinese workers who possess specialised skills run the projects. Amidst intense speculation that the deals were undertaken with the aim of settling the outstanding debts arising from the scandal-ridden 1MDB project, the usefulness of the Chinese investments comes into question.  If only to add to doubt and fear, former premier Mahathir Mohamed’s assertion that Malaysia has been sold to China serves to severely undermine confidence in these investments.

Internal considerations aside, China has a controversial history when it comes to its investments abroad.  There seems to be a pattern of easy loans being extended to countries with internal problems and questionable systems of governance and institutions.  In Africa, the Chinese investments seem to have employed more workers from China than those available locally.  This, if repeated in Malaysia, would reduce the multiplier effects that Malaysia could otherwise gain.

Even in the light of China’s record on foreign investments, the government has not found it necessary to engage in wider information dissemination on the details of the investments, nor has it invited discussion and debate on the advisability of these investments.  The results of feasibility studies and the socio-economic impact on affected communities, if at all undertaken, have not been publicly shared.

The particular positioning that Prime Minister Najib has chosen to take is worthy of examination.  He seems to have swung from his cosy relationship with the US, forged during the Obama administration, to an unquestioning one with Xi Jinping.  What could have prompted such a swift shift?  It could be the realisation that China is the superpower of the future.  But that could not have dawned with striking suddenness.  China is no more or less a power now than it was during the Obama days.  The Department of Justice’s probe into the 1MDB scandal could have been unsettling, although Najib enthusiastically offered to cooperate with the relevant authorities and, of course, within the framework of legal structures.  It could be that Najib wants firmer grounds of support which he thinks are more likely with Xi than President Donald Trump.  Najib’s visit to China preceded Trump’s January 2017 withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Given the sequence of events, one cannot attribute Najib’s declared commitment to deepen ties with China as resulting from the US’s withdrawal from the TPP. Of course, being a part of the TPP agreement would have provided the right counterbalance against engagement with China.  In the absence of the TPP it would make more sense to work with the US through some other format than to be more reliant on China than necessary.

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Playing geo-politics with President Xi of the PRC

Finally, Najib’s possible epiphany that he has to cater to the sentiments of the Malaysian-Chinese who form an important part of his domestic constituency could not have been a strong motivating factor.  It is true that the 14th general elections, expected to be held in 2018, are approaching. The Malaysian-Chinese community in the country is an important block of votes, one that Najib would covet.  But there are other ways of winning their votes; succumbing to China need not be one of them.  It is not an acceptable argument to claim that Najib is shifting towards China in order to appease the local Chinese because the Chinese community is mature enough to draw the line between what happens within the country and how Malaysia postures externally.

If Najib had chosen to be influenced by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte that would have been an act of avoidable impulsiveness.  Malaysia, like the Philippines, is a small state that cannot afford to go on a frontal attack against a superpower.  However, this argument has limited force because a small state that does not want to be caught in a conflict between two superpowers would rather be non-aligned than tilt closer to one or other of them.  This is where the principle of non-alignment gains currency, one that Southeast Asia’s leaders —Soekarno of Indonesia,  Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Cambodia’sNorodom Sihanouk, and  India’s Jawaharlal Nehru — had espoused.  It is, therefore, not surprising that US Vice President Mike Pence in his tour of the Asia Pacific in April 2017, chose to visit Jakarta rather than Kuala Lumpur in addition to stops in Tokyo, Sydney, and Hawaii.

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Hedging with India

It is interesting that despite Malaysia’s tilt to China, Najib issued a joint statement with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his recent visit to India, which included a veiled reference to the South China Sea problem.  With no mention of China or the South China Sea, the statement, with obvious reference to China, called upon all parties concerned to show their utmost respect for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  Malaysia has consistently held the view that UNCLOS should be respected and that the South China Sea problem should be resolved through negotiation.  This is to be expected with Malaysia being a claimant, too.  The inclusion of this issue in the joint statement issued on the 60th anniversary of India-Malaysia diplomatic relations indicates that Malaysia realises its responsibility within the region, particularly ASEAN.  In the context of its closer ties with China it may not want to object to China’s actions firmly and visibly.  While gently acknowledging that it does not agree with China, Malaysia may not want to go further on the issue.

Many of the investment decisions that have been taken in recent times do deepen Malaysia-China ties, but it is not clear if they are set within a broader, well-considered scenario.  Some of the projects that have been coming up recently certainly resolve current problems, as does the sale of the Tun Razak Exchange to the Chinese.  Again, its advisability is uncertain.  The same can be said for the port development projects that Malaysia will engage in with China’s assistance.  They will help Malaysia economically while also placing Malaysia within China’s scheme for the region.  Specifically, it is unclear if Malaysia is seeking greater engagement with China because it thinks the US is an unreliable ally, or because it is a declining power, or, viewed differently, because Malaysia wants to align itself with the power of the future.  It could also be because post-Obama, Malaysia sees less US interest in the region.  Or it could also, very simply, be because economic aid comes more easily and with less questions asked from the Chinese.  The last would be the weakest reason, but one that could really have been the motivating factor given Malaysia’s pragmatic streak.

Dr. Shankaran Nambiar is a Senior Research Fellow at the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research.  He is author of “The Malaysian Economy,” and the recently published, “Malaysia in Troubled Times.” He can be contacted at sknambiar@yahoo.comImage credit: CC by Wikimedia Commons.