DJT’s Muddled Foreign Policy


April 23, 2017

DJT’s Muddled Foreign Policy: Holding the Free World hostage to Trump’s Oversized Ego

by Dr. Munir Majid

http://www.thestar.com.my

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DJT: Exploding from the starting blocks only to realise that as President he is in a long distance race to make America Great Again

PRESIDENT Donald J. Trump exploded from the blocks after his inauguration on January 20, but soon found out he was not in a sprint but in a long-distance race.

 

His rapid fire of orders to fulfill promises he made for his first 100 days were not as easy to shoot as he thought. Most notable, of course, were the executive orders on entry into the United States, immigrants and refugees. The way these orders were shot down was one of the most heartening evidences that the liberal system in America was alive and well – not just the laws, but the people willing to fight for others – and that the Trump avalanche could not crush it.

Trump has promised to come roaring back, but not yet. Meanwhile he has moved to the H-1B visa, signing just this week the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order in Wisconsin (where his stunning victory was part of the Rust Belt sweep that propelled him to the White House).

This order could curb the hiring of foreign technical workers and will get government agencies to buy more domestically produced products – all part of his promise to protect American jobs and wages. So there still is this anti-foreign binge, if not quite fulfilled on the alleged security front at least on the economic front, misplaced though it may be to most rational people.

For friends and foes alike, their main concern with the Trump Presidency is his threat to attack the open global trading system, which he claims has been unfair to the United States. His performance on this within these 100 days is mixed and uncertain.

The big overhang was a possible trade war between the United States and China. Though not quite averted, it does not look as if China is going to be slapped with a tariff of 45% or declared a currency manipulator in Trump’s first 100 days, or perhaps even the next.

This was a lightning campaign promise, over which wiser counsel has prevailed. The former was hyperbole of the highest order, and the latter plainly not true. This does not mean, however, that there is no prospect of trade conflict with China or that the Trump Administration has embraced free trade. It is just that some strategy or policy is forming.

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China’s first lady Peng Liyuan with senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate

Trump’s summit meeting with Xi Jinping was just a first touch. There may even be trade-offs in the offing: Trump’s much vaunted “art of the deal”, normally called linkage politics.

This mixed and uncertain future is evident in a number of instances. The US Trade Representative office, in its report to Congress in March (while still without its head confirmed), left the part on China unfilled and referred the reader to a previous report under the Obama administration in 2016 which was just a factual rendition of China’s track record that year against its World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligations.

The other parts of the March report – the first on trade policy under the Trump administration – were clear but not trenchant on “America First” and on an emphasis on bilateral rather than multilateral trade arrangements. There were ominous references, however, to the United States not being bound by WTO rulings.

At the G-20 finance ministers meeting in Hamburg, US Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted there should be no reference in the joint communique to “avoid all forms of protectionism”, which had been an allusion after all G-20 meetings. It would be interesting to see what line Trump would take at the G-20 summit in July, also to be held in Hamburg.

And there is now this notorious list of 16 countries – Malaysia included – with whom the United States has a chronic trade deficit problem, as if the Sword of Damocles hangs over their heads.

Yet Vice-President Mike Spence was this week in Indonesia to reassure Asia on US commitment to its friends and allies in the region. Damage to trade-dependent economies cannot be good commitment, which even a Trump administration must realise.

Just to mix it up even more, the vice-president announced that Trump would be attending the APEC and ASEAN summits in November, something countries in the region were hopeful for but absolutely not sure about.

To boot, this message was conveyed after Mike Spence visited the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, when he further stated the Trump administration would work with Asean on security and freedom of trade in the South China Sea. While there is uncertainty, there are also surprises, not always unpleasant.

The Mike Spence Asia trip was primarily intended to reassure South Korea and Japan, and to warn North Korea which was making everyone excitable with its nuclear weapon adventurism. There is, however, a correlation between economic capacity and defence capability of its allies, which the Trump Administration perhaps is beginning to realise. Enfeebling with trade sanctions is not the best way to boost their confidence or capability in defence.

The assurance, it would seem, would come from the Trump Administration’s willingness to shoot its way out of the troubles it may face, such as those threatened by North Korea.

This is quite dubious foreign policy strategy, as there are a limited number of bush fires that can be fought, especially as some can become overwhelming conflagrations.

The language Mike Spence has been using, like his boss through Twitter rather than based on any strategic doctrine, has been: “Choice today the same as ages past. Security through strength or an uncertain future of weakness and faltering… (America) will always seek peace but under president Trump, the shield stands guard and the sword stands ready.”

No doubt the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles that hit a Syrian airbase in response to the Assad regime’s callous chemical attack on innocents, is the pointed reference, but surely not the armada that did not appear around North Korea.

Deterrence needs to be credible, absolutely, but easier in some situations, like Syria, and complicated in North Korea where the China factor has to be weighed more carefully than the faraway Russian Syrian interest.

The point is there is a greater complexity in international relations than a one-size-fits-all approach. There is merit in the Trump argument that there has been, in US foreign policy, a perfectionist strategic paralysis. But there is also proof that threat of an all-out action is not sustainable in all situations.

What is observable in the past almost 100 days of the Trump administration is a retreat from quite a number of the US president’s outlandish assertions and policy threats – like blanking out Nato – which have come out more as movement sideways, compensated by direct action which even has some American public intellectuals cooing.

There is still uncertainty. There will be more surprises. But will the Trump new normal be more normal than new?

Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.

Read more at http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/comment/2017/04/22/trumps-100-days-and-still-going-wrong/#Zq3eGeO5UEqd53Bp.99

Nate Thayer recalls Pol Pot


April 19, 2017

Nate Thayer recalls Pol Pot

April  17, 2015

http://www.nate-thayer.com/i-killed-pol-pot-how-the-free-press-brought-pol-pot-to-justice/

Why a Free Press is a vital institution to Free People

By Nate Thayer

April 17, 2015

Today marks a tragic day in the modern history of political mass murder by government.

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Forty-two years ago today six separate armies, under the titular leadership of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, converged on the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh and assumed control of the country. They were welcomed by most Cambodians. They were actively supported and encouraged by many, many leading figures from across the political spectrum.

Very few like to talk about that now. During the 3 years, 8 months, and 20 days after April 17, 1975 that the Khmer Rouge ran Cambodia, 1.8 million Cambodians died through execution, starvation, forced labour, disease and other reasons that were a direct consequence of the appalling failures of central government policies. None of them deserved to die.

There is not a Cambodian I have ever met who did not suffer unspeakably as a result of the central policies of the Khmer Rouge while they were in power. I have wept many times for all those, many of whom are my friends, who did not deserve what happened to them.

In 1998, I was honored with the award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting of the Year by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists for my work in tracking down Pol Pot and reporting on what he did. I had, and in many ways still have, essentially three questions for Pol Pot and his comrades: Did you kill 2 million people?; Are you sorry?; And what the hell were you thinking?

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Here is my acceptance speech at Harvard University for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists “Outstanding Investigative Reporting of the Year” award:

FINDING POL POT: OR HOW I KILLED POL POT

NATE THAYER’S STORY BEHIND THE STORY

Nate Thayer of the Far Eastern Economic Review received the Center for Public Integrity’s first ICIJ Award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting at Harvard University on November 7, 1998. Here are excerpts from his acceptance speech:

Quote: I am very proud to be a journalist, and there is really no greater honor than to be recognized by your colleagues, and I thank you for that, particularly given the nature of the people in this room. I am really humbled by it, by the award. Thank you again.

It is actually ironic because I am actually from this town. I graduated from high school about 200 meters from here at the end of this road, and I left 15 years ago to become a journalist, quite late in life actually–not until I was 28, 29.

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I was a bureaucrat for the state government here in Boston. I was engaged to be married, which was a really goofy idea. I got fired. I was a really bad bureaucrat. And so I told the fiancée, “Forget it”, and I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok.

I had no journalism experience. I had no money. I had the indignity of having my mother co-sign a $15,000 loan so that I could survive, trying to get a job as a journalist. I thought I would go cover the wars of Southeast Asia. So I got to Bangkok, and I had forgotten to take the ex-fiancee’s name off the bank account. I rented a house, and I went to take my money out to pay my rent. She had fled to Mexico with her new boyfriend, with my $15,000 loan.

I was in Bangkok with no job, no money, a $300-a-month bank payment, no experience, no contacts, and really no fucking idea what I was doing. It was not an auspicious beginning to a new career.

So I went and did what I thought would be the way to do it. You go out and do stories and try to flog them around.

After a couple of months, the Soldier of Fortune Southeast Asia correspondent got blown up in Burma, and the publisher came to pick up his body. He needed a replacement, so he hired me at $400 a month. It was my first job as a journalist.

He said to go up to Burma, and there were a lot of wars up there at the time. I had no idea what I was doing, and I went up to Burma, went up to the Karen guerrilla areas. The front lines between the warring factions were about 50 meters away. A lot of you will know what a DK-75 recoilless rifle is–it is very loud and it moves. I thought, ‘well, I will get a picture of them, a rifle going off and hitting the enemy bunker.’ I positioned myself about a meter behind the rifle. Of course, I was blown back about two meters, my camera was blown up, and I still have permanent hearing loss.

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Then I went over to the Cambodian border the next month. I am in the guerrilla zones and the guerrilla troops I was with had just captured a town, and I am coming back in a captured truck and we ran over two anti-tank mines. This killed everybody that was sitting in the front of the truck except me. That was my first few months as a journalist. As we all know, often the stories behind the stories–how you get a story–is as interesting as the story itself.

We at The Far Eastern Economic Review were recognized for exclusively covering the trial of Pol Pot and then, a few months later, the first ever interview of Pol Pot in 20 years since he orchestrated the atrocities he did. Also, a few months later, I was the only person there when Pol Pot died.

And, in fact, I killed Pol Pot. No, no I am not joking. It is a true story. I will tell you exactly what happened.

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The Khmer Rouge did not have contact with anybody. They were probably the last Maoist guerrillas on the planet, living in the jungle. I had wasted most of my youth trying to develop contacts with them, and so they knew me. And so I got this call in early April of 1998, saying ‘we need to see you in the jungles.’ And so I left my home in Bangkok and I went up to northeastern Thailand, crossed over the border, and met the Khmer Rouge leadership, and they said, ‘We’re ready to turn Pol Pot over to the Americans.’ And I said, ‘Well, that is a good fucking story.’
I was the only American they knew, so they wanted to give me Pol Pot! What the fuck am I going to do with Pol Pot? Put him in the back of my pickup truck and take him back to the Far Eastern Economic Review office in Bangkok? I told them, ‘Look, there is this organization called the International Committee of the Red Cross, and I will get you in contact with them.’

So, I am up there in the jungle–we went to print on Wednesday–and I wrote the story saying that the Khmer Rouge were prepared to turn over Pol Pot. The story came out Wednesday night–at exactly 5:00 PM Hong Kong time. The Voice of America picked it up. It ran on VOA (Voice of America) Khmer language service at 8:00 o’clock Cambodia time that night. Pol Pot listened to VOA Khmer language service every night, and two hours and 15 minutes later he was dead. He committed suicide.

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It was not the world community or the major powerful governments who brought Pol Pot to justice.

It was the Free Press that brought Pol Pot to justice. We tried him, we interrogated him, and then we killed him. The Far Eastern Economic Review was a full-service news organization. But it doesn’t actually stop there, because I was supposed to interview Pol Pot the morning after he died. And I got a call at 10:15 that night and–from Chinese hand cranked telephones from the jungle–saying Pol Pot’s dead, and my first reaction was ‘Oh Shit. My interview! I’m supposed to interview him tomorrow morning.’

Now, the Thais had always claimed they did not have contact with the Khmer Rouge, which was not true, but they had to maintain that fiction for political reasons. And the Americans had no contact with the Khmer Rouge for 30 years. So about 5 minutes after I hung up with the Khmer Rouge, I get this call from a certain western intelligence agency and then a few minutes later from the Thai army commander-in-chief saying ‘we understand Pol Pot might be dead.’ And I say ‘Yeah, I understand Pol Pot is dead, too.’ And the American and the Thai’s said ‘You can go in, you can cross the border, but we want you to bring back his body.’

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The Far Eastern Economic Review took its mandate to provide quality journalism without fear or favour without compromise

And so I am driving in with my good friend, the cameraman David McKaige through some very unpleasant area with lots of very unpleasant people with guns. One of our missions was to pick up Pol Pot’s body, but my only real mission was to report what I saw and knew to the readers of the Far Eastern Economic Review.

I forgot to mention that the other thing was that–in a kind of shy way–this particular Western intelligence official said ‘Look, if you can’t get the body, you think you could’–they were looking for forensics because they needed proof that, one, it was Pol Pot, and two, he was dead, and three, how he died, right?–‘Could you cut off one of his fingers or cut off a piece of his hair.’

I said ‘Well, I will try my best’ and suggested that I would at least try to take his teeth. Pol Pot had two front false teeth.

Rumors would surely be rampant if this was really Pol Pot.So, I get in there, and sure enough it was Pol Pot and he was dead. His wife was there.

I reached into Pol Pot’s mouth and removed his false teeth and said, ‘Uh, excuse me, Mrs Pot. Do you think I could have your husband’s teeth?’ She gave me a look I will never forget which said pretty much ‘My husband warned me that you people were very, very bad people.’ I took that for a no, and put Pol Pot’s teeth back into the mouth of his dead corpse.

I regret to this day I didn’t insist on just taking Pol Pot’s teeth. Anyways, so that is part of the story behind the story.

I am very much honored by this award. And I thank you very, very much. Unquote

Cambodia-Vietnam Relations: Role of Cambodian Youth


Cambodia-Vietnam Relations: Role of Cambodian Youth

by Kimkong Heng & Sovinda Po

http://www.newmandala.org

Cambodia youth have crucial roles to play in improving and strengthening Cambodia-Vietnam relations, write Kimkong Heng & Sovinda Po.

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Cambodia has long been the victim of her rising neighbuors, Thailand and Vietnam. In 1863, to ensure that Cambodia could still remain united as a single country and not to be swallowed by her two stronger neighbours, King Norodom decided to invite France to make Cambodia its protectorate. A century later, with the intention to dominate and turn Indochina into a communist bloc under its control, Vietnam invaded Cambodia on grounds of liberating the latter from the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

Because of increasing diplomatic and economic pressure from the international community, however, Vietnam was forced to withdraw its troops from Cambodia in 1989. Chronic anti-Vietnamese sentiment among Cambodians, or so-called ‘Vietnam Syndrome’, has remained ever since.

One of the great challenges in Cambodia-Vietnam bilateral relations is the perception of many Cambodian people, who even long before the 1979 Vietnamese invasion, saw Vietnam as a long-term threat to Cambodia’s land. As noted in Phnom Penh Post, “quite clearly, forms of Cambodian racism towards Vietnam and the Vietnamese minority in Cambodia did not develop in a historical vacuum but rather developed in response to the expansionist tendencies of the pre-colonial imperial state”. Vietnam encroached Prey Nokor, including Kampuchea Krom (formerly a Cambodian territory) and institutionalised it as its own city, now known as Ho Chi Minh City.

Such stories and other similar narratives about Vietnam’s land grabbing ideology were taught in Cambodian schools and passed down from one generation to another. Moreover, the contemporary instances of the ongoing border dispute between Cambodia and Vietnam has also reinforced such perceptions. One Cambodian scholar posits that the border dispute, compounded by anti-Vietnam nationalism, has gained momentum since the national election in 2013 and the trend is not likely to fade away any time soon.

Cambodia’s efforts to improve the Cambodia-Vietnam Relations

The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) under Hun Sen’s leadership has been very active in normalising and cementing Cambodian ties with Vietnam. In June 2015 during the visit of Le Hong Anh, a member of the politburo of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Hun Sen told the Vietnamese counterpart to remain calm so that peace and stability could be maintained along the border. At the same year, Hun Sen also asked the UN for original Cambodian maps to verify the ongoing border demarcation process between Cambodia and Vietnam.

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Although this attempt has not yielded a fruitful result, because both parties have not reached common agreement, the general public in Cambodia tended to view it as a major effort to settle the border dispute. Moreover, several dimensions of bilateral cooperation between the two countries have been initiated and increased. There is much cooperation in terms of trade, investments, military-to-military ties, and government-to-government relations, but one of the most important dimensions in  Cambodian-Vietnamese relations which seems to receive less attention is people-to-people connectivity.

Cambodian youth, the backbone of the Cambodian nation, have vital roles to play to improve and strengthen relations between the two countries.

The Role of Cambodian Youth 

Despite many initiatives such as youth exchange programs both governments have introduced to salvage the troubled relationship between the two countries, youth of both nations still have crucial roles to play.

First, Cambodian youth must learn and understand their own history. Only after they have a profound insight into their own history will they be able to make sound judgment and rational decisions when it comes to issues related to Cambodia-Vietnam relations. As Chheang Vannarith notes, a clear understanding of history can help promote reconciliation between former enemy countries because history offers light for future directions.

Second, Cambodian youth must learn to develop open-minded and positive mindsets. Instead of sticking to a negative anti-Vietnamese worldview, they should learn to ‘jettison’ their Vietnam syndrome by being more open and realistic in their thinking and attitudes. Although Cambodia and Vietnam were two former foes, both nations are now ASEAN members. Thus, establishing more and improved people-to-people connectivity between the two neighbouring countries is vitally important; however, any connectivity at a micro- level will not flourish unless Cambodian youth can start learning to view their Vietnamese counterparts as friends, not traditional enemies.

Third, Cambodian youth must also learn to think and act as global citizens. Living in a global society, in particular within ASEAN, younger Cambodian generations must be able to live harmoniously and peacefully with other nationalities, especially the Vietnamese. Although Vietnam is generally not well-received among Cambodians, young and old, the country is vital to Cambodia’s national security because of its geopolitical proximity to Cambodia. In this respect, the ability to refrain from despising anything with the name ‘Vietnam’ or ‘Vietnamese’ attached to it is absolutely crucial for Cambodian young people if they wish to be seen as global citizens.

Finally, it is a must for Cambodian youth to engage in all forms of knowledge and skills development. One problem Cambodia is facing and will continue to face in the foreseeable future is the lack of a culture of reading. Therefore, as Cambodia aims to become an upper-middle income country by 2030 and a high income country by 2050 (Cambodia’s National Strategic Development Plan 2014-2018), the development of a knowledge-based Cambodian society is of absolute necessity.

In this regard, Cambodian youth who are the future for Cambodia have a pivotal role to play. They can either be future architects of the Cambodian development pathway, including Cambodia’s foreign policy, or prospective captains of the Cambodian ship. Most importantly, they can be Cambodian ambassadors in the making who are responsible for raising the profile of Cambodia in the region and the international stage. They have, in particular, active and fundamental roles to play in Cambodia’s endeavours to enhance its relations with Vietnam. All of these roles require knowledgeable, open-minded, pragmatic and outward-looking Cambodians.

Kimkong Heng is an Assistant Dean for the School of Graduate Studies, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He is also a lead editorial assistant of UC Occasional Paper Series. He earned his MA in TESOL from the University of Canberra (Australia) with High Distinction. His areas of interest include language teaching methodology, teacher education, teacher research capacity building, and now foreign policy. Heng is a doctoral candidate in International Relations at Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia under supervision of Prof. (Dr) Din Merican.

Sovinda Po is a Master student in International Relations at School of Advanced International and Areas Studies, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China. His research interests include Cambodia’s foreign policy, China’s foreign policy, China and Cambodia relations, and China and ASEAN relations. His articles appear on the Diplomat, East Asia Forum, IPP Review, and Australian Institute of International Affairs.    

The Passing of Othman Wok


April 17, 2017

The Passing of Othman Wok: A Patriot whose courage and convictions made a difference to Singapore

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Note: It was my good  fortune to have worked with Mr. (Pak) Othman Wok when we together with Mr. Neville Watson were fellow directors of Sime Sembawang Limited, which was engaged in the fabrication of oil rigs and platforms for oil and gas sector. As a director, Pak Othman brought his vast experience  to bear on deliberations of our Board. He was friendly and helpful to me, offering personal advice about building commercial networks based on trust and integrity. I shall miss him and  offer Al-Fatihah in his memory. To Ibu Wok and family, Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I convey our heartfelt and sincere condolences.

I was also grateful that I had the chance to work with Mr. Eddie Barker, Professor Tan Sri Maurice Baker, Mr. Michael Wong Pakshong and Pak Ridzwan Dzafir on the Board of Sime Darby Singapore Limited (1988-1991). They were outstanding individuals who served Singapore  with distinction.  They all touched my life and made a huge difference to my career with Sime Darby.–Din Merican

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/othman-wok-a-man-whose-courage-and-convictions-made-a-difference/3105692.html

Mr Othman Wok, a former Cabinet minister and one of Singapore’s first generation of leaders, died on Monday (Apr 17) at the age of 92.

A journalist, union leader, politician and Ambassador, Mr Othman’s courage and convictions made a difference to Singapore at a critical time in its history, said the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Born in 1924, Mr Othman was the son of a Malay school principal. Despite objections from his grandfather, his progressive father sent the young Othman to Radin Mas School and Raffles Institution – both English-medium schools.

Mr Othman joined the Utusan Melayu, a Malay-language newspaper as a clerk, but was soon talent-spotted and offered a job as a cub reporter by its editor and managing director Mr Yusof Ishak, the man who was to become Singapore’s first President.

Mr Othman Wok in his youth.

While Mr. Othman was working for Utusan Melayu, he became involved in union activities, and it was as Secretary of the Singapore Printing Employees Union that he first met Mr Lee Kuan Yew – the union’s legal advisor.

Persuaded to enter politics, he joined the People’s Action Party (PAP) a few days after it was formed in 1954. Mr Othman won his first electoral battle in 1963, but was to learn that achieving racial harmony was easier said than done.

Following Singapore’s merger with Malaysia, racial tensions between the Malay and Chinese communities, stoked by fiery speeches by extremist Malay leaders from Kuala Lumpur, came to a head during the 1964 procession to celebrate the Prophet Mohamed’s birthday.

“UMNO had a meeting on July 19 at Pasir Panjang, (a) talk about racialism and all that by Jaafar Albar. He made a very strong communal speech at that gathering which included UMNO members from across the Causeway that they ferried down to Singapore by buses and lorries,” recalled Mr Othman. “And these people, after that meeting on the 19th, didn’t go home … they were used to cause trouble.”

Mr Othman, who led the contingent of Malay MPs and PAP supporters at the procession, recalled how trouble broke out: “When my contingent arrived at Kallang Bridge, there was this old Chinese man on a bicycle, on the left side. Some Malay youths came from the front, caught hold of him, beat him up with sticks and threw his bicycle into the drain. He was severely injured.”

For the rest of Mr Othman’s life, the horrific images would return whenever he shared his experiences.

“People were being beaten up, houses were being burnt, vehicles being burnt – all pictured in my mind at that time. I was involved in it, I saw it with my own eyes,” he said. “It is just like a film being played again and again to me. I was very sad. This is racial riot between the communities, the Chinese and the Malays. And before that they were very friendly.”

In the aftermath of the riots, it was clear that concerted and strenuous efforts were needed to rebuild relationships between the races, as racial polarisation was evident, even at relief centres.

“The Chinese didn’t go to where the Malays went – the police station; they went to other police stations, so became segregated again,” said Mr Othman. “And my ministry had to prepare food for these refugees. Every day we cooked, in our central kitchen, and I went around in our lorries together with my staff, and we found that for example, I went to Paya Lebar Police Station, they were all Malays there, no Chinese. Then I went to another police station, Serangoon at that time, they were all Chinese there, no Malays.

“So we decided after the riots that this should not go on – polarisation between the two communities. We had to let them live together. So at that time, we (were) building flats so we moved them, mixed (them) together. It was not an easy thing to do but eventually they began to learn how to live as good neighbours.”

At the height of the 1964 tensions, Mr Othman himself became the principal target of verbal abuse among some segments of the Malay-Muslim community.

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The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew said of Mr Othman: “I remember your staunch loyalty during those troubled days when you were in Malaysia and the tensions were most severe, immediately before and following the bloody riots in July 1964.

“At that time, the greatest pressures were mounted by UMNO Malay extremists who denounced you and Malay PAP leaders – especially you – as infidels, “kafirs” and traitors, “khianat”, not to Singapore but to the Malay race.

“I heard it, the crowds said it, bunches of them. They were designed to intimidate him and the other Malay leaders in PAP. Because of the courage and the leadership you showed, not one PAP Malay leader wavered and that made a difference to Singapore.”

On the incident, Mr Othman simply said: “I was surprised, because not only I, but my Malay colleagues in the PAP stood together and faced the onslaught together with the Prime Minister, because we were fighting for what we believed in.

“So that accolade to me, I thought, was also for my colleagues because they faced the same danger, they faced the same accusation and criticism from the Malay community at that time.”

Singapore’s Mr. Cool

Mr Othman’s loyalty to Singapore was tested again in 1965, when they were faced with the critical decision to support or oppose separation from Malaysia.

“PM called me. He said: ‘Othman, come with me to the next room.’ And he said to me: ‘Would you sign this separation agreement?’ I said I would. I told him: ‘PM, the only worry I have is the Chinese in Singapore – what I meant was the communists in Singapore.’ ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘It’s my problem, I will handle it. You have nothing to worry.’ That was what he said to me.

“But my feeling when it was announced was, internally, you know, relief. After those two years of bickering, the pressure on me, my colleagues, the Malays in the PAP, on the government, I say it was a relief. No more pressure against us.”

And the next year, when an independent Singapore held its first National Day Parade, Mr Othman made sure he was there – a proud member of the People’s Defence Force.

Mr Othman was to serve for 17 years, 14 of them as Minister for Social Affairs.Promoting racial harmony was a key responsibility, as was the promotion of sports among the masses and encouraging athletes to represent Singapore.

Said SS Dhillon, former Secretary-General of the Singapore Olympic Council: “Mr Othman Wok – I always to refer to him as Mr Cool. He has a very cool personality, he is very approachable, very kind, very loving and he used to go around sportsmen and coax them to participate. Train harder and he encouraged them in that way.”

It was also Mr Othman who got the National Stadium built. “When you think back to those times, those were very economically hard times, and yet he could push this through Parliament and get it passed,” said former Olympian sprinter C Kunalan. “So I think more importantly it was not how he fired us up but how he fired up the Cabinet to get the approval for all the plans that he had.”

“Always be loyal to your country. You’re a Singaporean, you will always be a Singaporean.”–Othman Wok

As Minister overseeing the Malay-Muslim community, Mr Othman’s legacy includes the setting up of the Mosque Building Fund as well as the Islamic Religious Council or MUIS, which sees to the welfare of Muslims in Singapore.

“Through this fund, we managed to build a first mosque at Toa Payoh,” said Mr Othman. “A modern, better, multi-purpose mosque, not like the old ones, only for prayer; (there were) other activities. And people came to support and it was not difficult to get people to contribute. We had the contribution by deducting their salaries, voluntarily if they wanted to, through the CPF. It started with S$0.50. They could write in to say: ‘I don’t want to contribute’, but the majority, all I think the Muslims who worked with the Government then, contributed and they were able to build one mosque after another.”

After retiring from active politics in 1980, Mr Othman served as Singapore’s Ambassador to Indonesia and also on the Singapore Tourism Board and Sentosa Development Corporation.

The born storyteller also published his collections of horror stories as well as his autobiography, Never In My Wildest Dreams.

But for the man who lived through the race riots of the 1960s, unity among Singaporeans was an enduring mission, and Mr Othman continued to serve well into his 80s, giving talks on National Education to civil servants.

“Even with this terrorism problem, some of these young people do not take it seriously because it has not happened in Singapore,” said Mr Othman. “The test will come when a bomb explodes in Singapore, people are killed … What happens, do we tighten our bonding, become a united front of faith or we disintegrate? This is the test that we have to face if the real thing happens. I hope not. Because today when there are disasters in other countries, Singapore came together to help. I am sure were this to happen in Singapore, we will get together, to face it and solve it. I have that confidence.”

He added: “Always be loyal to your country. You’re a Singaporean, you will always be a Singaporean.”

Mr Othman leaves his wife and four daughters.

– Channel News Asia

Cambodia: Time for the United States to cancel its 1970 Dirty Debt


April 16, 2017

Cambodia: Time for the United States to cancel its 1970  Dirty Debt

by Kongkea Chhoeun@www.eastasiaforum,org

The Cambodian government has once again called on the United States to cancel its US$500 million debt. In the 1970s, the Cambodian government borrowed about US$270 million to purchase food supplies. This debt was never repaid and has now swollen to US$500 million. This is equivalent to 15 per cent of Cambodia’s 2016 national budget and about half the total aid the country has received from the United States since the peace settlement of 1991.

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Cambodia and the United States have been negotiating the debt since 1995 but have failed to come close to an agreement. The latest appeal by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen likely stems from the Cambodian People’s Party’s (CPP) anxiety about its popular support ahead of the 2017 local government election. By exploiting public sentiment in support of debt cancellation, the CPP can position itself as the champion of the Cambodian people.

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Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger : The Bombers of Cambodia–Time for the US to atone for their criminality

But the call also has merit. The Cambodian government has consistently argued that this is ‘dirty’ debt. It maintains that the Lon Nol government, which came to power in March 1970 through a US-backed coup, borrowed the funds to buy weapons that were used against the Khmer Rouge in the civil war of the early 1970s. The CPP also argues that Cambodia deserves debt forgiveness because of illegal bombing carried out by the United States from March 1969 until August 1973.

During this period, US warplanes dropped more than 500,000 tons of explosives on Cambodian villages along the Cambodia–Vietnam and Cambodia–Lao borders. Up to 500,000 lives were consequently lost. Moreover, the secret bombing campaigns and the US-supported coup created the conditions for the rise of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime that killed almost 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.

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Former US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt

The United States has consistently refused to completely cancel the debt but has long indicated that it is willing to negotiate a partial cancellation. US Ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt was recently quoted in local press as saying that the United States has, ‘never seriously discussed or considered cancelling the debt’ but is willing to ‘[work] out a deal that works for both sides’.

The deal that the United States has in mind is no doubt similar to the one it struck with Vietnam in 2000. That year, the United States enacted a repayment-for-assistance program after Vietnam signed a bilateral agreement in 1997 and resumed making scheduled payments of its debt. The US Congress created the Vietnam Education Foundation, into which is channelled about 40 per cent of Vietnam’s total debt payments to the United States. The Foundation provides opportunities for Vietnamese nationals to pursue graduate and post-graduate studies in the United States and for US citizens to teach in Vietnam.

It is certainly in US interests to settle the Cambodian debt as soon as possible. Cambodia has drawn closer and closer to China over the last two decades. As a small, poor and insecure state surrounded by two bigger, historical enemies, Cambodia needs China as insurance against Vietnam and Thailand. More importantly, Cambodia’s political regime increasingly depends on China for foreign capital to sustain the economic performance needed to maintain its political legitimacy. Foreign direct investment from China reached US$857 million in 2015 or roughly 61.1 per cent of total FDI. Chinese aid to Cambodia amounted to US$320 million in 2015 or roughly 30 per cent of total aid received.

Cambodia’s closer links with China benefit China’s strategic interests too. Cambodia closed Taiwan’s representative office in Phnom Penh in 1997. In 2010, Cambodia deported 20 Uyghur nationals and Chinese citizens to China. In July 2012, Cambodia prevented ASEAN from issuing a joint statement over the South China Sea issue. Once again in July 2016, Cambodia blocked any reference in an ASEAN statement to a UN-backed court’s ruling against Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea.

Data from the Council for the Development of Cambodia shows that the United States has granted US$1.13 billion to Cambodia since 1992. But no matter how much aid the United States has already generously given to improve the lives of Cambodians since the early 1990s, if the United States wants to regain influence in Cambodia, it needs to forgive the debt.

It is unclear why a compromise similar to the US–Vietnam deal has not been struck between the United States and Cambodia. In any case, Cambodia appears to bear little penalty for not repaying its debt. It can access the foreign capital it needs, mainly from China. It also borrows from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Given this, even partial repayment from Cambodia is unlikely. So the logical step forward is for the United States to write off the debt. But this is unlikely, especially under the Trump administration. The result will be to push Cambodia deeper into China’s orbit.

Kongkea Chhoeun is a PhD candidate at the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.

 

Listen to Dr.Farish Noor–Public Intellectual and Academic @The Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


April 12, 2017

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Listen to Dr.Farish Noor–Public Intellectual and Academic @The Nanyang Technological University, Singapore:

http://www.malaysiakini.com