Promises and Pitfalls of the Belt and Road Initiative


July 20, 2017

Asia Pacific Bulletin
Number 388 | July 19, 2017
ANALYSIS

Promises and Pitfalls of the Belt and Road Initiative

By Bipul Chatterjee and Saurabh Kumar

China’s signature economic and foreign policy project – the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI), also known as ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) – is the most ambitious global connectivity project ever launched by China or any country. The project aims to connect 65 Asian, African, and European countries comprising two-thirds of world’s population, through various sub-projects. The estimated investment cost for realizing this project is $4-8 trillion.

The goal of BRI is to connect China with Asia, Europe, and Africa through a network of railways, highways, oil and gas pipelines, fiber-optic lines, electrical grids and power plants, seaports and airports, logistics hubs, and free trade zones.

The promise of BRI

First, a promising aspect of this initiative is the potential reduction in transportation costs which would reduce the price of trade more broadly. At a time when countries are looking for specific measures to reduce trade costs and shying away from free trade agreements, a reduction in transportation costs as a substitute for trade deals can effectively widen the volume of international trade. A Bruegel study pointed out that a 10% reduction in railway and maritime costs can increase trade as much as 2%, while the effects of a reduction in tariffs would take a much longer time to be felt. An Asian Development Bank and Purdue University study estimated that improvements in transport networks as well as trade facilitation measures could increase the gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.3 % for India and 0.7 % for the South Asian region as a whole.

Second, BRI presents huge business opportunities for companies engaged in infrastructure development. A total of over $900 billion is expected to be invested in roads, ports, pipelines and other infrastructure as part of the project. This could immensely benefit countries suffering from inadequate infrastructure for their economic development.

Third, from the point of view of trade facilitation there are a number of factors that will create dynamic effects. China may accrue significant long-term trade benefits if it reduces tariffs through free trade zones, particularly on products from BRI countries. Beijing is also expected to reduce some of the non-tariff barriers hampering the prospects of foreign firms doing business in China including in those emerging areas such as internet banking and electronic commerce.

Potential Implications

Apart from the sheer number of participating countries, BRI appears to be both economic and strategic in nature. This became visible during the recently held Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing. The initiative came under scrutiny after European Union officials voiced apprehensions over transparency, labor, and environmental standards. This resulted in the EU’s refusal to endorse a trade statement tied to BRI. India’s non-participation due to sovereignty issues relating to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through part of Jammu and Kashmir also served as a serious dampener.

Even though BRI seeks to create trade infrastructure around India, it also encircles the country by creating a ring through land and sea routes passing through several countries with which India has sensitive relationships. However, India – with around 90% of its international trade through maritime routes and only 10% by rail and road – is comparatively less likely to see much benefit through enhanced connectivity under the initiative. Most of India’s maritime trade occurs from its western ports located in Arabian Sea and via land routes within the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal network.

In presenting BRI, China appears to be unaccommodating with respect to political and diplomatic issues as well as economic concerns. Trade facilitation alone cannot drive trade flow upward. There needs to be smart and secure management of trade routes so that end-to-end supply and value chain networks can be strengthened. In recent times, piracy has emerged as a major potential threat for railways and highways as well as maritime routes. BRI does not address these challenges in a meaningful way.

Although the project was launched around four years ago, it suffers from a lack of key information, operational strategy, terms of reference, and detailed work plan for the role of partner countries. This has eroded trust.

The Next Steps

While it is true that China’s economic and strategic interests are intertwined, it would have been beneficial for the BRI to be planned more holistically in order to give due consideration to the economic and political interests of other participating countries. For a large project like BRI, an international governance structure involving all the participating countries to institutionalize objectives and safeguard the interests of participants has to be established now with a particular emphasis on financial mechanism. The decision-making structure for the execution of BRI should be based on consensus.

“While it is true that China’s economic and strategic interests are intertwined, it would have been beneficial for the BRI to be planned more holistically in order to give due consideration to the economic and political interests of other participating countries.”

Several sub-projects of various Chinese companies to receive political and financial support from the Chinese government are being touted as part of this initiative but have nothing to do with it and should be de-coupled so that ambiguity can be cleared and only official BRI projects can be materialized. Participating countries should also get equal treatment in the financing of BRI, so that they can also reap the long-term benefits of the project, a step in this direction could be the revamping of the New Development Bank. A clear operational strategy for the entire project with an economic and political matrix should now be made to increase trust and transparency. This should clearly indicate relative as well as absolute potential losses and gains of participating countries. Active participation of global institutions such as the United Nations, the International Court of Arbitration, and International Court of Justice should be included for reliability as well as to resolve a potential dispute.

BRI should be executed in a selective manner with focus on economically viable sub-projects developing trade and economic corridors, for example a Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor in the case of South Asia.

About the Authors

Bipul Chatterjee and Saurabh Kumar are Executive Director and Policy Analyst, respectively, at CUTS International. They can be contacted at bc@cuts.org and sbk@cuts.org.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.

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Making Ignorance Great Again


June 6, 2017

Donald Trump just took us out of the Paris climate accord for no good reason. I don’t mean that his decision was wrong. I mean, literally, that he didn’t offer any substantive justification for that decision. Oh, he threw around a few numbers about supposed job losses, but nobody believes that he knows or cares where those numbers came from. It was just what he felt like doing.

And here’s the thing: What just happened on climate isn’t an unusual case — and Trump isn’t especially unusual for a modern Republican. For today’s G.O.P. doesn’t do substance; it doesn’t assemble evidence, or do analysis to formulate or even to justify its policy positions. Facts and hard thinking aren’t wanted, and anyone who tries to bring such things into the discussion is the enemy.

Consider another huge policy area, health care. How was Trumpcare put together? Did the administration and its allies consult with experts, study previous experience with health reform, and try to devise a plan that made sense? Of course not. In fact, House leaders made a point of ramming a bill through before the Congressional Budget Office, or for that matter anyone else, could assess its likely impact.

When the budget office did weigh in, its conclusions were what you might expect: If you make huge cuts in Medicaid and reduce subsidies for private insurance — all so you can cut taxes on the wealthy — a lot of people are going to lose coverage. Is 23 million a good estimate of those losses? Yes — it might be 18 million, or it might be 28 million, but surely it would be in that range.

So how did the administration respond? By trying to shoot the messenger. Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, attacked the C.B.O., declaring that it did a “miserable” job of forecasting the effects of Obamacare. (It got some things wrong, but overall did pretty well.) He also accused the office — headed by a former Bush administration economist chosen by Republicans — of political bias, and smeared its top health expert in particular.

So, Mr. Mulvaney, where’s your assessment of Trumpcare? You had plenty of resources to do your own study before trying to pass a bill. What did you find? (Actually, the White House did do an internal analysis of an earlier version of Trumpcare, which was leaked to Politico. Its predictions were even more dire than those from the C.B.O.)

But Mulvaney and his party don’t study issues, they just decide, and attack the motives of anyone who questions their decisions.

Which brings us back to climate policy. On climate change, influential conservatives have for years clung to what is basically a crazy conspiracy theory — that the overwhelming scientific consensus that the earth is warming due to greenhouse-gas emissions is a hoax, somehow coordinated by thousands of researchers around the world. And at this point this is effectively the mainstream Republican position.

Do G.O.P. leaders really think this conspiracy theory is true? The answer, surely, is that they don’t care. Truth, as something that exists apart from and in possible opposition to political convenience, is no longer part of their philosophical universe.

The same goes for claims that trying to rein in emissions will do terrible economic damage and destroy millions of jobs. Such claims are, if you think about it, completely inconsistent with everything Republicans supposedly believe about economics.

After all, they insist that the private sector is infinitely flexible and innovative; the magic of the marketplace can solve all problems. But then they claim that these magical markets would roll over and die if we put a modest price on carbon emissions, which is basically what climate policy would do. This doesn’t make any sense — but it’s not supposed to. Republicans want to keep burning coal, and they’ll say whatever helps produce that outcome.

And as health care and climate go, so goes everything else. Can you think of any major policy area where the G.O.P. hasn’t gone post-truth? Take budgeting, where leaders like Paul Ryan have always justified tax cuts for the rich by claiming the ability to conjure up trillions in extra revenue and savings in some unspecified way. The Trump-Mulvaney budget, which not only pulls $2 trillion out of thin air but counts it twice, takes the game to a new level, but it’s not that much of a departure.

But does any of it matter? The president, backed by his party, is talking nonsense, destroying American credibility day by day. But hey, stocks are up, so what’s the problem?

Well, bear in mind that so far Trump hasn’t faced a single crisis not of his own making. As George Orwell noted many years ago in his essay “In Front of Your Nose,” people can indeed talk nonsense for a very long time, without paying an obvious price. But “sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.” Now there’s a happy thought.

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A version of this op-ed appears in print on June 5, 2017, on Page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Making Ignorance Great Again.

Military Loyalty is to King and Country, not UMNO


May 25, 2017

It is elementary, military loyalty is  to King and Country, not UMNO

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

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If you feel that strongly about something, you have an obligation to try and change my mind.”

– Aaron Sorkin

While some armed forces personnel – active and retired – have nothing but vitriol for my writings for Malaysiakini, I am glad to report on an anecdotal level at least, there has been far more support – most often qualified – for what I write amongst serving and retired members of our security services.

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Loyalty to King and Country

Anecdotal levels are of course cold comfort when the reality is that most people would rather not say anything unless cloaked in anonymity and people often confuse the echo chambers they live in as the “real world”, which is unfortunately far more complicated and diverse than what they read online.

I have always disliked the propagandising of the security services and while I believe that there are many people who do the hard work of keeping our country safe, they are hampered by the petty fiefdoms of their immediate superiors and hobbled by a self-serving political apparatus. The latter is more interested in maintaining political hegemony than by ensuring that these institutions are independent and serve the people of Malaysia.

The former meanwhile hampers the legitimacy of these institutions by eroding public confidence by its official statements, but more damagingly by engaging in practices that apes the accepted political culture that has resulted in our country being categorised as a kleptocracy.

Malaysian Armed Forces Veterans Association (PVATM) Deputy President Sharuddin Omar’s rejoinder to old soldiers, or in my case old sailors, “to the principle that we are always loyal to the current government” misses the point about loyalty, obligation and serving the country.

On a professional level, while I have always observed the chain of command, truth be told my duty – however, you define it – was always to the men and women under my charge. This of course is old school military thinking but one shared by many old timers who put the welfare of the men and women under their charge ahead of politics, racial or religious. Times have changed, of course.

While many would dismiss this veteran’s association as just another government appendage, I was impressed that they disavowed former soldier Mohd Ali Baharom’s (aka Ali Tinju) racist actions in the strongest possible terms. As reported in the media – “His actions are contradictory and incompatible with the principles and practices of all armed forces veterans in the country.

“In the future, we also hope that the media will only relate the actions of Ali Tinju as that of an individual and a Malaysian civilian, and not that of a Malaysian armed forces veteran,” said the association.

Quoting the Malay proverb “kerana nila setitik, rosak susu sebelanga” (one bad apple spoils the whole barrel), the association expressed hope that its reputation and that of all armed forces veterans would not be ruined by the actions of one man.

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Many retired armed forces veterans make a distinction between loyalty to the institution and the people who make up those institutions. While I get that principle, I have never been unable to separate the office from the individual. To me, if the person in the office is corrupt then why bother defending the institution? I would much rather channel my energies in advocating change rather than spend my time defending the institution.

Honestly, what really bothers me is not that the “gomen is corrupt” but rather that our security apparatus is riddled with the kind of scandals that should make every retired armed forces personnel hang their heads in shame. To list the numerous corruption scandals perpetrated by service people is disheartening and we cannot solely blame the hegemon for that.

But what does loyalty to the government mean?

Compromised institutions

Does it extend to postal vote fraud? Remember in 2011, when four retired military personnel admitted they were marking postal ballots on order from higher up? To recap – “The four – Major (Rtd) Risman Mastor, Kamarulzaman Ibrahim, Mohamed Nasir Ahmad and Mohd Kamil Omar – said they were ordered by their commanding officers to mark postal votes for the hundreds and thousands of personnel who were out in the field.

“Their expose today is the second after an ex-army man came forward earlier this month, making a similar claim that he was ordered to mark postal votes for other personnel.”

The problem with advocating loyalty to compromised institutions is that armed forces personnel who have served with distinction and honour are tarnished by those who would dishonour the codes they claim to hold in service of their political masters. Besides the existential threat that a certain religion poses, this has been one of my main themes that I have revisited – unfortunately – over the years.

I wrote about how the armed forces was sinking in UMNO’s quagmire – “(Navy chief) Abdul Aziz (Jaafar), if you remember was one of the service chiefs lined up behind (looking rather sheepish) Armed Forces chief General Zulkifeli Mohd Zin when he made an emotional appeal, which also included subtle threats and comments which were unacceptable, not to mention unprofessional, for an officer holding the highest rank in the military to make. He made this appeal when confronted with accusations by retired service personnel of vote/voter manipulation in the armed forces.”

Another example is when the current Prime Minister had a sit down with retired personnel to discuss the Lahad Datu incident.

As reported to me by concerned retired service personnel – “The whole atmosphere seemed surreal to some who attended. When the Prime Minister walked in, ‘Negaraku’ was sung and the armed forces marching song ‘Barisan Kita’ (which one general quipped ‘Has the song been annexed by Barisan National?’) also got an airing. Apparently, it got quite comical when one retired air force general was frothing at the mouth that stern disciplinary action should be taken against generals who showed support for the opposition, the PM was chuffed up of and reminded those who attended that ‘spirit of this general’ was what was needed.”

These days many young people are speaking up. I am not talking about mainstream oppositional politics. I am talking about young people who rightly feel that current establishment politics is nothing but the same manure but with a different shovel.

What veterans should be doing, and this applies to anyone who has worked in the civil or security services, is to encourage these young people in their efforts to change the paradigm. We had it our way and we should encourage and support those people who truly believe in what this country could be.

Ultimately when we pledged to serve the King and country, our oath goes far beyond loyalty to the government. We are really serving the people of this country and our loyalty is with them. It does not matter if you support the establishment or the opposition, your loyalty should be with the people and not with political elites, especially when they dishonour the institutions you pledged to serve and protect.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

GW Establishes Program to Bring more STEM Teachers to High-Need Schools


May 20, 2017

 

https://gwtoday.gwu.edu/gw-establishes-program-bring-more-stem-teachers-high-need-schools

by GW Today

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The George Washington University’s Center Courtyard–Making History at GWU

Read the full Strategic Plan (PDF)

The George Washington University has evolved into one of the nation’s leading universities. To continue advancing, the university has produced Vision 2021, an educational vision that reflects our aspirations to provide a unique, rigorous education to every one of our students and to secure our position as one of the world’s premier research universities.

View Our Progress

GW Establishes Program to Bring more STEM Teachers to High-Need Schools

Scholarships will contribute to two years of college tuition in exchange for teaching after graduation.

A new program at the George Washington University will offer science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors the opportunity to receive teacher training and scholarships for agreeing to teach in high-need school districts across the country after graduation from GW.

The new initiative is made possible by a grant through the National Science Foundation and the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program. The five-year, $1.5 million grant will begin at the start of the 2017-18 academic year and is expected to assist more than 25 students total with $20,000 per year toward the cost of tuition and teacher training in their junior and senior years.

Once students complete the GWNoyce program, they will be prepared to apply for licensure with the D.C. public school system, which would make them eligible to teach in 48 states.

“Producing high-caliber secondary math and science teachers for high-need schools is essential to support our nation’s increasingly STEM-driven economy,” said Larry Medsker, research professor of physics and director of GWNoyce. “This work on behalf of our high-need communities aligns well with the GW mission statement goal of improving the quality of life in D.C.”

Dr. Medsker said the program will be particularly strong because it will recruit students who are already studying STEM-based fields and offer them courses, workshops, seminars and service projects to prepare them to be teachers in high-need schools.

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It also will offer preparatory stipends and projects for freshmen and sophomores who are interested in applying to the program, in conjunction with activities offered by the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, GWTeach, a separate GW undergraduate program that prepares STEM majors to become teachers, and a new partnership between GWTeach and the Smithsonian Science Education Center.

Because of these additional offerings, the program is expected to reach more than 500 GW students by 2022.

High-need schools are defined as having at least one of the following characterizations: high percentage of individuals from families with incomes below the poverty line; high percentage of secondary school teachers not teaching in the content area in which they were trained to teach; or high teacher turnover rate. These school districts can be found in urban, suburban and rural settings.

“The GWNoyce program will enable our students to more easily transition into STEM teaching in high-need schools, a cause that is critical to meeting the needs of colleges, graduate schools and ultimately our nation’s STEM workforce,” said Ben Vinson, dean of the GW Columbian College of Arts and Sciences where GWNoyce is housed. “The goal of the GWNoyce program is a timely one and aligns with our vision for an engaged liberal arts, one that will bring our education and research to a new level of excellence.”

The GWNoyce program also will create a new relationship with Northern Virginia Community College, Loudoun Campus, allowing students accepted into the program to transfer to GW for the start of the junior year. The scholarship will help ease some of the financial burdens in pursuit of their bachelor’s degrees. The program is expected to create new opportunities for Virginia students interested in studying STEM fields at GW.

 

Book Review: Scholarship and Engagement in SEA


April 26, 2017

BOOK REVIEW

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Oscar Salemink, editor, Scholarship and Engagement in Southeast Asia, (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Press, 2016)

Reviewed by Andrew Alan Johnson

http://www.newmandala.org/book-review/review-of-scholarship-and-engagement-in-mainland-southeast-asia/

Thailand, for all its political stops and starts — or perhaps because of this — has unparalleled publically-engaged academics. Nidthi Eoseewong, Charnvit Kasetsiri, Thanet Aphornsuvan and many others relate academia to public life, pushing forward public discussion in a way that is enviable from a country (the USA, in my case) where scholarship is too often treated like either a business serving students or as a collection of irrelevant exotica.

Image result for Scholarship and Engagement in Southeast AsiaAchan Chayan Vaddhanaphuti of Chiang Mai University

Of Thailand’s public intellectuals, Chayan Vaddhanaphuti of Chiang Mai University looms large. Over the course of his career, Achan Chayan has worked to advocate for minority rights (risking death threats and accusations of treason) as well as building networks across Southeast Asian academic institutions. He exemplifies the best qualities of a Thai public intellectual, and thus it is no surprise that the essays in the liber amicorum, Scholarship and Engagement in Mainland Southeast Asia, edited by Oscar Salemink, are ringing with fond memories and praise for Achan Chayan across generations of scholars. Indeed, it is telling that even non-Thai-speaking scholars refer to Chayan as “Achan,” the Thai term somehow capturing this sense of Chayan’s public role in ways that “Professor” nowadays fails to.

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My engagement with Achan Chayan came 10 years ago, when I was a graduate student doing field research in Chiang Mai. Like the best of mentors, Chayan, rather than imposing his own idea of what was important about my project, helped me think critically about my own work in multiple ways. As Michael Herzfeld remarks in his conclusion to Scholarship and Engagement, it was only later, after having completed my book, that I realised the depth of Chayan’s inspiration.

Overall, the volume is well put together, although a few essays ramble, and could have used another pass to refine and sharpen their general points. The book’s three sub-sections, too, are awkwardly titled. For example, “Politics, Activism, and Cross-Border Politics in the Greater Mekong Subregion” is the second, and “Scholarly Activism in the Greater Mekong Subregion” the third. These sections roughly correspond to an overview of Chayan’s work, its impact upon historical and anthropological work, and the thorny issues surrounding policy and minorities.

Charles Keyes opens the volume with the first section’s solo chapter: a brief biography of Chayan’s work and its impact upon Thailand and Thai studies. In an era when most work on ethnic minority issues was done by foreigners, and in the face of pressure from official state organs, Chayan pursued a principle of “speak[ing] truth to power” (p 17), pushing for a vision of Northern Thailand as a multi-ethnic and environmentally sustainable society with links across the region. It was a work that, as Keyes notes, was not without risk, and his chapter empahsises the personal commitment that Chayan gave to his causes.

In the second section, Olivier Evrard gives an example of socially-engaged history of the sort inspired by Chayan. Looking at French and Siamese records, Evrard charts the changing status of Khmu migrant labourers in the early 20th century. At first, these workers were governed by treaties between Luang Prabang and Chiang Mai, but as colonisation set in (external in the case of Laos, internal in the case of Siam), old relationships and networks became something else from the viewpoint of the central state: labor recruiters became traffickers, and migrant teak workers turned into a threat.

Evrard reminds us that migrants, as a category, are in fact created by state policy. This theme of the mismatch between detailed awareness of local situations and top-down policy returns in Christopher Joll’s chapter on Thai policy-makers’ essentialist understandings of the conflict in the South as compared with a multi-causal approach of the sort emphasised in Chayan’s work.

Shigeharu Tanabe’s chapter also deals with the issue of social engagement, looking at Northern Thai Buddhist meditation practices aimed at extinguishing the self that nonetheless provide a vehicle for addressing social problems and resisting political repression. It’s a welcome rebuttal to too-simplistic characterisations of Buddhist meditation as entirely inwardly-focused (Tanabe takes a well-placed jab at Deleuze here) and shows how practice, especially in the Northern kuba tradition, can be focused on social as well as personal transformation.

Katherine Bowie’s chapter takes a very different turn to more historically-focused studies, focusing instead upon her own experience of engaged scholarship in the 1970s. In an account reminiscent of classic anthropological fieldwork memoirs (see Powdermaker 1966; Levi-Strauss 1955,;Descola 1996), she describes a problematic introduction into a post-military coup Northern Thai field site and the tangled web of village politics that she encountered. As she attempted to assist in the organisation of a mat-weavers’ cooperative, class and other tensions within the community came to the fore in ways that were productive both for her scholarship as well as – eventually — the mat weavers themselves.

In the final major section, contributors address the thorny ground of development interventions, which too often avoid a deep engagement with local civil societies. Rosalia Sciortino, the former Regional Director for the Rockefeller Foundation (among others), effectively shows that theory is not divorced from practice even on the development side. This was particularly so during the 1990s when new technocratic interventions (the sort of thing dreamed up in TED Talks or Thomas Friedman columns) based around quick solutions and neoliberal integration came to replace civil society-based, locally-informed ones.

This philosophy of intervention oddly recalls those from the 1950s that fetishised the power of Western scientific knowledge to divine all of the solutions to the developing world’s problems. Similarly, in Ronald Renard’s contribution, we also see the fallout from a move in policy away from community-based solutions. He looks at the end of opium eradication projects in the isolated Wa region of Myanmar that emphasisedthe social origins of opium cultivation and addiction solutions focused on improving conditions for farmers, and the rise of a new, top-down approach that focuses upon law enforcement.

Building upon this connection between the assumptions of international (and national) organisations about local communities, Oscar Salemink’s own contribution to the volume examines the issues surrounding Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in Vietnam. Salemink argues that the discourse of ICH in Vietnam creates certain possibilities and limits others, giving ethnic minorities a space within the state but limiting their role (and, interestingly, forcing the state to promote practices that they had just a few years before denounced).

But this also applies to scholars — in a state where open opposition is unproductive or impossible, Salemink argues that scholars are forced to work within the limits of state discourses. In Myanmar, however, Mandy Sadan shows how both state and resistant approaches carry their own risks. State discourses that present minority studies as “traditional” and (Kachin) minority studies dominated by the Baptist Church and ethnonationalism both fail. As a corrective, Sadan advocates for an as-yet unrealised middle ground along the lines of Chayan’s Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD) for the highlands of Myanmar.

Overall, these essays are largely productive in looking at the history and potentiality of engaged scholarship on (for the most part) ethnic minority issues in mainland Southeast Asia, a note driven home by Michael Herzfeld’s excellently-written conclusion. Some essays (Evrard, Tanabe, Saelmink) are useful additions to the scholarly field in their own right. Others (Sciortino, Sadan) are interesting insights into the deeply hierarchical nature of national and international interventions, and some (Joll, Keyes, Bowie) reflect implicitly or directly upon Achan Chayan’s own profound impact on scholarship in Southeast Asia. In addition to the topical focus of each chapter, the book will be of use to those studying activism, development, or fieldwork ethics in the region and beyond.

Andrew Alan Johnson is Assistant Professor at Yale-NUS College

 

Hishamuddin’s steps to power: Loyalty pays off


April 17, 2017

COMMENT:

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I have been very critical of Prime Minister Najib Razak on many issues, corruption and governance among them; more often than not, I have been brutally so. Frankly speaking, his record has been dismal since taking over from Tun Abdullah Badawi in 2009 (with thanks to the machinations of his political mentor, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad). Najib’s popularity is now at an all time low.

However, Najib’s decision to give Defence Minister Hishamuddin Tun Hussein Onn a special role in his administration is, in my view, a very strategic, politically astute and timely one. Every leader needs an aide he can trust, not someone who has ambitions of his own to be the 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Hopefully, together and with the help of the charismatic  UMNO Youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin, Najib and Hishamuddin can forge a strong alliance to face Malaysian voters in GE-14 on a Malaysia-centric political and socio-economic agenda rather than a Malay nationalist-Islamist one, with a view to bringing Malaysians together again.

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Najib, Hishamuddin and Khairy –a Formidable Combination for UMNO

Hishamuddin to Najib is what Tun Hussein was to Tun Abdul Razak with one fundamental difference. Tun Hussein was a reluctant politician who had the premiership thrust upon him. Our 3rd. Prime Minister was also a man of integrity, a lawyer of excellent aristocratic pedigree and a loyal son of Dato’ Onn Jaafar, who was UMNO’s founder President.

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Hishamuddin,  on the other hand, is a thorough bred UMNO politician who rose through the ranks at a measured pace. One needs to look at his resume to note that he has held key Cabinet positions. He performed  well and served the Prime Minister and UMNO loyally. Finally, his hard work and dedication to his responsibilities have earned him the right to take on this new job. But it is difficult to say that the premiership is his for the taking.

The incumbent Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Zahid Hamidi is a formidable rival with strong support among the UMNO grassroots and Malay nationalists of the extreme right. But at least Hishamuddin is an alternative who represents the moderate face of UMNO, which will be more acceptable to voters and UMNO’s Barisan Nasional partners (MCA, MIC and Gerakan) than the plebian Zahid. I did not mention PAS because I think this Hadi Awang-led Islamic party is headed towards political extinction after GE-14. –Din Merican

Hishammuddin’s steps to power

 by Scott Ng
 
The new Minister with Special functions occupies an unusual but maybe pivotal role.
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Hishamuddin as Malaysia’s Defence Minister in Singapore

 

The appointment of Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein to the position of minister with special functions is one of the more curious political moves in recent memory. The buzz is that Prime Minister Najib Razak needs his first cousin as his right hand man. So one must wonder what must be running through the head of current DPM Zahid Hamidi, especially so close to a general election.

Zahid’s ambition has been noted by several quarters, with some critics believing that he veers too far to the right for the comfort of the public. Nonetheless, the DPM is a valuable asset to the Najib administration, but Hishammuddin’s sudden ascent has thrown the succession plan into disarray.

Hishammuddin certainly has a much better reputation with moderates than Zahid, and perhaps can be seen as something of a peace offering to those spooked by the new religious fundamentalist and ethno-nationalist approach of UMNO.

Unlike his cousin’s other lieutenants, Hishammuddin has kept a low public profile. While he is not looked to for an opinion like Khairy Jamaluddin is whenever a crisis erupts, he is seen as a quiet problem solver, brokering important defence deals in the Middle East and working with China on defence interests.

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Overall, he is seen as better spoken and more temperate a candidate for leader than Zahid, but memories may be long when it comes to perceptions of a politician’s character. People still remember his belligerence as UNMO Youth Chief. He brandished a keris during his speech at the UMNO General Assembly of 2005. He might have to do a little work to shake off that memory if he is truly positioned to take over as Deputy Prime Minister.

Nonetheless, Hishammuddin’s presence may yet prove to be appealing to the more cosmopolitan of the right wing and an acceptable compromise for the moderates and the left. Such an appeal is something that BN probably feels it needs in facing GE14.

However, the appointment does not signal a complete shift to the middle ground. GE14 is shaping up to be defined as a Malay vs Malay fight. If one thing is certain, it is that all parties will fight over the hallowed motherland vote and the insults will fly thick.

Hishammuddin may yet walk out of this the biggest winner, but only if he is the contrarian of his party and maintains the professional image he has groomed for himself over the past decade or so.

There are some who theorise that Hishammuddin’s appointment signals the beginning of a transition, that our Prime Minister is preparing to step down. If that is true, then all eyes will be watching how he behaves during the coming election campaign period.

At this point, Malaysians simply want a win, and if that win comes in the form of an heir apparent with all his clothes on, it will be a positive start.

Scott Ng is an FMT columnist.