Bandung 2015: A short walk but with giant steps

April 27, 2015

Bandung 2015: A short walk but with giant steps

by Martin

Bandung 2015-2A short walk but with giant steps–Bandung 2015

(From L) Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan, China’s President Xi Jinping, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, his wife Iriana Widodo, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, his wife Rosmah Mansor, walk down the street with other Asian and African leaders during ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the Asian-African Conference in Bandung on western Java island on April 24, 2015. Bandung was the site of the landmark 1955 Asian African Conference, credited with galvanising momentum towards the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement. – AFP

Bandung 2015 is a chance to build on the cooperation among developing countries launched by Bandung 1955.

LAST Friday, I took a 10-minute walk from an old hotel to ano­­ther old building, a confe­rence hall. About 300 others were on the same walk on the warm and sunny day.

It didn’t seem anything remarkable or newsworthy. But this was no ordinary walk. Sixty years ago, on this same date, a small but powerful group of men and women took the same walk and then launched a movement that snowballed into a united anti-colonial and post–colonial battle.

We had come to commemorate and celebrate the anniversary of the Bandung conference of Asian and African leaders, all of whom had just won Independence or were on the verge of doing so.

The same grand Savoy Homann hotel was where the leaders had stayed, and they had taken the historic short walk on the Asia Africa Road to the Merdeka Building.

Leaders at Bandung 1955Leaders at Bandung, 1955

Bandung April 24, 1955, saw giants like Sukarno of Indonesia, the host, Zhou Enlai of China, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, President Gamal Ab­­del Nasser of Egypt, U Nu of Bur­ma and some leaders of Africa, coming together to discuss the need for newly independent countries to unite and fight for common interests.

They adopted the Bandung principles, that included respect for national sovereignty and self-determination, equality of all nations and abstention from use of force or exerting pressure on countries.

Bandung 1955 was the first ever meeting of the developing countries, who pledged to help other countries still under colonialism to complete their independence struggle, and to cooperate to develop their poor economies. That Bandung spirit led to the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961, and indirectly also led to the Group of 77 in 1964, the two major umbrella organisations of the developing countries.

Last Friday, political leaders from over 40 countries, led by Indonesian President Joko Widodo, and officials from international organisations walked from Savoy Hotel to Merdeka Building and took part in a brief but meaningful commemoration ceremony. Among the leaders present were the Presidents of China, Zimbabwe and Myanmar, and the Prime Ministers of Malaysia, Nepal and Egypt.

We were told the Merdeka Building had not changed, and the chairs were the same as the ones used 60 years ago. Widodo invoked the memory of the leadership and spirit of the giants of old, who had pioneered their nations’ independence and forged unity among the newly independent countries.

In a two-day Asian African summit conference in Jakarta preceding the Bandung ceremony, even more leaders were present to discuss the theme, South-South Cooperation for Peace and Prosperity.

Jokowi. IrPresident Widodo made a strong speech highlighting the continuing power inequalities and injustices in the world, in which developing countries were still struggling to get their rightful fair share in decision-making in world affairs.

Global injustice is obvious, when wealthy nations think they can change the world with their might, when the United Nations is powerless, when force is used without the mandate of the UN and powerful countries ignore the existence of the UN, he said.

Injustice exists when rich countries refuse to recognise the shifts in world economic power and only re­­­­­­­cognise the World Bank, In­ter­national Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank, he added.

“The fate of the global economy cannot be left to these three organisations, we need to build a new world order that is open to new countries. A new and fair global system is needed.”

Widodo also stressed that as the Bandung spirit demanded indepen­dence for countries, we are still indebted to the people of Palestine. “We have to struggle with them to give birth to an independent state of Palestine.”

The plight and struggle of Palesti­nians became a major issue at the Summit. It was obvious that the con­­tinuing occupation of Palestine lands and their unfulfilled fight for an independent state was a big piece of “unfinished business” of the Asian African Bandung conference.

A special declaration in support of Palestine was adopted by the conference. Two other documents adopted were the Bandung Message and the new Asia-Africa Strategic Partnership, which details the actions that are to be taken to promote more cooperation in economic, health, food security, education and other areas.

President Xi Jinping of China pledged to provide places for 100,000 students and officials in Asia and Africa for education and training in his country over five years.

He put forward several principles, including to seek common ground and be open to one another’s views, expand South-South cooperation, and the closing of the North-South gap. He also mentioned the new Chinese initiatives of setting up the Asian Infrastructure Investment bank as well as a new fund to finance the activities of the Economic Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Road.

These initiatives by China were a reminder that with the growing wealth of China and some other emerging economies, there is now a real possibility for the developing countries to help one another in financing their own development.

A new trend in South-South ga­­therings is that criticism of the ways of the West in dominating the South is now combined with announcements of how the developing countries are organising various ways to rely more on one another, including creating new institutions.

In a speech representing the South Centre, I mentioned that we support the call by the Indonesian president to establish a new world order where the developing countries have an equal say and enjoy their fair share of the benefits.

In this new and more equitable world order, the developing countries will be able to contribute to the solutions to the multiple crises of global finance and economy, food security, unfulfilled social development, energy and climate change.

The developed countries will change their unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, and assist the developing countries through financial resources and technology transfer to embark on new sustainable development pathways.

South-South cooperation, based on solidarity and mutual benefits, will play an increasingly important role. There is much to be done politically and concretely in this area.

Bandung 1955 was a landmark event that launched many good developments for the newly independent countries.Bandung 2015 could also prove to be a landmark event that catalyses further breakthroughs in South-South cooperation which, together with our better performance in multilateral relations, will implement the building of the new world order that our first generation of leaders were dreaming of.

As the Jakarta and Bandung events came to a close, Indonesian officials indicated that they will be undertaking follow-up actions after the Summit. It is important that concrete programmes are formulated, so that the good-intentioned declarations do not remain only on paper but spark new shoots of South-South cooperation.

Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre, a research centre of 51 developing countries, based in Geneva. You can e-mail him at The views expressed here are entirely his own.

The ASEAN Non-Alignment Option

April 25, 2015

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The ASEAN Non-Alignment Option

by John

AS the annual ASEAN Summit opens in Kuala Lumpur this weekend, there is a certain sense ofASEAN Summit KL 2015 foreboding about where the world is headed and ASEAN — which is often described as the most successful regional grouping in the developing world — along with it. This comes on the heels of the commemorative Afro-Asian Summit that Indonesia just hosted. It is a throw-back to the era of Sukarno, when the country’s first President fancied his country (and himself) a leading light of the emerging “Third” World.

A newly democratising Indonesia must now look towards the future. And, that future surely means ASEAN retaining its centrality in the wider region, with Indonesia as its natural “first among equals”, propelling ASEAN’s economic dynamism to a higher plane, so it remains the fulcrum through which critical regional issues are coursed.

ASEAN must zealously safeguard its position as a critical region in an increasingly critical part of the world, where the interests of rising and existing global superpowers may soon intersect. Nobody now questions the rise of China, and while whether the United States is on a trajectory towards absolute decline is still debated on, there is also no question that China’s rise has already meant the relative decline of US global influence. It is absolutely crucial that ASEAN plays right this coming contest for regional and, indeed, global influence between China and the US.

Obama and XiThe two global giants seem determined to make everyone else choose, so there will likely be no easy middle path that traditionally is how ASEAN saves its own skin to live another day. It has been successful till now by taking this default position and it seems still a good position going forward, if ASEAN can negotiate the tricky tightrope. The eye-watering sums in the region of US$50 billion (RM181 billion) that China has just announced it will channel to strategic, but violence-wracked Pakistan are a foretaste of China’s increasingly unbeatable economic sway worldwide.

How much more will China be prepared to commit to an equally, if not more strategic, Southeast Asia right in its own backyard? But, if China is increasingly able and willing to buy its way into the hearts of countries the world over, will an increasingly wary and, perhaps, even insecure US — unable to match Chinese economic diplomacy — seek to throw a spanner in the works instead?

China is not gaining itself unalloyed favours with its newly expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea that overlap those of several ASEAN states, including Malaysia’s, and backing up those claims with building activities that create new facts in the disputed sea. In so doing, China may have already succeeded in driving a wedge into the very heart of ASEAN, making its maritime territorial contests a diplomatic minefield that every succeeding ASEAN chairman must delicately negotiate at each summit meeting.

ASEAN will do itself no favours either if it falls one way or the other for the equally delicate dance for influence that the US and China are performing and trying to get ASEAN, or bits of it, to join in lock-step. Ironically, diplomatic non-alignment — the by-product of Afro-Asian solidarity — may have fallen by the wayside with the end of the Cold War, but its spirit may yet prove rather useful now for ASEAN in the opposing offensives that both China and the US deploy to gain friends. Seeking cover under “international” rules and norms may be a safe default position for ASEAN under normal circumstances, but we cannot be under any illusion that global rules are written by powerful nations, usually after victories in wars. The US flouts such rules when it suited the country — even when those rules were largely written at its behest — so rules apply to lesser countries and not necessarily the powerful ones, such as China.

Huge White, the Australian strategic thinker, arguing for the US to “share power” in the region with China in his book, The China Choice, writes that China has willingly accepted US primacy in this region “for as long as Beijing believes that it works for China, and no longer”. He further argues that as China’s rise reaches a tipping point, preserving US regional primacy becomes increasingly untenable. Until and unless such Sino-American strategic “rebalancing” happens, ASEAN’s best policy should remain with its time-tested hedging. Thus, while high-principled clarity out of this latest ASEAN Summit on dealings with the major powers may make its unsurprising appearance, the muddied waters of the South China Sea may not become clearer soon.

The writer is a Kuching-based journalist

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The Trial of Henry Kissinger–by Christopher Hitchens

April 23, 2015

The Trial of Henry Kissinger–by Christopher Hitchens

I have just finished re-reading the late Christopher Hitchens’ book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger and have come to conclusion that it is time for Americans to call for an investigation of Mr. Kissinger’s activities when he was National Security Adviser and US Secretary of State. He is the last of the quartet (Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew and Attorney-General John Mitchell and Kissinger himself) who remains free. Mr. Kissinger must be held to account.  Listen this debate on the subject.–Din Merican

26th ASEAN Summit hosted by Malaysia is a logistical nightmare

April 22, 2015

Published: Wednesday April 22, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday April 22, 2015 MYT 7:20:00 AM

26th ASEAN Summit hosted by Malaysia is a logistical nightmare

by S Paul

ASEAN SUMMIT KE-26I READ with concern the report “Tale of two locations at this ASEAN Summit” (The Star, April 21). [Read ]

Malaysia is playing host to the 26th ASEAN Summit this weekend. All the previous 25 ASEAN AnifahAman2summits were held in one location but Malaysia has chosen to be different. The said meeting will be held both in Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi, which is giving everyone a massive headache.

In these trying times, the Government has time and again pleaded with the rakyat to be frugal and advised us to spend prudently. At the same time, the Government should “walk the talk”. Hence, I cannot understand why the Foreign Affairs Ministry has chosen to incur unnecessary expenditure not only for its officials but also the members of the other ASEAN delegations, media personnel and the ASEAN Secretariat personnel.

 Mind you, some 3,000 officials and secretariat staff will be involved in the summit so one can imagine the cost, as well as the inconvenience, in moving from one location to another. The Foreign Ministry owes the rakyat an explanation.


Lee Kuan Yew’s Legacy: His Impact on Singapore–Malaysia Relations

April 6, 2015

RSISNo. 080/2015 dated 6 April 2015

Lee Kuan Yew’s Legacy: His Impact on Singapore–Malaysia Relations

By David Han Guo Xiong


The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy on Singapore –Malaysia relations will continue to have an impact on the diplomatic ties of these two countries. In particular his insights on the shared geography, history, culture, and the regional and geopolitical contexts for both Singapore and Malaysia will endure for many years to come.


Kuan Yew and Dr. MTHE PASSING of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew marks the end of an era in the relations between Singapore and Malaysia. But his legacy will continue to shape the republic’s foreign policy towards its immediate neighbour, and his views will still be an important lens through which to understand their bilateral ties.

For Mr Lee, the shared realities of geography, history, culture, and the wider regional and geopolitical contexts would continue to underpin Singapore’s relations with Malaysia. Indeed, at the core of his view on Singapore’s policy towards Malaysia is the over-riding concern of the republic’s continued survival as a nation; the preservation of its territorial integrity; and economic prosperity, vis-à-vis its larger northern neighbour.

Fundamentals of Singapore–Malaysia relations

The story of Lee Kuan Yew’s political career is almost synonymous and inextricably tied with the history of Singapore–Malaysia relations. Right from the start, when he became the first Prime Minister of Singapore in 1959, he was already aware that Malaya – as Malaysia was then known – was a crucial hinterland for the economic survival of Singapore. By virtue of geographical proximity and shared colonial history, the economic, social and cultural dynamics of both countries were deeply intertwined. Mr Lee understood that for Singapore to survive economically, Singapore must merge with Malaya, which it did when Malaysia was formed in 1963.

However, the merger was short-lived and ended when Singapore separated from Malaysia on August 9, 1965. The key reason for the split was that Mr Lee’s vision for a “Malaysian Malaysia” which championed multiracialism was incompatible with the race-based policies and communal politics in Malaysia which favoured the bumiputras.

For the past 50 years, though the issue of race and ethnicity has surfaced on a few occasions, it has not severely damaged Singapore–Malaysia ties. Overall, both Singapore and Malaysia have exercised much restraint and sensitivity towards one another on the subject of race and ethnicity.

After separation, Singapore successfully overcame its economic woes and transformed itself into the prosperous city state it is today. Although Malaysia did not remain the hinterland for Singapore due to the separation, Mr Lee’s insight on the close economic interdependence of the two immediate neighbours is still valid. Singapore’s largest trading partner is Malaysia and good economic cooperation is vital to both countries. The ongoing Iskandar development project is a testament to the strong economic links of both countries. Singapore and Malaysia also cooperate widely in other areas such as tourism, education, environmental issues, culture, and so on.

Managing bilateral issues

To be sure there have been contentious disputes over the past five decades. These include the problem of water supply; the withdrawal of contributions of Malaysian workers from the Central Provident Fund (CPF); ownership of Malayan Railway (KTM) land and Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) issues; bridge replacement for the Causeway; and the question of sovereignty over Pedra Branca. Nevertheless, Mr Lee’s pragmatism, which is also shared by Malaysia, has been the key to overcoming the periodic tensions which arose in the past and may likely continue in the future.

The current excellent relations between Singapore and Malaysia under the leadership of Prime Ministers Lee Hsien Loong and Najib Razak is a clear indicator that cordial relations based on rationality and pragmatic interest will prevail over emotional and irrational attachment to narrow ethnic or communal agendas in the  future.

As both Singapore and Malaysia are close neighbours, regional dynamics have been crucial factors for the foreign policies of both nations. For Mr Lee, a peaceful and stable Southeast Asia, characterised by cordial economic and diplomatic cooperation amongst Southeast Asian states without interfering in each other’s internal affairs, was vital for Singapore’s sovereignty and survival. Accordingly Mr Lee contributed significantly to the development of ASEAN so that ASEAN countries can work together towards regional goals in the ASEAN Way.

Singapore, Malaysia in the ASEAN context

Similarly, Malaysia has always recognised the importance of ASEAN for regional stability which would be conducive for advancing the national interests of Malaysia. It is also in the context of ASEAN that both Malaysia and Singapore can seek to improve their bilateral ties. Such similarities in viewpoint should continue to form a common ground for cooperation between Singapore and Malaysia, and for furthering the interests of ASEAN as a whole.

On broader geopolitical issues, Mr Lee saw that while competition between the United States and China is inevitable, conflict is not. He held the view that the US should help China to transit into the international community in the spirit of cooperation.

Indeed, peaceful and good ties between China and the US without major conflicts would benefit Singapore’s economic development and survival. Singapore has strong economic ties with China, while it also maintains close military and economic relations with the US. Singapore’s cooperative and hedging behaviour is motivated by its desire for both China and the US to maintain peaceful ties, and not for Singapore to be forced to choose sides.

Likewise, Malaysia also shares broadly similar strategic concerns with Singapore. Malaysia too has strong economic relations with China, and close military ties with the US. Good China-US ties would serve the interests of Malaysia as well. Given these overlaps, Singapore and Malaysia can work together, within the context of ASEAN, to engage both Beijing and Washington to enhance mutual understanding and peaceful cooperation in the Southeast Asian region.

Continued relevance of Lee’s views on bilateral ties

Lee Kuan Yew’s views of relations between Singapore and Malaysia would continue to be relevant though not the key factor that shapes relations between Singapore and Malaysia.

The leadership of both countries should be mindful that the shared geography, history, culture, and regional and geopolitical contexts would always be crucial components that shape Singapore–Malaysian relations. A pragmatic and realistic outlook should consistently undergird and drive peaceful and constructive relations of the two countries, and not allow issues coloured by historical baggage or narrow domestic interests to hinder the relations of the two close neighbours.

David Han Guo Xiong is a research analyst with the Malaysia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Click HERE to read this commentary online.

Nanyang Technological University
Block S4, Level B4, 50 Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798

Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore’s Foreign Policy: A Productive Iconoclasm

March 25, 2014

Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore’s Foreign Policy: A Productive Iconoclasm

by Alan Chong


Lee Kuan Yew’s mark on Singapore’s foreign policy is that of applying counterintuitive strategies to improve the island state’s international standing. In retrospect, this has ensured Singapore’s long term viability as a sovereign nation-state.


AS SINGAPORE’S first Prime Minister and the point man in negotiating decolonisation from Britain in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Lee Kuan Yew carries an aura of being one of the pioneers of the island state’s foreign policy. His political personality appears to have been directly mapped onto his steerage of foreign policy: cold unflinching appraisal of one’s circumstances, and self-reliance in designing one’s survival strategies, but only up to the point that external parties can be persuaded that it is in their conjoined interests to partner Singapore in pursuing win-win collaborations.

lky-kissingerLee’s autobiography reveals the profile of an energetic, enterprising young man who was confronted with a series of personal challenges in adapting to material scarcity and political brutality, especially during the Japanese Occupation. This was a key formative influence for foreign policy born of dire geopolitical and geoeconomic circumstances.

Not a normal country

Independent Singapore, bereft of a reliable hinterland constructed by the British empire, was literally perceived by its leaders as an island unto itself, surrounded by similarly decolonised but territorially larger nation-states. The initial decade of transiting from colony to independence from 1959 to 1965 was traumatic on a national level. By his own admission, Lee’s initial view that ‘island states were political jokes’ had to be reversed to achieve the impossible. His strategy for a sound foreign policy was to think unconventionally, and in word, to act as an iconoclast – a leader who sets the pace for his followers with a knack for the counterintuitive.

In his own reflections in 2011, following three decades as Prime Minister, then Senior Minister and Minister Mentor, he emphasised the need for Singaporeans to grasp foreign affairs: ‘I’m concerned that Singaporeans assume that Singapore is a normal country, that we can be compared to Denmark or New Zealand or even Liechtenstein or Luxembourg. We are in a turbulent region. If we do not have a government and a people that differentiate themselves from the rest of the neighbourhood in a positive way and can defend ourselves, Singapore will cease to exist. It’s not the view of just my generation but also those who have come into Defence, Foreign Affairs Ministries and those who have studied the position’.

Already in 1966, he was urging students at the then University of Singapore to aspire to bigger dreams in their careers. This would add value to Singapore by enticing the world to take interest in its industry, development, standards of living and sometimes, sheer intellectual insights. He went on to argue that once the great powers and Asian states planted intellectual, scientific and commercial stakes in the island state, Singapore’s fundamental security would be assured indefinitely.

In this sense, Lee shared with his friend and PAP comrade, S. Rajaratnam, an affinity for global imagination – Singapore could literally treat the world as its hinterland if its people and their technical skills were capable of servicing the world’s niche requirements in banking, telecommunications, R&D and indeed diplomacy.

Lee the Philosopher of Foreign Policy

As Lee would have it, international affairs were all about leadership and the making of either good or bad decisions. In a less publicised speech at the Australian Institute of International Affairs, he set out the view that ‘“International Affairs” is as old as the subject of man…[T]he essential quality of man has never altered. You can read the Peloponnesian Wars, you can read the Three Kingdoms of the Chinese classics, and there’s nothing new which a human situation can devise. The motivations of human behaviour have always been there. The manifestations of the motivations whether they are greed, envy, ambition, greatness, generosity, charity, inevitably end in a conflict of power positions. And how that conflict is resolved depends upon the accident of the individuals in charge of a particular tribe or nation at a given time.’

On hindsight, this was more than a fitting epitaph for the first prime minister of the Republic of Singapore. It was a statement of a belief in the possibilities of forging one’s own destiny. We call it today the Singapore Dream of peace and stability, folded into the SG50 milestone of progress and prosperity. Singapore’s foreign policy under Lee’s astute sense was certainly man-made.

Lee’s approach to foreign policy has always been guided by a quixotic mixture of principles of anxiety, nationalistic zeal, and an earnest attempt to dovetail the national interest with some universalist principles circulating in the international order. These compass points have not been clearly prioritised for ostensible reasons of bureaucratic and diplomatic flexibility, and therein lies Lee’s talent for discerning the best path forward for Singaporean foreign policy.

Correct outcomes, not political correctness

Although Lee has never publicly referred to his role in forcing a decision on any particular foreign policy issue, he has never shied away from suggesting that his personal diplomatic heft has enabled him to convey national messages directly to his opposite numbers in foreign governments. The tone of his remarks on relations with China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the United States and Vietnam in his memoirs suggests that his presence as the authoritative decision maker mattered to foreign perceptions of who could effectively steer policies for Singapore.

As Singaporeans and the world mourn the passing of a giant of twentieth century Asian politics, we will do well not to forget that Lee Kuan Yew was never one to entertain political correctness. He was more concerned with producing correct outcomes even amidst the vagaries in international politics. Perhaps the final reflection should be reserved for Lee’s views on something as controversial as the US intervention in Iraq early in the 21st century.

Despite American dismay over their post-invasion quagmire in rebuilding Iraq in 2003-2012, Lee encouraged the US to complete their mission, notwithstanding his government’s initial disapproval of George W. Bush’s invasion plans, since fundamentalist Islamic terrorists in Southeast Asia and elsewhere would take heart from an outright American withdrawal.

The erstwhile US Ambassador to Singapore conceded a grudging respect for Lee’s sagacity in a confidential cable in 2006 under the subheading ‘Welcoming the United States, but not our politics’. This is Lee Kuan Yew the successful iconoclast.

Alan Chong is Associate Professor of International Relations at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. He has just published a study in an academic journal comparing Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohamad as exemplars of authoritative decision makers in foreign policy. This is the third in the series on the Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew.

Click HERE to read this commentary online.

Nanyang Technological University
Block S4, Level B4, 50 Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798
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