Strengthening Cambodia’s Foreign Policy via institutional reforms


January 19, 2019

Strengthening Cambodia’s Foreign Policy via institutional reforms

By Dr. Chheang Vannarith, Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Amid shifting global power dynamics and intense pressure from the West, Cambodia’s foreign policy strategy in the coming years will aim to diversify its external relations, with a focus on South and East Asian countries. But in practice Cambodia still struggles to implement an effective foreign policy, stymied by institutional weaknesses.

 By Dr. Chheang Vannarith, Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace

http://www.eastasiaforum.org.

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Amid shifting global power dynamics and intense pressure from the West, Cambodia’s foreign policy strategy in the coming years will aim to diversify its external relations, with a focus on South and East Asian countries. But in practice Cambodia still struggles to implement an effective foreign policy, stymied by institutional weaknesses. Without much-needed reform, Cambodia’s weak international presence may persist.

 

The rumour that China is eyeing a naval base in Cambodia’s Koh Kong province is stirring public debate both inside and outside the country. US Vice President Mike Pence has raised concerns directly with Prime Minister Hun Sen on the issue.

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The Cambodian government has repeatedly stressed that it does not intend to align with any major power, nor will it ever allow any foreign military base on its soil, because it adheres to a foreign policy stance of permanent neutrality and non-alignment. Despite these assurances, international media and observers still tend to portray Cambodia as a client state of China.

Such perceptions, which do not reflect the entirety of Cambodia’s foreign policy dynamics, damage the country’s international image and role. The tough measures taken by the European Union and the United States on Cambodia’s perceived ‘democratic backsliding’ partly reflect their own strategic interest in ensuring that Cambodia does not align itself too closely with China.

Facing unprecedented pressure from the West, Cambodia’s foreign policy options are constrained. There is a shared belief among Cambodia’s ruling elites that the European Union and the United States have double standards and treat Cambodia unfairly. They question why the European Union and the United States target Cambodia while Vietnam and Thailand still enjoy good relations with the West. And they question why Cambodia is attacked for forging close ties with China when other Southeast Asian countries are doing the same.

Such external circumstances force Cambodia to invest heavily in foreign policy. During the 41st Party Congress of the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party in December 2018, foreign policy was highlighted as an area requiring more attention.

Cambodia’s foreign policy outlook is shaped by the unfolding power shifts in the Asia -Pacific region and the implications of major power rivalry. As the world becomes a multi-polar one, Cambodia is adjusting its foreign policy objectives and strategies accordingly. In this new world order, Cambodia’s ruling elites believe that the country’s foreign policy direction cannot be detached from that of the Asian powers.

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Phnom Penh has signed only two strategic partnerships so far: one with China in 2010 and another with Japan in 2013. Cambodia views China and Japan as among its most important strategic partners, and ones that can be relied on to help Cambodia realise its vision of becoming a higher middle-income country by 2030 and high-income country by 2050.

 

Cambodia also gives strategic importance to ASEAN as crucial to furthering regional integration and helping Southeast Asian countries cushion against foreign intervention.

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Diversifying strategic and economic partners has occupied Cambodian foreign policymakers for years. A lack of coordination among the relevant ministries — such as the Ministry of Foreign and International Cooperation (MOFAIC), Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Ministry of National Defence and Council for the Development of Cambodia — remains a significant issue preventing Cambodia from achieving its diversification strategy. These ministries need to work together to implement a more robust foreign policy.

There is strong political will on the part of MOFAIC to develop and implement a more robust foreign economic policy but other government agencies do not seem prepared to come onboard. MOFAIC has taken a leadership role in negotiating the ‘Everything But Arms’ (EBA) initiative with the European Union, for instance, but this should ideally be done by the Ministry of Commerce.

Cambodia’s ruling elites are aware of the risks emanating from over-reliance on a single or few countries for their survival. Hedging and diversification are recognised as important strategies, but implementation remains an issue. It will take a few more years for Cambodia to develop a concrete action plan, build institutional and leadership capacity, and strengthen institutional coordination and synergies between ministries.

The United States and the European Union should demonstrate more flexibility towards Cambodia to avoid the perception of unfair treatment. They should provide Cambodia with more options instead of forcing it to compromise its sovereignty. Multi-layered, multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder engagement should be encouraged. As a small country, Cambodia needs expanded strategic space to manoeuvre.

Chheang Vannarith is Senior Fellow and Member of the Board at Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2018 in review and the year ahead.

 

 

 

Theresa May’s Government Lives on—and So Does the Brexit Chaos


January 18,2019

Theresa May’s Government Lives on—and So Does the Brexit Chaos

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the other members of the government should be confined to a psychiatric hospital. Having narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday, in which a loss would almost certainly have led to a general election, May and her colleagues are now looking to resurrect her Brexit plan, or a slightly refined version of it, which was subjected to an overwhelming defeat in the Commons on Tuesday evening.

With just ten weeks until March 29th, when Britain is supposed to leave the European Union, May is hoping that the prospect of the country crashing out without any withdrawal agreement—an outcome that could cause shortages of essential medicines and industrial parts, as well as bedlam at the Channel ports—will persuade a majority of parliamentarians to back her plan as the least bad option available. Of course, this is precisely the same logic that the Prime Minister was relying on when she delayed a vote on the Brexit plan until Monday, after the New Year, and she ended up suffering what was widely described as the biggest loss ever inflicted on a sitting British Prime Minister. But, after what she has been through in the past couple of years, May can perhaps be forgiven for getting a little addled. The entire country is a little addled. More than a little.

In making the closing argument for the motion of no confidence during Wednesday’s debate, Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, was careful to acknowledge the efforts that May had already made to solve the political equivalent of Goldbach’s conjecture. “I think the country recognizes that effort,” Watson told the packed chamber. “In fact, the country feels genuinely sorry for the Prime Minister. I feel sorry for the Prime Minister. But she cannot confuse pity for political legitimacy, sympathy for sustainable support.” May’s strategy had failed utterly, Watson said, and “the cruellest truth of all is that she doesn’t possess the necessary political skills, empathy, ability, and most crucially the policy, to lead this country any longer.” The question facing the House, Watson said, was whether it is “worth giving this failed Prime Minister another chance to go back pleading to Brussels, another opportunity to humiliate the United Kingdom, another chance to waste a few weeks. The answer must be a resounding no.”

Making the closing argument for the government, Michael Gove, the minister for the environment, sought to divert attention from the humiliating setback that May had suffered, and the fact that more than a hundred Conservative M.P.s had rejected her plan. He turned his invective to Watson’s boss, Jeremy Corbyn, the leftist leader of the Labour Party, whom the Tories still view as their trump card. After noting that Watson hadn’t mentioned Corbyn during his speech, Gove, who is known at Westminster as a clever and slippery fellow, gleefully caricatured many of the Labour leader’s positions, claiming that Corbyn rejects Britain’s role in NATO and wants to get rid of the country’s nuclear deterrent. (A longtime antiwar activist, Corbyn has held these positions in the past, but official Labour policy, which Corbyn now supports, rejects them.) “No way can this country ever allow that man to be our Prime Minister,” Gove said, to loud cheers from the Conservative benches.

Since ten M.P.s from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which holds the balance of power in a narrowly divided Commons, had agreed to support the government, Gove knew that he and the Conservative government were on safe ground. But although the subsequent vote—of three hundred and twenty-five votes to three hundred and six—assured May’s survival, it merely confirmed the Brexit stalemate. A bit later in the evening, the Prime Minister emerged from 10 Downing Street to say that she had invited M.P.s from all parties to meet with her in an effort to find a way forward. Corbyn quickly rejected the offer, saying that the Labour Party wouldn’t join the talks unless May explicitly ruled out a no-deal Brexit—an option favored by some right-wing Conservative M.P.s.

So the show goes on, a very dark comedy. The hardline Conservative Brexiteers, led by the faux aristocrat Jacob Rees-Mogg, are encouraged because they have defeated May’s plan, and they know the default position is that Britain will crash out on March 29th.

Like a First World War general, May is soldiering ahead. Corbyn, relieved for now of the alarming prospect of having to step into May’s shoes, still says that he wants to honor the result of the referendum—in which many working-class, Labour-supporting areas voted Leave—but also to negotiate a better exit deal. (How he’d manage this, he hasn’t said.) But many Labour Party members—a large majority of them, according to recent polls—want to stay in the E.U., and seventy-one Labour M.P.s have now expressed support for the People’s Vote campaign, which is advocating a second referendum. In the coming days, Corbyn will face strong pressure to clarify his position and commit to another referendum.

 

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How and when will it all end? On Thursday, the government announced that Parliament would debate and vote on May’s “Plan B” on Tuesday, January 29th. M.P.s who spoke with the Prime Minister said that she still thinks she can tweak her deal and win, but few people outside of Downing Street believe it. The E.U. has ruled out making any more significant concessions. Both major parties are horribly split. And when the pollsters present the British public with the three options on offer—a no-deal Brexit, a Brexit on May’sterms, or a decision to Remain—there is no clear majority for any of them.

“I cannot recall Britain falling so low,” Philip Stephens, a veteran political commentator for the Financial Times, wrote in Thursday’s paper. “The Suez debacle in 1956? As supplicant at the door of the IMF 20 years later? These were moments of national shame. They were moments also that passed. The impact of Brexit has been cumulative. Each chapter in the story heaps on more humiliation. However it ends, the damage will not be quickly undone.”

And who, ultimately, is to blame? Before the vote on Wednesday, a BBC News crew approached David Cameron, the former Conservative Prime Minister who decided to hold the 2016 Brexit referendum, near his home in West London. He said that he didn’t regret that decision, even though the result went against his wishes. (He was a Remainer.) Then he set off on his morning jog.

A previous version of this post misstated the day that the vote on Theresa May’s Brexit plan took place.

https://www.newyorker.com/news

January 7 in Cambodia: One Date, Two Narratives


January 16, 2019

January 7 in Cambodia: One Date, Two Narratives

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A large parade marks the country’s 40th of Victory Over Genocide Day at National Olympic Stadium, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Jan. 7, 2019.

 

On January 7, 2019, Cambodia celebrated the 40th anniversary of its “Victory Day” over the Khmer Rouge regime, which was overthrown in 1979 by the Vietnamese army, accompanied by a number of Khmer Rouge defectors. January 7, 1979 was a historic day that marked the end of a regime that killed an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians. Despite its historic importance, January 7 has been interpreted differently, creating two dominant political narratives or myths in Cambodia: one supporting this historic day and another seeking to undermine it.

For the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen, January 7 is not only considered as either “Liberation Day” or “Victory Day” but also as a “second birthday” for the Cambodian people. However, for the ruling party’s detractors, particularly Sam Rainsy, the self-exiled leader of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), January 7 is the day that Vietnam invaded and occupied Cambodia until 1989. Both political leaders and their followers have been at odds over their interpretations of this contentious day. They have viewed it alternately as the liberation or occupation of Cambodia by its traditional enemy and neighbor, Vietnam. The “January 7” rhetoric has dominated Cambodian politics since the collapse of the Khmer Rouge.

This binary political narrative no doubt does more harm than good to Cambodian society. It has created division rather than unity, hostility rather than harmony, and tensions rather than cooperation among Cambodians. The January 7 propaganda should in fact be removed from the top of the agenda of all Cambodian political parties, especially the ruling and main opposition party. As a paper by Future Forum, an independent think tank, observes, “Cambodian politics remains locked in a battle of myths that leaves very little room or constructive discussion or legitimate dissent from either side.” This observation reflects the Cambodian political landscape where major parties are “stuck” in their own narratives of “January 7” and where familiar names like Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy have been attacking one another with historical claims and counterclaims.

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Supporting the argument of the paper from the Future Forum, this article suggests that Cambodian political leaders should move beyond the two conflicting January 7 narratives. That is, it is time for Cambodian politicians to find common ground, build consensus, and recognize flaws in their own interpretations of this historic day.

Hun Sen and his ruling party, for example, should not continue to dwell on political rhetoric that has been around for four decades. Instead, the CPP should focus its attention on addressing more relevant and pressing social issues facing contemporary Cambodia such as corruption, land-grabbing, human rights violations, illegal immigration, environmental degradation, crime, and traffic accidents. Moreover, reform policies targeted at key sectors including agriculture, education, health, and justice should be the CPP’s major political propaganda, not the controversial narrative of January 7.

Hun Sen’s CPP has to be realistic and forward-looking rather than boasting about past achievements and being myopic, if the ultimate goal is to gain popular support from Cambodians, the majority of whom were born after the Khmer Rouge regime.

After all, the CPP’s January 7 narrative does not seem to appeal to the younger generation of Cambodians, who have not experienced first-hand the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.

Although Hun Sen’s strategic and tactical use of control, coercion, and co-option for political domination has worked effectively for him and his party, there is no guarantee that the status quo will remain unchanged, given the evidence of the 2013 national election and the 2017 local election. Thus, Hun Sen and his political elites should seek to build their political credentials beyond the repeated use of the “January 7-as-a-second-birthday-for-Cambodians” rhetoric, or they will be seen as “backward-looking” in the eyes of the new generation of Cambodians who make up a large portion of the Cambodian population.

Not unlike their political rival, CNRP politicians and supporters, especially Sam Rainsy himself, should also move beyond the January 7 narrative. Even though Sam Rainsy was reported to believe that the January 7 rhetoric is no longer an effective means to proselytize younger Cambodians, he still continues to incite anger and hate against Hun Sen and the CPP elites on the grounds of their past involvement with the Khmer Rouge. Further, he has always argued that January 7, 1979 marked the invasion and occupation of Cambodia by Vietnam, not the second birthday for Cambodians as promulgated by the CPP.

In fact, the counterclaims regarding January 7 made by Sam Rainsy and his party members against the CPP, easily seen as their exploitation and reignition of the deep-rooted anti-Vietnamese sentiment among Cambodians for political gain, have detrimental impacts on Cambodian society, at least in the long run. They result in furthering division among Cambodians, provoking violence against the Vietnamese minority in Cambodia, and damaging the already strained relations between Cambodia and Vietnam.

It seems that one of the CNRP’s major ards has been its anti-Vietnamese rhetoric. This is understandable, given the widespread anti-Vietnamese sentiment in the Cambodian population; however, Sam Rainsy and the CNRP politicians should no longer seek to undermine Hun Sen and the CPP by inciting hatred among Cambodians toward their Vietnamese counterparts at the expense of Cambodia’s relations with its eastern neighbor and unity in Cambodia.

The CNRP, like the CPP, should place at the top of their political agenda a plan to address common social issues in Cambodia. Political propaganda of both major parties, although the CNRP has been dissolved, should be directed toward fulfilling the needs of the majority of Cambodians. It is time for Cambodia to move forward, not dwelling too much on past events and exploiting the anti-Vietnamese sentiment, and for Cambodians to work in unity to realize the Cambodian dream – achieving greatness as their ancestors did in the Angkorian era.

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To move beyond the January 7 narratives and find common ground between parties and among Cambodians will require politicians, in particular, Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy to realize that their own version of January 7 is similarly inadequate. January 7 should be remembered as both the historic day that Vietnam liberated Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge and the day that Vietnam placed Cambodia under a decade-long occupation. It is not possible to have one without the other.

January 7 is a historically important day that has to be remembered and commemorated as part of Cambodia’s modern history. However, this special day should no longer be understood in its current meanings, motivated by conflicting political rhetoric, which tends to divide the nation. Instead, it has to be regarded as the day when Cambodia and its people could have another chance to live, unite, and work together to achieve the Cambodian dream.

Cambodians should not forget the past as they design the future, but they should not let the past negatively affect their future either.

Kimkong Heng is a recipient of the Australia Awards Scholarship. He is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the School of Education at the University of Queensland.

What’s behind Anwar’s visit to India?


January 15, 2019

What’s behind Anwar’s visit to India?

It is common knowledge that South and Southeast Asia have extensive historical links. For thousands of years, there have been economic, cultural and religious interconnections.

Diplomacy has been a key activity which spurred widespread trade, investment and people-to-people ties between India and Malaysia. Through this, a steady Indian diaspora established itself in Malaysia.

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Statistics from 2017 show that 8% (or 2.4 million) of Malaysia’s population comprise Indians. This makes it the Asian country with the third largest population of Indians or non-resident Indians. Only Nepal (four million) and Saudi Arabia (three million) are ahead. For these reasons alone, it is not surprising that Malaysia’s political elite take a keen interest in India.

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Anwar Ibrahim arrived in India for a five-day visit on January 10. He delivered a speech at the 4th multilateral Raisina Dialogue, organised by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Observer Research Foundation. The Raisina Dialogue is India’s flagship annual geopolitical and geostrategic conference. This year’s theme was “A World Reorder: New Geometrics; Fluid Partnerships; Uncertain Outcomes”.

The Indian Express quoted Anwar as saying he is “a very old India watcher and frequent visitor”. Maybe so, because Anwar knows Malaysia cannot afford to ignore India. Several domestic currents in both India and Malaysia have direct implications for regional politics and bilateral relations. And currently, whatever happens in or to India has direct repercussions for Malaysia. Communalism, religious extremism and democratic legitimation are three trends which both nations need to guard against.

Communalism and religious extremism

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Anwar’s speech in New Delhi was replete with attacks on nationalism, jingoism and xenophobia. Some of us may not yet be familiar with the term “jingoism”, but Anwar has been using it for decades. For instance, in 1995, at the International Conference on Jose Rizal, he spoke of Rizal, Rabindranath Tagore and the Asian Renaissance. His message then was that Asian countries must have the political will to battle corruption and the abuse of power. However, he used the concept of jingoism to warn against a total rejection of alien ideals in the process of cultural rebirth. Rather than chauvinistic nationalism (which is what jingoism is), Anwar was all for synthesising the ideals of justice and compassion that exist in all civilisations of the north, south, east and west. He recognised these as universal values.

In 1994, at the International Conference on China and Southeast Asia in the 21st Century in Beijing, Anwar again mentioned jingoism. He spoke of the travels of Vasco da Gama and Zheng He (Cheng Ho), and international trade. His main point was that Asian societies should not succumb to the globalisation of Western interests, but instead counter economic protectionism while promoting a global trading platform that serves Asia’s interests. But Anwar cautioned Asians not to be the chest-banging King Kong at the expense of recognising a global system with multiple centres.

It is clear that we should not reject everything Western. Western civilisation has a good track record of rediscovering and reinvigorating its classical roots during its encounter with Islam. Much of Western science, art, mathematics, literature, music, technology and astronomy got a re-boot during the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods.

Anwar’s latest jingoistic comments in Delhi seemed to focus on the threats to international peace and security. He referred to nationalism in Europe, communalism in India, and wars and conflict in the Middle East. We can all agree that Donald Trump’s “nativist” economics and Europe’s unhealthy nationalism is the very communal politics of the far right that is so familiar to India and Malaysia.

India and Malaysia have been preoccupied with identity politics for decades. Call it what you want, but communalism, racism and ethnocentrism are “three sides of the same coin”. In India’s case, it has lingered for over a century. For Malaysia, it has been 61 years and counting. Both nations have had to come to terms with this, more so in the 21st century. The nation state, whether we like it or not, is subject to global geopolitical trends. Trump’s wall idea and Europe’s anti-immigration laws are couched in economic truisms, but generally, they reek of racist and communal effluvium.

After four years in power, the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (part of the National Democratic Alliance, NDA) has declined 7%. After six months in power, the popularity of Dr Mahathir Mohamad and PPBM (part of the Pakatan Harapan alliance) has declined 19%. The main reason for the drop in BJP’s popularity was the Modi government’s failure to fight communalism. A key politician in the ruling PH coalition attributed its popularity decline to another “communal” excuse – that the goodwill of the Malays was fast eroding due to unfulfilled pre-election promises. One only has to look at the discourse around the Felda settlers, education policies, the ICERD fiasco, resistance to the Unified Examination Certificate, the Seafield Temple debacle and the “cross-on-building” mishap.

So, was Anwar deft in resurrecting the issue of “jingoism” in Delhi last week? Probably. The extreme patriotism and chauvinism in current Malaysian politics is akin to excessive bias in judging one’s own race and religion as superior to others. Fully aware that these sentiments are very much alive in our own political climate, Anwar may have made that speech in a convoluted attempt at bridging closer bilateral relations. Or it could be a case of “misery loves company”!

Anwar’s other agenda in Delhi was to meet with Rahul Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress party. Known as India’s “crown prince”, Rahul has been known to say that Hindu extremist groups could pose a greater threat to the US than Muslim militants. Comments like these have caused a storm in India. Also, in 2011, Zakir Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation, the IRF, donated Rs 50 lakh (approximately RM20 million) to the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust. At that time, Manmohan Singh, a congressman, was Prime Minister. India was governed by the United Progressive Alliance coalition. The donation was made after Naik was barred from entering Theresa May’s UK in 2010 due to his “inflammatory speeches”. In a desperate bid to escape inquiry over terror-related and money laundering charges, the donation was the next logical step. The congress has since claimed it returned the IRF donation. Nevertheless, what’s done is done.

Why, then, did Anwar feel the need to meet with Rahul last week? Naik is a permanent resident of Malaysia, much to the chagrin of many Malaysians. In December last year, Naik and his wife were “touring” Perlis, where the televangelist spoke at mosques, Islamic centres and universities in the state. The tour was organised by Muslim activist Zamri Vinoth, who is a staunch supporter of state mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin. Naik’s Facebook page has approximately 17 million likes, which gives us an idea of his massive popularity among Muslims in Malaysia. At this juncture, we can only speculate on the details of the Anwar-Rahul meeting. Until more information is revealed (if at all), my hunch is that Malaysia is trying to find a way out of the diplomatic mess surrounding Naik’s permanent resident status, Malaysia’s refusal to extradite him, and the need to maintain a working bilateral relationship with India.

Democratic legitimation

Modi and Mahathir pride themselves on leading governments that are committed to the rule of law. Modi has been viscerally attacked by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The latter claimed that under Modi, corruption had peaked and the “credibility of institutions systematically denigrated”. Manmohan said, in no uncertain terms, that “democracy and the rule of law are under attack”. He accused the NDA of failing to home in on the rights of women and farmers, on youth unemployment and the rising prices of petrol, diesel and cooking gas.

Mahathir and the PH government are being attacked, too. An impatient public has become restless amid unfulfilled pre-election pledges. From the abolition of tolls to the eradication of money politics and cronyism, PH’s failures have been attributed to Mahathir’s policies which were set in motion decades ago. This is grossly unfair and analytically warped. Even if undemocratic policies were in place during Mahathir’s first term as Prime Minister, the scourge of corruption and cronyism continued and peaked with the last of the BN mavericks.

Malaysians should stop finger-pointing and finding petty excuses. Anwar gallantly decided to address the Raisina Dialogue. In Delhi, he reiterated that both he and Mahathir are committed to reforms and to “cleaning up the system”. They both know, though, that the system is still disease-laden. The latest political appointees at government-linked corporations such as PTPTN, MARA Corporation and the National Kenaf and Tobacco Board are three cases in point.

India and Malaysia seem to look up to each other as influential Asian powers that are democratically matured. But outside the pristine settings of bilateralism and diplomacy, both nations are nursing mutually inflicted wounds. The good old days of Jawaharlal Nehru and Tunku Abdul Rahman are over. It is vital to deal with jingoism at home as courageously and confidently as we do on the international stage.

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

Japan First


January 13, 2019

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Japan First

Japanese nationalists, starting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, need no encouragement to follow US President Donald Trump’s example. But if they do, they will echo the worst aspects of contemporary America – and throw away the best of what the US once had to offer.

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TOKYO – Even whales have now been affected by US President Donald Trump. This year, Japan will withdraw from the International Whaling Commission and resume commercial whaling. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative government claims that eating whale meat is an important part of Japanese culture, even though the number of Japanese who actually do so is tiny compared to a half-century ago. And leaving the IWC will mean that Japanese whalers can fish only in Japan’s coastal waters, where the animals are relatively few.

The truth is that the decision was a gift to a few politicians from areas where whaling is still practiced, and to nationalists who resent being told by foreigners in international organizations what Japan can and cannot do. It is an entirely political act, inspired, according to the liberal Asahi Shimbun, by Trump’s insistence on “America First.” This is a matter of Japan First. Even though Trump is unlikely to mind, Japan’s insistence on whaling is bad for the country’s image.Abe, himself a staunch Japanese nationalist, has a complicated relationship with the United States.Image result for nobusuke kishi and Abe


Abe, himself a staunch Japanese nationalist, has a complicated relationship with the United States.Like his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, also a nationalist who was arrested as a war criminal in 1945, but who then became a loyal anti-communist ally of the Americans, Abe does everything to stay close to the US, while also wanting Japan to be first. One of his dreams is to finish his grandfather’s attempt to revise the postwar pacifist constitution, written by the Americans, and come up with a more patriotic, and possibly more authoritarian document that will legalize the use of military force.

Abe, himself a staunch Japanese nationalist, has a complicated relationship with the United States. Like his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, also a nationalist who was arrested as a war criminal in 1945, but who then became a loyal anti-communist ally of the Americans, Abe does everything to stay close to the US, while also wanting Japan to be first. One of his dreams is to finish his grandfather’s attempt to revise the postwar pacifist constitution, written by the Americans, and come up with a more patriotic, and possibly more authoritarian document that will legalize the use of military force.

Japan has to be a stalwart American ally. Germany and Italy, the other defeated powers in World War II, have NATO and the European Union. Japan has only the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with the US to protect itself against hostile powers, and the rise of China terrifies the Japanese. That is why Abe was the first foreign politician, after British Prime Minister Theresa May, to rush to congratulate Trump in person in 2017.

In some important ways, Japan has benefited greatly from being under America’s wing, and from the postwar constitution, which is not just pacifist, but more democratic than anything the country had before, enshrining individual rights, full suffrage, and freedom of expression. Constitutionally unable to take part in military adventures, except as a highly paid goods producer during America’s various Asian conflicts, Japan, rather like the countries in Western Europe, could concentrate on rebuilding its industrial power.

But the democracy that Americans are still proud of installing after 1945 has also been hindered by US interference. Like Italy, Japan was on the front lines in the Cold War. And, like Italy’s Christian Democrats, Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party benefited for many years from huge amounts of US cash to make sure no left-wing parties came to power. As a result, Japan became a de facto one-party state.

This led to a kind of schizophrenia among Japan’s conservative nationalists like Abe. They appreciated American largesse, as well as its military backing against communist foes. But they deeply resented having to live with a foreign-imposed liberal constitution. Like the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal in 1946, in which foreign judges tried Japan’s wartime leaders, the constitution and all it stands for is seen as a national humiliation.

The Japanese right would like to overturn much of the postwar order, established by the US with the support of Japanese liberals. Abe’s revisionist project does not only concern the pacifist Article 9, which bars Japan from using armed force, but also matters like education, emergency laws, and the role of the emperor.

To change Article 9, the current coalition government would need support from two-thirds of the Diet, as well as a popular referendum. After his landslide election victory in 2017, Abe has the required parliamentary majority. Whether he would win a referendum is still doubtful, although he has vowed to test this soon.

On education, he has already won some important victories. “Patriotism” and “moral education” are now official goals of the national curriculum. This means, among other things, that obedience to the state, rather than individual rights and free thought, is instilled at an early age. It also means that the history of Japan’s wartime role, if taught in classrooms at all, will be related more as a heroic enterprise, in which the young should take pride.

In the past, the US, despite all its own flaws and criminal conflicts, still stood as a force for good. An ideal of American openness and democracy was still worthy of admiration. At the same time, again as in the case of Western Europe, dependence on US military protection has had a less positive affect. It made Japan into a kind of vassal state; whatever the Americans wanted, Japan ends up having to do. This can have an infantilizing effect on politics.

In the age of Trump, America is no longer so dependable. This might at least help to concentrate Japanese minds on how to get on in the world without the Americans. But the US has also ceased to be a model of freedom and openness. On the contrary, it has become an example of narrow nationalism, xenophobia, and isolationism. Japanese nationalists need no encouragement to follow this model. If they do so, Trump certainly will not stand in their way. They will echo the worst aspects of contemporary America – and throw away the best of what the US once had to offer.

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