Malaysia, Singapore and two views on the last 50 years


February 19, 2015

Malaysia, Singapore and two views on the last 50 years

Bilahari-Kausikan-Singapore2by Bilahari Kausikan For The Straits Times

A new book fails to give due weight to the cooperative aspect of bilateral ties, says the writer.

I have known Tan Sri Kadir Mohamad, the former KSU (the equivalent of our Permanent Secretary) of Wisma Putra, for more than 30 years. We first met in 1984 when he was the Deputy Chief of mission at the Malaysian Embassy in Washington, DC and I was a newly minted First Secretary at our embassy.

In the subsequent decades our paths often crossed – the world of Kadir's BookSouth-east Asian diplomacy is not large and Malaysia is our closest neighbour – and on occasion I worked with him in ASEAN and on some bilateral matters. So when I heard that he had written a book on Malaysia-Singapore relations, I hastened to procure a copy.

The content was as I expected: a very journeyman-like effort. There were no significant errors of fact on bilateral issues that I could detect. Mr Kadir is nothing if not a consummate professional, and contrary to popular belief, good diplomats of every country generally tell the truth and stick to the facts, although there is no obligation to always tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Bilahari's ST article Malaysia and Singapore: Two Systems, One World

In any case, all the most important facts have long been placed in the public domain, mainly by Singapore in answers to parliamentary questions or by the release of documents on water talks more than a decade ago. A reader expecting dramatic new revelations will be disappointed.

Mr Kadir’s interpretations of the facts are of course different from the interpretations that I or other Singapore diplomats would have placed on the same facts. But that is only to be expected, and I am not inclined to quibble with him.

A different interpretation cannot change the most important fact of all: On almost every bilateral issue the book deals with – water, Pedra Blanca, the bridge and land reclamation – the outcome was not one that Malaysia had set out to achieve.

Diplomats try to promote their countries’ interests. So it is entirely understandable that in the twilight of his career, a distinguished Malaysian diplomat would want to place his version of events on the record and vent a little. It would be churlish to deny him even this satisfaction.

I will only take issue with his conclusion, encapsulated in the title of his book and the thread running through it, that it has been “Fifty Years Of Contentions”. Of course, Malaysian and Singapore interests often clashed. Relations between neighbours are always more complicated than relations between distant countries. But the interests of our countries have at least as often coincided.

Diplomacy is not, or at least ought not to be, a zero-sum game. Nor should any one aspect of any relationship be allowed to colour the entire relationship.

Although we contended over bilateral matters, Malaysia and Singapore have simultaneously worked together very well on other issues, for example as we did in ASEAN and the United Nations during the decade-long struggle in the 1980s – which coincided with some tense episodes in bilateral relations – to prevent a fait accompli in Vietnamese-occupied Cambodia. We still cooperate closely in ASEAN.

And even when the outcome of bilateral contentions was in Singapore’s favour, Malaysian interests were not irrevocably hurt. The 2010 agreement on the implementation of the 1990 Points of Agreement on railway land was beneficial to both countries. Malaysia still buys cheap processed water from Singapore.

After 18 years, Kadir’s search for letter still goes onMr Kadir’s failure to give sufficient recognition to the cooperative aspect of bilateral relations is, I think, due to the over-emphasis he places on what he describes as Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s “baggage full of bitterness and a heart filled with anger” over Separation. He describes his book as “…the story of how one man dictated the form and substance of relations…”

Separation was of course a traumatic event for both countries that did indeed shape and set in motion the essential dynamic of Malaysia-Singapore relations. But not in the way Mr Kadir thinks it did.

He places far too much emphasis on the personal element. It is undeniable that Mr Lee was a dominant personality in Singapore politics and policy making for many years. But I suspect that in trying to understand Singapore, Mr Kadir looked in a Malaysian mirror and saw Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Both were dominant personalities in the government and politics of their respective countries but not in entirely the same way. Far more than Dr Mahathir, Mr Lee worked within and respected the Cabinet system. Mr Lee was acutely aware that any agreement he reached with Malaysia had to outlast his tenure in political office and even his lifetime and therefore sought collective agreement.

By contrast, even after he retired as Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir attempted to influence the way his successors dealt with Singapore on bilateral issues when he did not agree with them. Many Malaysians certainly believe he tries to influence Malaysian domestic politics and policies to this day.

And the metaphor of “baggage” used by Mr Kadir and others is a singularly inappropriate – and simplistic – way to try to understand the complex dynamic of bilateral relations set in motion by Separation. “Baggage” connotes something that is carried by an individual or a group of individuals and which can be jettisoned or changed if necessary. The implication is that if this does not occur, it is only because those individuals are unwilling to do so or have been prevented from doing so. And Mr Kadir argues, or at least strongly implies, that this was what in fact Mr Lee did.

But the reason for Separation, or rather the reason why, as Mr Kadir bluntly and perhaps less euphemistically argues in his first chapter, “it was necessary to expel Singapore” goes far beyond individual personalities.

Singapore is organised on the basis of multiracial meritocracy. Malaysia is organised on the principle, politely described in Article 153 of its Constitution as “the special position of the Malays”, but more popularly and politically potently understood as “Ketuanan Melayu”.

Time has eased the sharp edges of Separation, and time will certainly ease them further. But it is difficult to conceive of either Singapore or Malaysia discarding their respective fundamental organising principles. They are embedded in our societies and political systems, not by the will or whim of any individual, however powerful, but by the collective choice of the majority in both countries.

There are of course Singaporeans who do not agree with the Government and some do not like Mr Lee. Some Singaporeans may well already have only the vaguest of notions of who Mr Lee is and what he has done. But I have yet to meet any serious-minded Singaporean who really wants to abandon our fundamental organising principle and adopt something akin to the Malaysian system.

Nor can I imagine Article 153 of the Malaysian Constitution ever being repealed. We may have been once one country, but are now and for evermore two countries. The existential tension between two countries organised on fundamentally irreconcilable political principles that defines the dynamic of Malaysia-Singapore relations is not going to go away and so must be managed and is being managed.

Once this is understood, a balanced and holistic view of Malaysia-Singapore relations becomes possible. It is a relationship based, like every other interstate relationship throughout history, on national interests, some of which will converge and some of which will diverge.

The complications in Malaysia-Singapore relations are the inevitable ones of proximity and an entangled history. They have some special characteristics, but that is in general not particularly unusual between neighbours anywhere. Every close relationship has its own special characteristics.

It is the purpose of diplomacy to broaden the area of convergence between national interests whenever possible and manage the tensions when interests diverge. That Singapore and Malaysian diplomats – Mr Kadir included – have succeeded in doing so at least as often as we have failed should not be overlooked.

Even if Mr Kadir is right that “the bitterness and anger towards Malaysian leaders that engulfed Lee Kuan Yew on 9 August 1965 … remains with him until this day” – and I think Mr Kadir is profoundly mistaken, entirely misreads Mr Lee, and may well be unconsciously projecting some of his own attitudes onto him – it did not prevent Mr Lee from concluding what was, until the 2010 railway land agreement, the most important Malaysia-Singapore agreement: The 1990 Linggiu Dam agreement.

In his speech at the launch of Mr Kadir’s book, former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi cut to the core when he said Malaysia cannot blame Singapore entirely for bilateral problems, but “… must also look at ourselves in the mirror”. Good advice.

The writer, a former Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, is now ambassador-at-large.

– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/opinion/invitation/story/malaysia-singapore-and-two-views-the-last-50-years-20150218#sthash.CFPsvDRx.dpuf

Note: Tan Sri Kadir Mohamad’s book should be read along with Dr. Lily Zubaidah Rahim’s Singapore in the Malay World: Building and breaching regional bridges (New York: Routledge,2010) and Dr. Michael Leifer, Singapore’s Foreign Policy: Coping with Vulnerability  (London: Routledge, 2010).

 

Four Ideas for a Stronger United Nations (UN)


February 8, 2015

Four Ideas for a Stronger U.N.

by Kofi A. Annan and Gro Harlem Brundtland

Kofi A. Annan and Gro Harlem Brundtland Gro Harlem Brundtland and Kofi A. Annan

Seventy years ago, the United Nations was founded “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Looking around the world today, the least one can say is that it is not fully succeeding in this mission. From Nigeria through the Middle East to Afghanistan and Ukraine, millions are suffering and dying from that scourge, or are imminently threatened by it, and the United Nations seems powerless to save them.

We have four ideas for making the organization stronger and more effective. A big part of the problem is that the Security Council, which is supposed to maintain world peace and security on behalf of all member states, no longer commands respect — certainly not from armed insurgents operating across borders, and often not from the United Nations’ own members.

Throughout the world, and especially in the Global South, people struggle to understand why, in 2015, the Council is still dominated by the five powers that won World War II. They are more and more inclined to question its authority, and the legitimacy of its decisions.

We ignore this threat at our peril. Times have changed since 1945, and the Security Council must adapt.

Almost everyone claims to favor expanding the Council to include new permanent members, but for decades now states have been unable to agree who these should be, or whether, like the existing ones, they should have the power to veto agreements reached by their fellow members.

Our first idea aims to break this stalemate. Instead of new permanent members, let us have a new category of members, serving a much longer term than the non-permanent ones and eligible for immediate re-election. In other words they would be permanent, provided they retained the confidence of other member states. Surely that is more democratic?

Secondly, we call on the five existing permanent members to give a solemn pledge. They must no longer allow their disagreements to mean that the Council fails to act, even when — for instance, as currently in Syria — people are threatened with atrocious crimes.

Let the five permanent members promise never to use the veto just to defend their national interests, but only when they genuinely fear that the proposed action will do more harm than good to world peace and to the people concerned. In that case, let them give a full and clear explanation of the alternative they propose, as a more credible and efficient way to protect the victims. And when one or more of them do use the veto in that way, let the others promise not to abandon the search for common ground, but to work even harder to find an effective solution on which all can agree.

Thirdly, let the Council listen more carefully to those affected by its decisions. When they can agree, the permanent members too often deliberate behind closed doors, without listening to those whom their decisions most directly affect. From now on, let them — and the whole Council — give groups representing people in zones of conflict a real chance to inform and influence their decisions.

And finally, let the Council, and especially its permanent members, make sure the United Nations gets the kind of leader it needs. Let them respect the spirit as well as the letter of what the United Nations Charter says about choosing a new Secretary-General, and no longer settle it by negotiating among themselves behind closed doors. Under current procedures, governments nominate their own citizens as candidates for the position. Members of the Security Council then conduct rounds of secret voting known as “straw polls” to ascertain who has broadest and deepest support; crucially, the five permanent members use different colored voting slips so that their preferences — and those they do not favor — are made clear to the other 10 temporary members.

Let us have a thorough and open search for the best qualified candidates, irrespective of gender or region; let the Council then recommend more than one candidate for the General Assembly to choose from; and let the successful candidate be appointed for a single, non-renewable term of seven years. He or she (and after eight “he’s” it’s surely time for a “she”) must not be under pressure to give jobs or concessions to any member state in return for its support. This new process should be adopted without delay, so that it can be used to find the best person to take over in January 2017.

These four proposals are spelled out in greater detail in a statement issued this Saturday by The Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights. We believe they form an essential starting point for the United Nations to recover its authority. And we call on the peoples of the world to insist that their governments accept them, in this, the 70th anniversary year of the United Nations.

Kofi A. Annan, Chairman of The Elders, served as Secretary General of the United Nations from 1996 to 2007. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Deputy Chairwoman of The Elders, is a former Prime Minister of Norway and served as Director General of the World Health Organization from 1998 to 2003.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/07/opinion/kofi-annan-gro-harlem-bruntland-four-ideas-for-a-stronger-un.html?ref=opinion&_r=0

Proton to help Indonesia to develop a National Car


February 6, 2015

A  Joke or What? Proton to help Indonesia to develop a National Car

Bernama reports:

Proton Holdings Bhd today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Indonesia’s PT Adiperkasa Citra Lestari (PT ACL) to help the latter develop and manufacture an Indonesian national car.

Under the MOU, a six-month feasibility study will be conducted to explore specific areas of cooperation between both companies, including the potential development and manufacture of the car in Indonesia.

Subject to the completion of a successful study, Proton and PT ACL will also signed a definitive joint venture (JV) agreement for the proposed project.

Proton chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the MOU was the result of discussions between Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

“We have to work out the JV agreement. I cannot anticipate what it will entail. But obviously, Malaysia is not going in to lose money. We also want to gain something from it,” he told reporters after the MOU signing ceremony in Kuala Lumpur today.

Najib, Joko and Mahathir witnessed the signing. Also present was the Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia Zahrain Mohamed Hashim and the Indonesian Ambassador to Malaysia, Herman Prayitno.

Signing on behalf of Proton was Chief Executive Officer Abdul Harith Abdullah, while PT ACL Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, signed for the company.

Jokowi spent almost an hour visiting the Proton plant and tried out the Proton Iriz model, driven by Mahathir.

“I talked quite a bit with President Jokowi and he seemed to be pleased with what he saw and experienced,” said Mahathir. He added that the study will also look into Malaysia and Indonesia’s contribution and maximise benefits for both countries.

“We have to see if Malaysian cars can be modified or be suitable for the Indonesian market. Initially, we may export the Malaysian-made car. Subsequently, we will assemble the car in Indonesia and then progress towards producing parts in that country, so that it will become a real Indonesian car,” he said.

Mahathir said Proton started with only 18 percent local content and now the carmaker was involved in manufacturing, designing and producing prototypes that comply with strict international automotive standards.

Possible platform for an ASEAN car

He was of the view that the JV may also serve as a platform for an ASEAN car.  “But for this, we have need the consent of all the ASEAN countries, as well as open up for investments by them for ownership of the car,” he said.

When asked if the JV can compete with other automotive giants, Mahathir said it would not be unusual for Malaysia and Indonesia to consider protecting the infant industry, when it materialises. “When you are a baby you need somebody to hold your hands,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, Abdul Harith said the collaboration would be good for both nations, specifically in working together to develop products for the larger market.

“Proton has also the facilities, capabilities and technology know-how and is the only company in the ASEAN region with an in-house research & development facility. At the same time, no other country in this region has their own national car project other than providing manufacturing and assembly services,” he added.

As for PT ACL, Abdullah Mahmud said the MoU was a major development for the Indonesian automotive industry. “If the collaboration materialises, not only will it spur the industry, but also offer wider job opportunities for the people,” he added.

Malaysia-Singapore: 50 Years of Contentious and Prickly Relations


February 3, 2014

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BOOK REVIEW

by Din Merican

Malaysia-Singapore: 50 Years of Contentions, 1965-2015 by Kadir Mohamad

Kadir Mohamed's book2

I just completed reading Ambassador (Tan Sri) Kadir Mohamad’s Malaysia Singapore Fifty Years of Contentions, 1965-2015. By presenting his thoughts and views in the form of an excellent book, Ambassador Kadir, who was Secretary-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Wisma Putra) and Special Foreign Affairs Adviser to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, joins a select group of former Malaysian diplomats like Tun Ghazalie Shafie, Kamil Jaafar and Razali Ismail ,among others, who have shared their experiences with us. It is heartening to note that our public officials are making their contribution to our collective memory of Malaysian history since Independence.

His book is a timely contribution on the history of Malaysia-Singapore relations. In my view he is the first among them to deal in such great detail with the contentious and prickly relations between the neighbours since the republic’s “expulsion” (Kadir makes no apologies for using this word to describe what happened ) on August 9, 1965 from Malaysia. It is a serious book for the discerning student of foreign policy and international relations. It is not a memoir nor a ” last dispatch” of sorts that one encounters from some  recent writers on the subject.

Ambassador Kadir has “relied heavily on historical records, the works of other authors and contemporary writings by scholars and other public commentators for the facts”. His personal recollections and copious notes and other materials have also been employed to add value and excitement to the drama of diplomatic encounters on numerous issues  (in seven chapters) between Malaysia and Singapore over the last five decades.

Lee-Kuan-Yew

In Chapter 8, the author gives us credible evidence of how Lee Kuan Yew single-handedly prescribed Singapore’s policies towards Malaysia, even after he relinquished his premiership to Goh Chok Tong in 1990. In his role as Senior Minister and later as Minister Mentor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr. Lee, the micro-manager of Singapore, was able to exert strong influence on Singapore’s foreign, economic and social  policies. Singapore’s Cabinet served as his proxy, says Ambassador Kadir.

Even after his retirement following the 2011 General Elections, his  personality, political dexterity, intellectual brilliance and moral authority (after all, he is a Philosopher-King and Confucian Mandarin) loom large over the blue skies of Singapore.  Here is an amazing Mr. Singapore, a view shared by his admirers and detractors.

Throughout the book on bilateral issues, Mr. Lee’s statecraft is present.

“Singapore negotiators in the past always had Lee Kuan Yew looking over their shoulders like a taskmaster; and they had to prove themselves constantly in the eyes of the taskmaster….Lee Kuan Yew is absolutely one of a kind.”

I wish to add that Mr. Lee taught Singaporean ministers and negotiators how to conduct “Janus faced diplomacy” (Lily Zubaidah Rahim), and to quote Ambassador Kadir again,” in which the business of foreign relations is conducted without sentiment, ideology or illusion, particularly where it concerns  Singapore’s security. That was the way it was in the last 50 years”.

The book by Ambassador Kadir then goes on to support this thesis with Malaysia Singapore relations  from 1965-2015 as a case study. In Chapter 2, Kadir tells us of the acrimonious discussions between the Malaysians and Singaporeans on Water that went on over several years till 2004 without any agreement.

A large part of reason of the failure to reach agreement until today was Lee Kuan Yew’s intervention in the negotiation process between 2000 and 2002. The water issue remains a national sore point in Malaysia”.

There is a perception here in Kuala Lumpur that the Republic is raking enormous money by selling treated water to third parties, namely to ships berthed in Singapore harbour. The 1961 Agreement expired in 2011,while two other agreements are in force until 2061. Let us hope by then, we in Johor and Malaysia can get an equitable deal for our water.

Bilateral negotiations on the status of Pulau Batu Puteh (Pedra Branca), as discussed in Chapter 3, made no progress during 1993 and 1994. The talks stalled when Singapore opted to adopt Mr. Lee’s preference for the dispute to be settled by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague. The matter was finally adjudicated by the ICJ in 2008 in favour of Singapore, after some 18 years. It was, however, not a unanimous decision. This point was not known to the Malaysian public. Only 12 out 16 judges voted in favour of the decision.

In the case of Middle Rocks, 15 to 1 judges ruled in Malaysia’s favour. The ownership of South Ledge will be made after a delimitation of the territorial sea in the area surrounding Pulau Batu Puteh/Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks, and South Ledge.

Chapter Four  deals with Points of Agreement. The issue was finally settled in 2011 by the Najib Administration. Finally, Mr. Lee was able to get KTMB to move to Woodlands and the Malaysian keris was finally removed from the heart of Singapore. This was because some commercial deals deemed favorable to both countries were made by Khazanah Nasional (Malaysia) and Temasek Holdings with some details yet to be finalized.

Another issue, raised in Chapter Five, was very difficult  which  was resolved by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi when the construction of the crooked bridge to replace the Causeway across the Straits of Johore was aborted, much to the consternation of former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed.Chapter 6 deals with Singapore’s Land Reclamation Project. It was the first time Malaysia took Singapore to international arbitration and got a judgment that in general was in its favour.

Chapter 7  deals with the Defence of Singapore. It makes a very interesting read on military strategy and security. It is Mr. Lee’s real legacy. How valid are his assumptions about its neighbours in South East Asia, especially Malaysia, in  the 21 century? Both countries are members of ASEAN and are bound by the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. Both have chosen in 50 years of their prickly and often contentious relations to resolve their differences through diplomacy and peaceful means. Surely, there must be better times ahead for Malaysians and Singaporeans.

I agree with Ambassador Kadir that Malayia is not a threat to Singapore’s security. So he rightly says:

” Indeed, Singapore need not be thinking like Israel because Singapore is not in the same situation as Israel. Israel has experienced actual military attack from outside while Singapore has not. Except for a few irrational acts of selective sabotage during Konfontasi, no country  has ever mounted a military attack against Singapore. A large part of the lingering problem is the teaching by Lee Kuan Yew that Singapore should never trust its neighbours. Such distrusting mind-set tends to imagine enemies everywhere and perceive threats where none exists.”

In the final chapter titled The Next Fifty Years, Ambassador Kadir isAfter 18 years, Kadir’s search for letter still goes on optimistic about our relations with Singapore. And why not? A new generation of leaders on both sides to the Causeway have taken over from their elders who fought colonialism, survived the two World Wars, gained independence and withstood the Cold War. These young leaders have new lenses on bilateral relations. Bitterness of the past should now be behind us.

Yes, Ambassador Kadir, as you say,

“…the logic for neighbouring countries is quite simple that they must cooperate. They can progress better by cooperating with each other instead of hindering one another. In fact, for Malaysia and Singapore the fundamentals already exist for establishing a new era of beneficial cooperation between themselves… Such cooperation is possible even if differences of opinion and approach continue to persist in some areas.”

In other words, let us put end to  50 years of contentious and prickly relations.

Najib’s Political Battles Pose a Challenge to his Foreign Policy Agenda


January 23, 2015

Najib’s Political Battles Pose a Challenge to his Foreign Policy Agenda

By Murray Hiebert and Nigel Cory
January 22, 2015
Murray Hiebert is Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Nigel Cory is a researcher with the Sumitro Chair.

4th PM of MalaysiaChallenges at home suggest Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak could face an uphill battle in pursuing his foreign policy goals in the year ahead. The long-simmering battle between Najib and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has erupted into a public spat that must have Najib looking over his shoulder given Mahathir’s role in ousting his predecessor, Abdullah Badawi.

As a result Najib finds himself flanked on the right by Perkasa,the equivalent of the Tea Party within his ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), and on the left by the opposition coalition led by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. No move Najib makes will please all Malaysians, and perhaps not even many, in this constrained environment.

The public mudslinging between Najib and Mahathir could weaken and distract the Prime Minister even as 2015 presents opportunities for Malaysia to make its mark on the international stage. Malaysia’s ruling party generally hides internal conflict from public view.But the escalation in political maneuvering between two of the party’s key leaders has changed this dynamic.

Old corruption charges have been rehashed against Daim Zainuddin,Daim an outspoken critic of Najib. Daim isan UMNO insider, financial power broker, and two-time Finance Minister under Mahathir. He is seen as a proxy forthe former Prime Minister and, to real insiders, may even be the one pulling the strings on his former boss.

The government-controlled media took the unusual step of covering the case against Daim in detail, which some interpreted as a coordinated political attack and which prompted proxies on both sides to take the fight to the internet.

The split between Najib and Mahathir burst into the open when the latter, now 89, publicly withdrew his support for Najib in an August 2014 blog. Mahathir blamed Najib for the ruling coalition’s poor showing in the 2013 national elections, attacked him for his efforts in 2011 to abolish the draconian Internal Security Act, and criticized his earlier plans to scale back the affirmative action program that provides special privileges for the country’s Malay majority. On all these issues, Mahathir has strong support from UMNO’s most conservative wing.

The bitter dispute between the two men and their respective camps appears to have picked up in earnest after a dinner between them in December did not go well. A thorny issue reportedly discussed at the meeting was the sovereign fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which has been plagued by charges of mismanagement and corruption and is reportedly suffering from billions of ringgit in nonperforming loans. Najib is chair of the fund’s advisory board.

Mahathir retains significant public and political influence in Malaysia as an elder statesman, particularly among conservative Malays. His profile stems from enduring public popularity, especially among older  members of society who are nostalgic about his 22 years in power. Mahathir’s political influence within UMNO has loomed large  over his successors since he stepped down in 2003. He leveraged this influence to undermine and ultimately remove his anointed successor, Abdullah, in 2009. Then Deputy Prime Minister Najib stepped up to become Prime Minister.He most certainly sees the possibility of history repeating itself.

And Malaysia’s economy is not going to provide any respite for Najib. The sharp drop in oil prices has created some stiff headwinds for Malaysia’s economy. Oil and gas exports account for a fifth of the country’s exports and a third of government revenue. It was therefore little surprise that Najib on January 20 announced $1.5 billion in spending cuts and said Malaysia’s economic growth has been revised down from 6 percent to between 4.5 and 5.5 percent for 2015.

anwar-ibrahim-recentUnder withering attacks from Mahathir and party conservatives, Najib has backed off many of his earlier political and economic reform plans. In recent months, his government has been criticized by the United States and human rights organizations for repeatedly using the colonial-era Sedition Act against critics. Anwar Ibrahim is awaiting a court verdict on another round of sodomy charges that could once again see him sent to prison. The verdict, expected in the next few weeks, would undoubtedly lead to further criticism from the international community.

Najib’s domestic challenges could pose risks for his foreign policy goals in 2015. This year is shaping up as an important one for Malaysia given its chairmanship of ASEAN and its non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. As ASEAN chair, Malaysia can be expected to play a key role in pressing the grouping to take steps to complete regional economic integration, keep tensions in the disputed South China Sea under control, and explore ways to bolster the role of the East Asia Summit.

TPPA Protest

Negotiators of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Malaysia joined in 2010, are scrambling to complete the trade agreement by March. But for Malaysia to get to the finish line will require some tough decisions by Najib and his cabinet in such areas as state-owned enterprises, pharmaceuticals, and investor dispute mechanisms. Even before his latest broadsides against Najib, Mahathir, who oversaw Malaysia’s earlier transformation into an industrial powerhouse, had  harply criticized the TPP as an attempt by foreign powers to colonize Malaysia. Anwar and the opposition have also sought to foil Najib’s reform effort.

The coming months could provide an opportunity for Malaysia and theNajib and ObamaUnited States to put more substance into the comprehensive partnership they announced last April when President Barack Obama visited Malaysia. But the visit marked only the beginning of the process, which requires more work by both sides to achieve deeper ties, including such things as stepped up cabinet-level exchanges,more military cooperation and intelligence sharing, and closer economic ties.

Najib’s golf outing with Obama in early January showed the depth of personal camaraderie between the two leaders, which could help them achieve greater depth to the comprehensive partnership before Obama visits again in November. However, the sharp criticism Najib received for golfing in Hawaii while parts of Malaysia faced terrible flooding highlights some of the challenges he could face in the months ahead as he seeks to deepen the country’s regional and global foreign policy opportunities.

The United States will need to make some tough decisions in the coming months about how to engage Najib and Malaysia. The country is a vital partner and a key to strengthening ASEAN. The White House will face pressure from various advocacy groups to limit or curtail engagement and there will be congressional pressure during the TPP approval process. The administration will have to step carefully but be guided by the strategic need to support political and economic reform in Malaysia. For his part, Najib will need to harden his resolve to pursue that reform.

Inevitable Payback


January 22, 2015

Inevitable Payback

by Craig Murray

Craig MurrayAmbassador Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010.He graduated from the University of Dundee in 1982 with a MA (Hons) 1st Class in Modern History.

https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2015/01/inevitable-payback/

In this globalised world, if we launch weapons of great destructive power into communities abroad, incinerating and shredding women and children, we cannot avoid the fact that those who identify with those communities – ethnically, culturally and religiously – will take revenge on people here. If we are lucky it will be revenge on combatants. If we are unlucky it will be on our innocents. But either way, the truth is this. We caused it.

We caused it by our invasions, occupations and bombings of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, none of which had ever attacked the UK. We caused it by all the dead women and children that British bombs, missiles or bullets killed accidentally. We caused it by the terrible deaths of the people we killed deliberately, who were only defending their country from foreign invaders, just as most of us would do. We caused it by the detainees killed or tortured. As a country, the United Kingdom caused it.

This is not the 19th century. Imperialist aggression now brings a danger of retaliation from empathetic communities embedded in western societies. This is so obvious as not to need stating. The danger of terrorism from Islamic sources would be much reduced if we just minded our own business on the international scene.

All that is very obvious. It does not, however, seem to have occurred to John Sawers, immediate past Head of MI6, who has no sensible thoughts at all of the causes of terrorism. The right-wing like to think that anyone opposed to the West is, by definition, spontaneously evil. If only they could look in the mirror sometimes and ask why people hate us, that would be a major psychological breakthrough. I have known John Sawers a great many years, and he is somebody who looks in the mirror very often. Sadly, not for that purpose.

At least he has the intellectual honesty to admit an open advocacy of the extreme big brother society. Abandoning the notion of smart intelligence, he has come out with a justification of the mass surveillance society which Snowden revealed. We cannot prevent terrorism without spying on innocent people, he declares.

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In a sense, that is a truism. I have very often argued that it is impossible to prevent all evil and daft to try. You have a far, far higher chance of being murdered by a member of your own family than you have by a terrorist. Over the last 10 years terrorists have been responsible for almost exactly 1% of all murders in the UK. Let me type that again. In the last ten years terrorists have been responsible for almost exactly 1% of all murders in the UK. And about 0.007% of woundings. It remains true that the most likely person to kill you is in your own family. It is worth remembering that the number of people who died in the Charlie Hebdo atrocity was the same number murdered in France on average every week.

Now assuming the aim is to prevent murder rather than make propaganda, let us concentrate for a moment on – don’t worry, you will never in your life be asked to do this again, unless by me – let us concentrate on the 99% of murders which are not by terrorists. To take the John Sawers system, if we had permanent CCTV monitoring of every kitchen in the UK, we could probably prevent quite a few of those murders and a vast amount of non-fatal violence. It would take an enormous police and security service, of course, but we are getting there anyway. Sawers’ point is completely correct in logic – you cannot prevent all murders without massive surveillance of the innocent. It would have been even more correct if you just stopped the sentence at you cannot prevent all murders. Precisely the same is true of the tiny risk to individuals that is murder by terrorism.

The surest way to reduce the terrorist threat in the UK is to stop bombing or invading other countries. That simple fact needs to be screamed from the rooftops. The next thing you can do is solid old-fashioned evidence-based police and intelligence work. The least effective thing you can do is simply trawl the email and online chat of millions of people. That clogs up the intelligence system with a vast mound of undigestible information, and results in the conviction of fantasists and boastful men who, while unpleasant, are guilty of nothing but thought crime. It is exactly the same result as if you tackled murder by arresting everyone who in an email or chat wished harm to their husband or wife. It is wrong to express that, but the percentage who would have really gone on to murder would be vanishingly small.

The great worry is the presumption which is sneaking in to the mainstream media narrative that it is the responsibility of the state to prevent all crime before it happens. It is not, and that is not an achievable goal. The restrictions on liberty it would entail would do more damage to society than crime itself, which mankind has managed to live with since civilisation began. The entire debate around terrorism needs to be recalibrated. The answer is not the ultimate Big Brother surveillance state. The answer is to stop our hideous violence towards communities abroad.