‘Ignorance of world history breeds extremism’, says G-25 Member

April 25, 2015

‘Ignorance of world history breeds extremism’, says G-25 Member

by Koh Jun Lin@www.malaysiakini.com

Tan Sri M SheriffMalaysia needs to counter religious extremism with better history education, said former Treasury Secretary-General Tan Sri Sheriff Mohd Kassim.

He said while many youths have been indoctrinated to believe that divine law and an Islamic caliphate would be better for Malaysia than a secular system, history has proven this to be wrong. However, he said he has heard numerous complaints that history textbooks are overly nationalistic and Islamic, and this exaggerates the focus on small events at the expense of larger changes that had shaped the world.

Sheriff stressed there is nothing wrong in highlighting the contributions that Christians and Jews had made to the world, and that these contributions are not brought forth through superior intellect, but superior institutions that allow inventors and thinkers the freedom to innovate.

“If the young are taught the true history of the world, they would think twice before rejecting parliamentary rule and democracy as an old relic of the European people. They will begin to understand that with democracy and the power of the people, nations can improve themselves better than in the caliphates and theocracies,” he said.

He therefore urged educators to seriously reconsider the contents of the country’s history textbooks.

Stagnant when religious orthodoxy ruled

Sheriff pointed out that when religious orthodoxy dominated Europe some 600 years ago, Christian countries were socially, culturally, and economically stagnant until the Reformation movement and the Renaissance, which relegated religion to a lesser role in state affairs.

In addition, monarchs of the period had to rule with the Parliament’s approval instead of ruling by divine right, he said at a forum ‘Upholding the Principles of the Federal Constitution’ today.

The talk was organised by the group Peace, Conscience and Reason (Pcore) and was held at the Royal Selangor Club this morning. Sheriff is a member of the group of retired senior civil servants, also referred to as G25, who wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for respect for the Federal Constitution, and raised their concern for creeping Islamisation and desecularisation amidst an  increasingly polarised society.

He said democracies are able to withstand the test of time because they have the flexibility to carry out reforms to improve the system, and leaders incapable of ensuring the security and welfare would be replaced.

“This transformation of Europe from religious feudalism to parliamentary rule was what made the Christian world progress much faster than the Muslim world in all areas of human endeavour. With their superiority in the arts and sciences, they ruled the seas and became superpowers conquering half the world and throwing out the Ottoman Empire from their colonies in the Arab lands and in Eastern Europe,” Sheriff said.

Payback Time for Tun Dr. Mahathir

April 25, 2015

Payback Time for Tun Dr. Mahathir

by RK Anand@www.malaysiakini.com

It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions…Niccolo Machiavelli, ‘The Prince

COMMENT: He (Najib Tun Razak) aspired to be different. He wanted to steer the nation along the path of moderation and inclusiveness. He hoped to transform what his predecessor had sought to reform.

This was the blueprint for his leadership and he believed that he could reverse the fortunes of the ruling coalition with the best brains from prestigious institutions of learning orchestrating his words and deeds. But alas this was not possible and now Najib Abdul Razak is sitting on the horns of dilemma.

The man who is demanding for Najib’s head is none other than the patriarch of UMNO Baru whom many regard as a father figure while the zealots consider him as the messiah.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad believes that Najib would cause the ruling coalition, which has reigned since the birth of this nation, to be trounced in the next general election.

He wants to save UMNO Baru from defeat and destruction. He is bitter that both his successor and the successor of his successor have failed him. He is now uncertain of who can live up to his expectations.

Some believe that apart from selective amnesia, the doctor also suffers from a serious case of incurable megalomania and there is no candidate who can match his standards.

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was weak and seduced by the illusions of grandeur whispered into his ear by those close to him, whereas Najib is dogged by a slew of allegations and his family is hanging like a millstone around his neck.

Mahathir often mentions how Abdullah was responsible for BN’s 2008 electoral debacle but ignores the results of the polls prior to that. A year after Mahathir bade farewell to the top post, Abdullah secured the biggest ever mandate for BN as the nation rejoiced over the departure of a man who had governed with an iron fist for more than two decades.

The lion’s share of the blame for BN’s predicament goes to Mahathir and those who came after him are struggling to repair the extensive damage done.His successors are forced to reap the poisonous fruits of negative perception born from the seeds that Mahathir had sowed, both when he was in power and even after stepping down.

Authoritarian regime

It was the authoritarian regime of Mahathir that created a nation with first world infrastructure but third world mindset as exhibited in last Sunday’s protest against a church for placing a cross at a vantage point that was considered disturbing and hurtful to Muslims.

It was during his tenure that the dimmest of bulbs rose to become the brightest of stars in the political constellation by merely pledging their unwavering allegiance to the supreme leader.

The culture of corruption and cronyism as well as the rigor mortis in the civil service peaked in his era, while the police and other enforcement agencies as well as the judiciary and media were castrated and kept on a short leash.

The man who was responsible for the incarceration of more than 100 opposition politicians, dissidents and activists now laments that Malaysia is turning into a police state.It is also argued that Islamism thrived under his leadership and thus polarising the citizens of various races and faiths.

Mahathir himself is no stranger to stoking the flames of racial and religious sentiments. Following his retirement, he made numerous racist remarks and lent his support to Malay right-wing movements that seem hell-bent on dividing the nation.

During the probe on the granting of citizenship to foreigners in Sabah, Mahathir attacked the country’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman.

“One should also look back and remember that Tunku Abdul Rahman was worse than me, he gave one million citizenships to people who are not qualified and not even tested?” he had said in reference to the Chinese and Indian immigrants.

And this remark came from a man whose paternal roots can be traced back to India .Mahathir had also defended PERKASA President Ibrahim Ali when the latter had called for copies of the Malay-language Bible with the word “Allah” to be torched.

Despite the overwhelming outrage, the former premier felt that the statement was not seditious or provocative. He then offered a bizarre justification, saying it was a Muslim practice to burn unusable copies of the Quran.

“We always burn the Quran, when it is old and no longer in use. What is sure is that we cannot throw it around. So, burning the Quran with good intentions is not a problem.”

He had argued that Ibrahim was showing respect for copies of the Bible that he felt should be discarded because it contained the word “Allah”.

Tunku’s take on Mahathir

Perhaps the best description of Mahathir and his 22-year administration can be found in the ‘Tunku Tapes’ where the late founding father states:

“There is no law, no justice, no freedom of speech. Anybody who speaks out goes to prison. So he has got all the members of the opposition in prison… This is what worries me and all the responsible citizens of this country, no matter what race they come from. We are all worried. The country is drained, dry, no more capital. People are saying in this country today, there are three big robbers – Umno robs the bank, MCA robs the co-operative societies and MIC robs the highway…

“…There is no more democracy. You say anything, you are put in (jail) and you are not allowed to reply nor allowed to hold rallies to defend yourself. Only Mahathir can go from place to place to attack us…

“The television every night broadcasts what the government is doing, what this minister is doing, what that minister is doing and so on but never about how the people are suffering, never about what the people want, only what the government is doing. We see so much of this that I don’t turn on the news anymore. There is nothing to listen to, only this self-opinionated government doing work for the people. You cannot talk, you cannot hold seminars and you cannot write…

“…They don’t know any rule of law, they don’t care about the law, they suspend and amend the law to suit their plans. So they rule by the law which they know to keep themselves in power. If you disagree with them or criticise them, you go to prison…”

“… Those who love sport can understand. They compete with a sporting instinct but this man has never liked that, he is a real spoilsport.

“The time will come. We will have to find a way to put this man in his place. We cannot at the moment because he controls the law – what do you do with a man like that? But the time will come…”

Mahathir can look far and wide for a knight in shining armour. Be it north or south or east or west. The hard truth is that nobody can save UMNO Baru because it is paying for the sins of the father. The time has come.

RK ANAND is a member of the Malaysiakini team.

Understanding China

April 24, 2015

Understanding China

by President of China Xi Jinping

[This speech was delivered at College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium ( April 1, 2014). The Chinese President’s observations about China and its history and traditions give us an insight into what China is today. China is a major economic power with a dominant role in Asia. It never claims to be a democracy but it is proud to be is a socialist country with Chinese characteristics.]

CHINA-RUSSIA-UN-DIPLOMACY...For any country in the world, the past always holds the key to the present and the present is always rooted in the past. Only when we know where a country has come from, could we possibly understand why the country is what it is today, and only then could we realize in which direction it is heading.

So let me use this opportunity to describe to you what a country China is. I hope it will be helpful to you as you try to observe, understand and study China. Of course, a thorough account of the country would be too big a topic for today, so I will just focus on the following few features of China.

First, China has a time-honored civilization. Of the world’s ancient civilizations, the Chinese civilization has continued uninterrupted to this day. In fact, it has spanned over 5,000 years. The Chinese characters, invented by our ancestors several millennia ago, are still used today. Over 2,000 years ago, there was an era of great intellectual accomplishments in China, which is referred to as “the period of one hundred masters and schools of thought”. Great thinkers such as Laozi, Confucius and Mozi, to name just a few, explored a wide range of topics from the universe to the Earth, and from man’s relations with nature to relations amongst human beings and to that between the individual and society. The extensive and profound schools of thought they established covered many important ideas, such as the moral injunction of fidelity to one’s parents and brothers and to the monarch and friends, the sense of propriety, justice, integrity and honor, the emphasis on benevolence and kindness towards fellow human beings and the belief that man should be in harmony with nature, follow nature’s course and unremittingly pursue self-renewal. These values and teachings still carry a profound impact on Chinese people’s way of life today, underpinning the unique value system in the Chinese outlook of the world, of society and of life itself. And this unique and time-honored intellectual legacy has instilled a strong sense of national confidence in the Chinese people and nurtured a national spirit with patriotism at the very core.

Second, China has gone through many vicissitudes. For several thousand years before the industrial revolution, China had been leading the world in economic, technological and cultural development. However, feudal rulers of the 18th and 19th centuries closed the door of China in boastful ignorance and China was since left behind in the trend of development. The country was subdued to a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society. As a result of incessant foreign invasions thereafter, China experienced great social turmoil and its people had to lead a life of extreme destitution. Poverty prompted the call for change and people experiencing turmoil aspired for stability. After a hundred years of persistent and unyielding struggle, the Chinese people, sacrificing tens of millions of lives, ultimately took their destiny back into their own hands. Nevertheless, the memory of foreign invasion and bullying has never been erased from the minds of the Chinese people, and that explains why we cherish so dearly the life we lead today. The Chinese people want peace; we do not want war. This is the reason why China follows an independent foreign policy of peace. China is committed to non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs, and China will not allow others to interfere in its own affairs. This is the position we have upheld in the past. It is what we will continue to uphold in the future.

Third, China is a socialist country with Chinese characteristics. In 1911, the revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen overthrew the autocratic monarchy that had ruled China for several thousand years. But once the old system was gone, where China would go became the question. The Chinese people then started exploring long and hard for a path that would suit China’s national conditions. They experimented with constitutional monarchy, imperial restoration, parliamentarism, multi-party system and presidential government, yet nothing really worked. Finally, China took on the path of socialism. Admittedly, in the process of building socialism, we have had successful experience and also made mistakes. We have even suffered serious setbacks. After the “reform and opening-up” was launched under the leadership of Mr. Deng Xiaoping, we have, acting in line with China’s national conditions and the trend of the times, explored and blazed a trail of development and established socialism with Chinese characteristics. Our aim is to build a socialist market economy, democracy, an advanced culture, a harmonious society and a sound eco-system, uphold social equity and justice, promote all-round development of the people, pursue peaceful development, complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects and eventually achieve modernization and ensure prosperity for all. The uniqueness of China’s cultural tradition, history and circumstances determines that China needs to follow a development path that suits its own reality. In fact, we have found such a path and achieved success along this path.

Fourth, China is the world’s biggest developing country. China has made historic progress in development. It is now the second largest economy in the world. It has achieved in several decades what took developed countries several centuries to achieve. This is, without doubt, a proud achievement for a country whose population exceeds 1.3 billion. In the meantime, we are clearly aware that the large size of the Chinese economy, when divided by 1.3 billion, sends China to around the 80th place in terms of per capita GDP. In China, over 74 million people rely on basic living allowances; each year, more than 10 million urban people would join the job market and several hundred million rural people need to be transferred to non-agricultural jobs and settle down in urban areas; more than 85 million people are with disabilities; and more than 200 million people are still living under the poverty line set by the World Bank, and that is roughly the population of France, Germany and the UK combined. In the 40-day-long season of the last Chinese New Year, China’s airlines, railroads and highways transported 3.6 billion passengers, which means 90 million people were on the move each day. Therefore, to make the lives of the 1.3 billion Chinese people more comfortable requires still arduous efforts for years to come. Economic development remains the top priority for China, and we still need to work on that basis to achieve social progress in all areas.

Fifth, China is a country undergoing profound changes. Our ancestors taught us that “as heaven maintains vigor through movement, a gentleman should constantly strive for self-perfection”, and that “if one can make things better for one day, he should make them better every day”. Being faced with fierce international competition is like sailing against the current. One either forges ahead or falls behind. Reform, which was first forced upon us by problems, goes deeper in addressing the problems. We know keenly that reform and opening-up is an ongoing process that will never stop. China’s reform has entered a deep water zone, where problems crying to be resolved are all difficult ones. What we need is the courage to move the reform forward. To use a Chinese saying, we must “get ready to go into the mountain, being fully aware that there may be tigers to encounter”. The principle we have laid down for reform is to act with courage while moving forward with steady steps. As we say in China, he who wants to accomplish a big and difficult undertaking should start with easier things first and make sure that all details are attended to. With the deepening of reform, China will continue to undergo profound changes. I believe that our efforts of deepening reform comprehensively will not only provide strong momentum for China’s modernization drive, but also bring new development opportunities to the world.

To observe and understand China properly, one needs to bear in mind both China’s past and present and draw reference from both China’s accomplishments and the Chinese way of thinking. The 5,000-year-long Chinese civilization, the 170-year struggle by the Chinese people since modern times, the 90-year-plus journey of the Communist Party of China, the 60-year-plus development of the People’s Republic and the 30-year-plus reform and opening-up should all be taken into account. They each make an integral part of China’s history, and none should be taken out of the historical context. One can hardly understand China well without a proper understanding of China’s history, culture, the Chinese people’s way of thinking and the profound changes taking place in China today.

The world’s development is multi-dimensional, and its history is never a linear movement. China cannot copy the political system or development model of other countries, because it would not fit us and it might even lead to catastrophic consequences. The Chinese people, over 2,000 year ago, had come to understand this from a simple fact that the tasty orange, grown in southern China, would turn sour once it is grown in the north. The leaves may look the same, but the fruits taste quite different, because the north means different location and different climate.

A French writer once said that friends are transparent to friends because they exchange life. I hope what I just shared with you could draw for you a more transparent picture of China. I also sincerely hope that the College of Europe will produce a large number of talents who know and understand China well so as to provide a constant source of talent and intellectual support for the growth of China-Europe relations.

China and Europe may seem far apart geographically, but we are in fact in the same time and the same space. I even feel that we are close to each other, as if in the same neighborhood. Both China and Europe are in a crucial stage of development and facing unprecedented opportunities and challenges. As I just said, we hope to work with our European friends to build a bridge of friendship and cooperation across the Eurasian continent. For that, we need to build four bridges for peace, growth, reform and progress of civilization, so that the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership will take on even greater global significance.

We need to build a bridge of peace and stability linking the two strong forces of China and the EU. China and the EU take up one tenth of the total area on Earth and one fourth of the world’s population. Together, we take three permanent seats on the Security Council of the United Nations. We all need peace, multilateralism and dialogue, instead of war, unilateralism and confrontation. We need to enhance communication and coordination on global issues and play a key role in safeguarding world peace and stability. Civilization and culture can spread, so can peace and development. China stands ready to work with the EU to let the sunlight of peace drive away the shadow of war and the bonfire of prosperity warm up the global economy in the cold early spring, and enable the whole mankind to embark on the path of peaceful development and win-win cooperation.

We need to build a bridge of growth and prosperity linking the two big markets of China and the EU. China and the EU are the two most important major economies in the world with our combined economy accounting for one third of the global economy. We must uphold open market, speed up negotiations on the investment agreement, actively explore the possibility of a free trade area, and strive to achieve the ambitious goal of bringing two-way trade to one trillion US dollars by 2020. We should also study how to dovetail China-EU cooperation with the initiative of developing the Silk Road economic belt so as to integrate the markets of Asia and Europe, energize the people, businesses, capital and technologies of Asia and Europe, and make China and the EU the twin engines for global economic growth.

We need to build a bridge of reform and progress linking the reform processes in China and the EU. Both China and the EU are pursuing reforms that are unprecedented in human history, and both are sailing uncharted waters. We may enhance dialogue and cooperation on macro-economy, public policy, regional development, rural development, social welfare and other fields. We need to respect each other’s path of reform and draw upon each other’s reform experience. And we need to promote world development and progress through our reform efforts.

We need to build a bridge of common cultural prosperity linking the two major civilizations of China and Europe. China represents in an important way the Eastern civilization, while Europe is the birthplace of the Western civilization. The Chinese people are fond of tea and the Belgians love beer. To me, the moderate tea drinker and the passionate beer lover represent two ways of understanding life and knowing the world, and I find them equally rewarding. When good friends get together, they may want to drink to their heart’s content to show their friendship. They may also choose to sit down quietly and drink tea while chatting about their life. In China, we value the idea of preserving “harmony without uniformity”, and here in the EU people stress the need to be “united in diversity”. Let us work together for all flowers of human civilizations to blossom together.

In spite of changes in the international landscape, China has always supported European integration and a bigger role in international affairs by a united, stable and prosperous EU. China will soon release its second EU policy paper to reiterate the high importance it places on the EU and on its relations with the EU. Last year, China and the EU jointly formulated the Strategic Agenda 2020 for China-EU Cooperation, setting out a host of ambitious goals for China-EU cooperation in nearly 100 areas. The two sides should work in concert to turn the blueprint into reality at an early date and strive for greater progress in China-EU relations in the coming decade.

The College of Europe has, in recent years, placed increasing importance on China. It has opened courses on Europe-China relations. It is also busy preparing for the launch of a Europe-China research center devoted to studies of Europe-China relations. China has decided to work with the College of Europe to build a “Chinese Library”, the first of its kind in an EU member country, and will provide, for the purpose of academic research, 10,000 books, videos and films on Chinese history, culture and the achievements China has made in various fields.

As we Chinese believe, one needs to not only read 10,000 books, but also travel 10,000 miles to know the world around us. I suggest that you go to China more often to see for yourselves what China is like. What you hear from others might be false, but what you see with your own eyes is real. China intends to work with the EU to bring the number of students exchanged between the two sides to 300,000 each year by 2020.

Young people are always energetic and full of dreams. They are the future of China, Europe and, indeed, of the world. I hope that Chinese and European students will perceive the world with equality, respect and love and treat different civilizations with appreciation, inclusiveness and the spirit of mutual learning. This way, you will promote mutual understanding and knowledge among the people of China, Europe and other parts of the world, and with your youthful energy and hard work, make our planet a better place to live in.

Looking Back at the Fall of Phnom Penh

April 21, 2015

Fall of Phnom Penh: The United States Abandoned Cambodia

By Chhang Song



Phnom Penh in 1975

On April 10, John Gunther Dean, the US Ambassador to Cambodia at the fall of Phnom Penh, gave a startling interview to Denis D. Gray of the Associated Press, in which Dean accused the US of abandoning the country and “handing it over to the butcher.” Dean left on one of the last helicopters out. Chhang Song was President Lon Nol’s last Minister of Information. Here, in a story published by the Khmer Times of Phnom Penh, he describes in grim detail what Dean and the other Americans  left behind. 

In early April, 1975, when I was with Prime Minister Long Boret and President Lon Nol in Bali, we discussed what should be done in the event of the fall of Phnom Penh. We agreed the best plan would be to move the government headquarters to the deep water seaport of Kampong Som (now Sihanoukville). From there, we would plan resistance against the communist Khmer Rouge. 

The direction would be southwest along National Road 4, to Kampong Som. Evacuation would take place by road, jungle and airlift. The port city offered the point of greatest accessibility for supplies and a continuation of the struggle. A sea evacuation from Kampong Som would represent a final line of safety. Airfields at Kampong Som and on one of the nearby islands had been specially built for the purpose. There were even plans to relocate foreign embassies to the port city.

Oddar Meanchey, Cambodia’s northernmost province, was added to the plan as another point of resistance and a rallying point for retreating government forces. Its location close to the Thai border offered advantages. 

With no longer any assurance of outside assistance, journeys to these resistance sites appeared extremely hazardous on the evening of April 16, one day before the end.   The only remaining option was to fly the entire cabinet and the top military commander to Oddar Meanchey province. An ultra-secret plan was prepared.

Secret Plan: Flight to Oddar Meanchey 

At 4 am on April 17, helicopters would pick up cabinet ministers and military commanders in front of Wat Botum, in an empty field south of the Royal Palace. Ministers and military commanders who had been in session all through the night, left military headquarters in the early hours of the morning for their final rendezvous at the pagoda, before leaving Phnom Penh.

At the pagoda, it was quiet. It was a quiet that was foreboding and threatening. For these men, accustomed to years of violent war, the quiet seemed abnormal. Thirty of the republic’s top civil and military leaders, their wives and children, were there. The men wore their khaki uniforms. The prime minister and Gen. Sutsakhan and their families were there.

The chimes at the pagoda struck four, then four and one-half, then five. The day began to break. No helicopters landed. Helicopters and airplanes flying high in the clouds, on support missions to the front line, were the only ones to be seen. The cabinet was left on the ground, to ponder its next step. Somebody had got his signals crossed.

Hope of evacuating the cabinet  to Oddar Meanchey to continue the resistance was fading. “They are not coming,” somebody in the group said in a tired, resigned voice. 

In the last days before the fall, some ministers spent their nights at military headquarters, the Etat-Major Général on Norodom Blvd, which now was used for cabinet meetings. They slept on sofas, desks, and even on the floor. Some kept a small amount of luggage with them, clothes and toiletries wrapped in linen sheets. There were, in effect, refugees.

After the aborted helicopter evacuation in front of Wat Botum, Prime Minister Boret and the cabinet returned to the military headquarters just before 6 am.  Deep anxiety, agony and intrigue were all present on that morning of April 17, 1975. After an evening of steady rocket fire, in the morning there was a death-like silence. Not a rocket, not a shot, nor an artillery shell could be heard.

At 6 am, Ung Bun Huor, president of the National Assembly, walked through the gate to the military headquarters. He looked cheerful enough considering the circumstances. 

“Peace is at hand,” he said mimicking Henry Kissinger. “I believe we have been successful,” he added. He referred to a peace proposal the government offered the communist side just three days earlier.  At Kissinger’s urging, a message was sent to Prince Norodom Sihanouk in Beijing, via the Red Cross, officially inviting him to return to Cambodia and head a government of national reconciliation. The message stated that the republican army would surrender to him and welcome him back as head of state.

In Phnom Penh, at dawn on April 17, it was widely assumed that the lull in fighting must be the consequence of Prince Sihanouk’s acceptance of the offer and his orders to his men to cease fighting. Pacing up and down, Bun Hour related what he had seen that morning. Beginning at 5 am, he had driven around the city’s defense perimeter, feeling out the front lines. Before, they had been closing in dramatically on the capital. Now, all was quiet.

Peninsula Invaded Overnight

While this news was being received with a mixture of feelings, the telephone rang. Admiral Vong Sarendy, chief of the Cambodian Navy, answered the call. It was from his headquarters located on the tip of the Chroy Changvar Peninsula. There were suspicious movements directed toward the naval base, the caller reported. Boats could be seen coming from the opposite shore. Sarendy immediately requested permission to return to his headquarters to meet the enemy threat.

Thirty minutes passed. The lull in fighting was suddenly broken by the deafening noise of chattering machinegun fire in the distance. Once again the phone rang at the military headquarters. This time it was Admiral Sarendy himself. He had reached his own headquarters now and was reporting a ferocious attack launched by enemy forces against the naval base. They had crossed the river during the night and now occupied much of Chroy Changvar Peninsula.

Adm. Sarendy’s voice betrayed little emotion as he talked to his chief. But he was aware that the end was in sight. In the background, the sounds of machine gun fire and the explosion of rockets could be heard.

“They are all around us now,” he said simply. “They talked to me through our radio, directly. They demanded that we surrender and raise the white flag at once.”

Gen. Sutsakhan said: “We are in deep trouble. We are besieged. I am no longer in a position to give you orders. Do whatever you judge best. You are on your own.”

Gen. Sutsakhan spoke in a resigned tone. He wished his Chief of Naval Forces good luck and signed off. Prime Minister Boret listened to the grim report without saying a word. He left and jumped into a Land Rover and drove to the river’s edge.

Phnom PenhPhnom Penh Today

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

Book Review: Hun Sen’s Cambodia

April 14, 2015


Hun Sen’s Cambodia

by John Bethelsen


In the western mind, as Sebastian Strangio so eloquently writes, Cambodia remains “nearly synonymous with the terror and mass murder that engulfed the country in the mid-1970s, when the Khmer Rouge seized power and embarked on a radical experiment in communism.”

Hun Sen's CambodiaThe country has struggled on from that period, modernizing and tearing down its forests, building dams and highways, destroying the gorgeous traditional architecture that once characterized Phnom Penh for the same faceless high-rises that have peopled so many Asian cities at the same time millions of tourists stream to the magnificent temple complex at Angkor Wat.

But in the 35 years since that devastating period, which took the lives of an estimated 2 million people in a senseless bloodletting on the part of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, the country has continued to attempt vainly to cope with its past. The United States especially, and other western powers should struggle with their own disgraceful role in that past, backing the murderous Khmer Rouge in a misguided attempt to contain the Vietnamese and their supposed ties to the then Soviet Union.

 Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 25 of those years, has seen to it that except for one or two superannuated leaders, the rank and file have escaped judgment for their crimes. After negotiations got the trials back on track, “the only trial the United Nations wanted was one Hun Sen could not control.  The only trial Hun Sen wanted was one he could.”

The result is a country that has never come to terms with what happened. “There is no doubt Cambodia is in need of some sort of a reckoning, Strangio writes. “If there is one unifying theme to the country’s relationship with its ghastly past, it is this profound lack of resolution. After overthrowing the Khmer Rouge in 1979, the ruling CPP promoted rituals of remembering, but also of forgetting.”

Most of the survivors have simply picked up the pieces and moved on as best they could, some finding consolation in Buddhism and others simply choosing silence.

Much of the country’s recent history has been dominated by the presence of hundreds, perhaps thousands of foreign NGO workers attempting to rebuild the institutions that were simply demolished as Pol Pot set out in his appalling attempt to revolutionize the country. About a third of the foreign aid goes ‘technical assistance,’ “the hiring of highly paid foreign development consultants to write reports and project assessments,” he writes. “In 2002, donors paid 700 international consultants an estimated $50-70 million, an amount roughly equivalent to the wage bills of 160,000 Cambodian civil servants.” Dependence on this foreign ‘consultariat’ means that large amounts of aid simply flow back out of the country.”

That has meant that the country today is stuck in what Strangio calls a “dependence spiral,” in which the lack of government capacity to run it is matched by continuing aid disbursals.

“What started out as an investment in Cambodia’s future has evolved into an entrenched development complex that has eroded democracy, undermined the livelihoods of the poor, and given powerful elites a free hand to keep plundering the nation’s resources for their own gain.”

Nonetheless, the presence of those myriad international aid workers has managed to keep some rein on Hun Sen’s proclivities towards dictatorship. Cambodian society, Strangio points out, is considerably freer than most Asian nations, with “fewer political prisoners than China, Vietnam or Burma.  It jails fewer bloggers than Thailand or Vietnam and prosecutes fewer journalists than Singapore.”

More than 2,600 NGOs are registered with the government, 80 percent of them local. Civil society groups employ 42,000 people “who are involved in every conceivable area of government from good governance land rights, environmental conservation and gender equality to health care, anti-human trafficking and wildlife rescue. They work tirelessly to monitor and document government abuses of every sort and their reports are transmitted via a vigilant English language press.”

But it is difficult to call Cambodia a democracy. “Twenty years after the UN jump-started civil society in Cambodia, it lives on under Hun Sen as a mirage for the benefit of well-intentioned foreigners and donor governments.  While Cambodia remains freer than many other Asian countries, the outcome is a purposefully selective freedom.  Indeed, few countries have seen such a wide gap between norms and realities.”

But, as he points out, the mirage of democracy is clearly better than no democracy at all although it is a mirage nonetheless. While the NGOs have fought to clean up the unspeakable disaster that Cambodia was left with in 1979, the country more than anything else has swung back to being what it was prior to the enlightened leadership of Norodom Sihanouk, the modernizing, quixotic and beloved king who walked a decades-long tightrope between the contending powers that sought to impose their will on it.

There is undeniable change.  The young have had enough of Hun Sen and, in 2013 elections, almost certainly would have thrown him out if the election had been anything near free and fair.

But today, “If the past 30 years of Cambodian history have shown anything, it is that political changes imposed from the outside are often superficial, and only last as long as foreigners can bring political leverage to bear on the country’s leaders,” he writes. “Outside attention is refocusing. With growing aid and support from China, Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party have an escape hatch from western pressure.  Twenty years ago it might have seemed if Cambodia lay in a democratic slipstream. Now it seems like the dream of a half-forgotten age.”

Cambodia has been the subject of a long list of very good books since William Shawcross published his brilliant “Sideshow” in 2002. This is an articulate and valuable addition to that library, by a longtime resident and former Phnom Penh Post reporter who struggles, in 322 pages, to come to his own conclusions about the cataclysm that overtook a gorgeous country and which continues to play itself out today as the Chinese especially increase their sway.