WASHINGTON POWER PLAYERS WANT TRUMP TO CANCEL NAJIB VISIT


September 9, 2017

WASHINGTON POWER PLAYERS WANT TRUMP TO CANCEL NAJIB VISIT–ENCORE Posting–SARAWAK REPORT

Image result for Najib and Rosmah
 Malaysian Prime Minister and his wife are not welcome to the United States. Both are likely to get a roasting from the US media when they call on President Donald Trump and FLOTUS on September 12 at The White House. It is a repeat of the Obama Administration’s folly. Trump will blame the State Department for yet another diplomatic snafu.–Din Merican

 

by Sarawak Report

Today’s Editorial (September7)  in The Wall Street Journal (see below) will not go unremarked on Capital Hill.  More so, given it is just one of a growing body of articles condemning Trump’s ill-advised and so far inadequately explained invitation to Najib.

The WSJ points out that Trump is falling for the very same ruse that Malaysia’s Toxic Twosome pulled on Obama, employing yet another lobbyist who had been close to him on the campaign trail, Frank White.  Nowadays Najib has Healey Baumgardner, a campaign manager for Trump, on his payroll instead.

Image result for Najib and RosmahPresident Barack H. Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama seen with Malaysia’s notorious couple

 

But, as the WSJ points out, The State Department bears responsibility for allowing Trump to step into this particular piece of dog-do that can only make his look both a hypocrite and a fool.  Neither will supporting Najib’s PR machine at election time do US interests one bit of good:

Trump’s Malaysia Swamp
Did Tillerson tell his boss he’s repeating an Obama mistake?

in the September 7, 2017 Print Edition

A visit to the White House is a diplomatic plum that world leaders covet. So why is President Trump bestowing this honor on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who jailed an opposition leader and is a suspect in a corruption scandal that spans the globe?

Mr. Najib will visit the White House next week for a presidential photo-op that could help him win the next general election and imperil Malaysia’s democracy. Yet it isn’t clear that Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are getting anything in return for associating with a leader their own Justice Department is investigating. This could set them up for a repeat of the way Mr. Najib humiliated Barack Obama.

Mr. Najib oversaw the creation of 1MDB, a state-owned fund that was supposed to attract foreign investment. The U.S. Justice Department alleges that the Prime Minister and his associates looted the fund of $4.5 billion. The DOJ has filed civil lawsuits to freeze more than $1.6 billion of assets allegedly stolen from the fund. Five other nations are also investigating, and Singapore has convicted five financiers of money laundering and fraud. Mr. Najib hasn’t been charged and denies wrongdoing, and Malaysia’s Attorney General cleared him.

Under Mr. Najib, Malaysian authorities also conducted a six-year prosecution against opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on dubious charges of sodomy, for which he was sentenced to five years in prison. That legal farce helped Mr. Najib’s party win a narrow victory in the 2013 election.

So how should the U.S. engage a troubled Malaysia? Mr. Obama cozied up to Mr. Najib and chose to ignore the prosecution of Mr. Anwar when he made the first visit by a U.S. President in 60 years to Kuala Lumpur in April 2014. Eight months later, he invited Mr. Najib for a showy round of golf in Hawaii.

But that precedent is not consistent with Mr. Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington politics. Two months after that golf round Mr. Anwar was jailed again. And shortly after Mr. Obama made nice with Mr. Najib, Frank White Jr. , who served as co-chair of President Obama’s re-election committee before becoming a lobbyist for Malaysia, sold a stake in a 1MDB-linked solar technology firm back to the fund for $69 million.

The benefits of communing with Mr. Najib aren’t obvious. Perhaps Mr. Tillerson thinks Malaysia will help tighten the financial screws on North Korea, which has long used the country as a business hub. But Mr. Najib isn’t likely to stop his strategic drift toward China. Keeping 1MDB afloat will require cash infusions, and China, eager to help fellow authoritarians, can deploy its One Belt, One Road slush fund. Mr. Najib can then buy off the opposition and consolidate power.

If Malaysia slides into dictatorship, it will almost surely fall into Beijing’s orbit. The U.S. relationship depends on Malaysia remaining a viable democracy. That’s why helping Mr. Najib at this critical moment is a mistake.

Mr. Trump will be told that it’s too late to cancel the meeting, but the U.S. can find a diplomatic excuse in Hurricanes Harvey and Irma or congressional battles. Any embarrassment is better than giving a scandal-tainted leader a White House photo-op.

 

 

The Power of Writing Regained


June 11, 2017

The Power of Writing Regained

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

After confessing in my column last week that depression was threatening to rob me of what I’ve long relied on as my last-ditch defence against the total disempowerment of despair – the power of writing – this week I have to admit that it didn’t help very much.

Image result for rene descartes quotes on math

It certainly didn’t do anything to dispel my lack of faith in the biblical alleged wisdom that “confession is good for the soul”, if only for the sole reason that I’m incurably skeptical about the existence of any such metaphysical entity.

But my confession was apparently cathartic or otherwise psychologically beneficial enough to my spirits as to restore my powers of written speech.

And kind comments on the ensuing column from two perennially-supportive pseudonymous Malaysiakini readers, JesuisAnwar and HaveAGreatDay, whoever they actually are, have greatly sustained my spirits since. So much so as to inspire me to the thought that it may not be depression per se that has been threatening to leave me lost for words all this while, but disappointment.

Disappointment at how little I feel I’ve achieved, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in my by now quite lengthy lifetime, and also at my apparent inability to redress these deficiencies, or at least make the most of the rapidly-dwindling time I have left to do so before death.

Or, to put this another way, I’m both metaphorically and literally dying to write as many and as meaningful words as possible before I reach my final full stop.

Unhappily, however, to return to the subject of disappointment for a moment, I’ve left so many of life’s fundamental questions so unnoticed, unexamined and unwritten-about, that I’m virtually dumbstruck with confusion as to which of them is most worth spending, my or indeed anybody’s last words on.

So rather than striving to have my final say on them all at once, as I’ve been so unproductively doing in my panic to meet my final, indeed terminal deadline, I’d better get myself focused, and fast.

By being smart enough, for a start, to think of my remaining writing time not simply in terms of how to best to “spend” it, as I see I thoughtlessly did two paragraphs ago, but how to invest it most intelligently on worthwhile topics or at least avoid squandering much if any more of it on trivia and trash.

Like, to cite the most vivid example of the latter types of topic than I can think of, in light of the almost 500,000 words I’ve wasted on them in this Malaysiakini column over the past 11 years, the corrupt, incompetent and ruthlessly truthless members and countless crimes and other misdeeds of Malaysia’s miserable, ever-misruling UMNO-BN regime.

Not that I’m promising to never mention them again, you understand, as long as Malaysiakini keeps generously granting me space on its site. But in future, I intend to mention this gruesome gang and all the world’s many other similarly blundering, plundering and people-repressing regimes only, if possible, in the context of or in relation to issues that are far more fundamentally interesting and important.

Like power, for instance, whose multitudinous and endlessly paradoxical manifestations are as all-pervasive in human lives and affairs as they are everywhere else in what we call the universe, and yet seems to me generally poorly comprehended or even perceived.

And like truth, which mankind seems to have spent its long history striving on the one hand to define, seek and discover, and on the other hand, and often simultaneously, seeking with equal if not greater determination, to ignore, avoid, contradict or deny.

In the process so apparently totally losing sight of the many and various meanings, purposes and perversions of truth as to seriously entertain the ludicrously ahistorical proposition that, because we can all post opinions on the net and the US has elected a lying pest like Donald Trump, we’ve reached the age of “post-truth”.

Another perennially pressing topic for as many last words as possible, of course, is the one that had inspired the ancient ethical philosophers, Western and Eastern alike, to ask “how should life be lived?”

But here the kind of confusion that’s been leaving me lost for last words starts to kick back in again. Because it’s impossible to consider and discuss ethics without consideration of truth and power, as well as what it means to be successfully and fully ‘human’.

A thought that brings me to what seems to me to be the ultimate topic for my or any other human who’s on a mission to make the most of his or her wits and words, last or otherwise: the exhortation carved in stone outside the Temple of Apollo at Delphi to “know thyself”.

This, of course, in light of the unfathomable complexities of and confusions and conflicts between our animal instincts and human intellects and conscious and unconscious minds, is paradoxically impossible.

In fact, as Socrates, my favourite philosopher, demonstrated to his own satisfaction and the outrage of his fellow Athenians, who for his pains condemned him to death for blasphemy and misleading the youth of the city, that nobody really knows anything.

And over a thousand years later, Frenchman René Descartes similarly set out to challenge every belief he had for which he could find insufficient support, and found that the only one he was left with was, as he famously expressed it in Latin, Cogito, Ergo Sum, or “I think, therefore I am”.

However skeptical about my own and others’ beliefs that I am, I certainly don’t kid myself that I’m in Socrates’ or Descartes’ class. But I’d most certainly consider my life far from wasted if I could come up with enough sensible and sincere last words to finally feel satisfied at the end with an epitaph along the lines of “I wrote, therefore I was”.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.

Hishamuddin’s steps to power: Loyalty pays off


April 17, 2017

COMMENT:

Image result for din merican and dr. kamsiah haider

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.

Image result for Nijab, Hishamuddin and Khairy

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.

Image result for Nijab, Hishamuddin and Khairy

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.
Image result for Malaysia's Defence Minister

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.

Image result for Malaysia's Defence Minister

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.

MCA, UMNO lapdog, flexes its muscles to no avail


September 17, 2016

Cowardice rightly understood begins with selfishness and ends with shame.”- José Rizal, ‘Noli Me Tángere

The spat between the MCA’s Ti Lian Ker and UMNO’s Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz is not about the disparity of power between the component parties of BN but rather the continuing existential crisis of the MCA that it has been unable to overcome since losing the support of the Chinese community.

MCA, UMNO  lapdog, flexes its muscles to no avail

by Cmdr S, Thayaparan

Whereas the MIC has accepted its role as the water boy to UMNO, MCA desperately attempts relevance in a turbulent time of ‘Melayu’ political upheaval.

There has always been a disparity of power within Barisan Nasional (BN). However, parity of power was never the currency between the MCA plutocrats and UMNO potentates who shaped the national agenda and serviced the gravy train that enabled this country to remain in relative functionality for decades.

These schemers were aided by a polity willing to subscribe to the so-called social contract, as long as the people could pursue their economic agendas and live in relative harmony.

Ti’s contention that BN playing the ‘jaguh kampung’ (village champion) was causing BN to lose cosmopolitan votes is the kind of pussy-footing that that seems to be the only stratagems that the MCA these days is capable of coming up with.

I hope Pakatan supporters are not naïve enough to think that there is no nexus of connections between MCA plutocrats and DAP operatives working together for mutual benefit, which goes far beyond political profit. The same applies to UMNO and its so-called political enemies.

First off, BN is not playing the ‘jaguh kampung’, UMNO is in a ‘fight to the death’ struggle with Najib refuseniks and is attempting to keep their rural voting bases safe from the clutches of a newly revitalised Malay power group. The reality is that the rural demographic in the Peninsula and UMNO’s vote banks in Sabah and Sarawak are holding BN together, and this is because of UMNO and not because of BN.

The reality is that, unofficially, UMNO has given up on urban voters and it is the responsibility of MCA to shore up support and make the case for UMNO and not BN. I am sure the  outspoken MCA operative is aware that there are many UMNO-elected officials who do not support Najib but are only interested in their political survival that translates to UMNO’s survival.

After getting a spanking from Nazri, like a chastised child the MCA central committee member claims, “Now that the ultra-Malays who destroyed Tunku Abdul Rahman’s Alliance are out of BN and in Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), BN leadership must seize this opportunity to navigate BN to its rightful 1Malaysia course or the spirit of the Alliance’s founding years of Tunku Abdul Rahman,” which is again horse manure disguised as a mea culpa.

The thing that’s destroying MCA

The contradiction is obvious. First, Ti claims that UMNO’s continued use of Malay nationalism for the support of rural voters is destroying BN’s chances in the urban areas, and then he paradoxically claims that with the ejection of so-called “ultra-Malays” from the parties – the very ones who reject the Najib regime – things could get back to normal.

Image result for UMNO is controlled by Malay Ultras

The problem is that the so-called ultra-Malays are the ones in charge of UMNO now. Moreover, I do not mean people like Nazri (photo above ) who has had run-ins with the ultra-Malay component of UMNO, but would rather be attacking the Najib refuseniks than trading shots with a so-called “partner”.

This is the problem with throwing in with UMNO, the very basis of power-sharing is based on communal preoccupations that either conflict with each other or are manipulated to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

If you want to survive in the game, then you have to spin the racists’ rhetorics for your partners but most importantly, have the support of the community you claim to represent. This is why Nazri has it both ways. This is why he gets to play the realpolitik card against the MCA operative, alluding to the former’s desire for political rejuvenation and the slim chance of it because of the lack of his community’s support and at the same time, slay UMNO-Melayu sacred cows.

Image result for Racism in Malaysia

And therein lies the problem. How does a race-based party operate when it has lost the majoritarian support of the community it claims to represent? How does a race-based party offer dissent or advice when it has to rely on the generosity of UMNO to remain politically relevant? How does a race-based party counter the supposedly race-blind propaganda of the opposition when it does not have the support it needs to offer a counter-narrative because the Chinese community it supposedly represents has abandoned it?

As I wrote in ‘MCA’s long day’s journey into night’, “What is really destroying the MCA is not the propaganda of the DAP but the acceptance by a large voting demographic of the Chinese community that no representation in the government is better than MCA representation.”

In addition, this is not the first time Ti has stirred the pot. Some time back, Ti made the claim that the Federal Constitution was not inherently racist but those with racist intent manipulated its provisions.

I actually thought that MCA was on to something and singled out Ti, writing, “However, the MCA political operative did show some cojones when he said ‘we can consider amending or ratifying our constitution to free ourselves of racism’ but of course, he qualified this with the most overused, disingenuous, servile and obnoxious Malaysian excuse of ‘come a day when we are there – a matured and democratic nation’.”

However, Ti made the same nostalgic claim when he talked about bridge building and ‘Alliance’ cooperation when he correctly pointed out that the constitution needed to be amended, in his own waffling way. He makes the same claim in this mea culpa, alluding to the halcyon days of Alliance politics.

But as I quoted from Mavis Puthucheary’s article, ‘Malaysia’s Social Contract – Exposing the Myth Behind the Slogan’: “In the first 10 years after Independence, the balance of power between the two main parties, UMNO and the MCA, was more or less even. After 1969, however, the balance of power within the ruling coalition shifted significantly in favour of UMNO and the political system itself became less democratic.

“Although both parties fared badly in the 1969 elections, UMNO leaders who had secured control of the government concentrated their efforts on regaining Malay support while still maintaining the power-sharing structure.”

In other words, for BN there is no going back. Unfortunately for MCA, this new alliance spearheaded by the powerbrokers in Pakatan Harapan and the Najib refuseniks is the closest things we will get to the flawed Alliance strategy of yore.

The MCA’s sin is that it does not have the courage either to support its partner, UMNO or leave BN.

http://www.malaysiakini.com –OPINION

Malaysian Civil Service: Can they think, raise the right issues, and do things right?


May 20, 2016

Malaysian Civil Service: Can they think, raise the right issues, and do things right?

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

No one of substance in government is bold enough to raise the right issues as most prefer wallowing in self-consolation hoping things will eventually self-correct.

by TK Chua

There is a management thought that says we must be honest and bold enough to raise the right issues or to ask the right questions. If we do not have the right questions, it does not matter much that we have the right answers. Right answers to wrong questions are useless.

1MDB is Malaysia’s Najib-inspired Blue Ocean Strategy Bull

Today, Malaysia is reeling from the reality that no one of any substance in government is bold enough to raise the right issues or ask the right questions as most prefer wallowing in self-consolation, hoping things will eventually self-correct. Rarely do they rock the boat and challenge the established paradigm. Instead, they pretend to support every phoney reform undertaken – from Pemandu, BR1M, BRAM, BROOM, NBOS  Initiatives (watch video above), to GST and all the baloney that takes place in GLCs (e.g. 1MBD).

Malaysia’s Top Civil Servant with his Brains Trust

We know from history it is never easy to reform a system or a country from within. The death of the Qing dynasty and the French Revolution convey the same story – failed reforms.

People in power usually cannot see it or refuse to see it. They become insensitive and insular to the needs of others. Hence, while many in the country are struggling to get by, the ruling elite shamelessly and effortlessly indulge in obscene extravagance even for a simple event like a birthday or wedding celebration. We used to laugh at Marie Antoinette’s infamous “let them eat cake” joke, but I don’t think we have ever learnt anything worthwhile from it.

Why do I say we are addressing the wrong issues? Let me list a few examples:

i. We use the GST to perpetuate our wasteful ways, not instill financial discipline and prudence in the public sector. The GST, therefore, will not solve our fiscal unsustainability problems. It will not help stabilise and strengthen the ringgit. It will only reinforce the government’s spendthrift ways.

ii. Pemandu did not transform the government machinery.Like any bureaucracy, it only added more outfits and programmes to it and drains  our national coffers. Therefore, it will only incur more expenses but with no efficiency gained.

iii. National development is not about issuing bonds or raising debts, setting up giant corporations and listing GLCs that the earlier generations have taken decades to nurture and build. Why are we indulging in buying, investing, selling, restructuring, paying off debts, and renegotiating with “partners” endlessly? Why instead of creating value, are we moving from one protracted problem to another? This is worse than children playing the game of monopoly.

iv. Foreign workers are supposed to come here to supplement our needs, not dictate the “production function” of this country. Now we have Malaysians leaving the country in droves while foreigners are allowed indiscriminate entry. In the process, our value chain goes down the drain and our way of life turns upside down.

v. We keep saying the future of this country is in the hands of the young. But what future have we created for them – an increasing pool of unemployed and unemployable graduates?

vi. We were told to be magnanimous and live in harmony, but every day we are reminded of protests over altars here, tokongs there and the general lack of piousness everywhere. If we are so godly, why are we so filthy and depraved? Why are we experiencing mass food poisoning so often? Why are our children so prone to mass hysteria? Why are our women subjected to snatch theft, attempted rape and rape so often? I know what you are thinking – when compared to other countries, Malaysia is not so bad. Maybe that is why some say we are good in jumping on the spot.

vii. Our idea of multiculturalism is when one marries a spouse of a different race or religion. Our racial tolerance is to adopt a son or daughter from another race or foster a child of another race. Our idea of inclusiveness is to produce a video portraying groups of different racial backgrounds dancing or singing together for a GLC’s advertisement or a national event. However, in our daily life, we don’t care whether our policies are fair and just.

When push comes to shove, we just hoist our flag of race and religious supremacy. We just need to divert blame onto others – and cry out at how others have tried to sabotage and undermine our vital interests; how we must be ever vigilant to keep them in the box.

I think it is enough for now. You may add on to the list if you want.*

*There is no need to add to Mr. Chua’s list. We must take the blame because we continue to allow an incompetent UMNO-BN government led by the corrupt Prime Minister Najib Razak to operate. We are indifferent and do not have the guts to sack the Prime Minister and his cabal who are in charge of our national coffers. To make matters worse, we have  a political opposition which will do the same if they are given the opportunity, that is, they can be equally arrogant and corrupt. We are already a failed state.

Only a failed people will want the status quo. So, our voters will allow  UMNO-BN to win the forthcoming by-elections in Kuala Kangsar and Sungei Besar like they did in Sarawak recently. We deserve the government we get. –Din Merican

Japan and China step up rivalry over ASEAN infrastructure contracts


November 24, 2015

Japan and China step rivalry over ASEAN infrastructure contracts

by Ben Bland in Kuala Lumpur

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/f20f9fec-90f4-11e5-bd82-c1fb87bef7af.html 11/23/2015

ASEAN's Time

China and Japan are stepping up their battle for strategic infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia amid rising economic competition and tensions over maritime disputes.

At an annual summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Kuala Lumpur this weekend, China pledged to add another $10bn to its growing pool of infrastructure lending in Southeast Asia, while Japan vowed to halve the time it takes to approve infrastructure loans and take on more financial risk.

China recently beat Japan to win a $5bn high-speed rail project in Indonesia on the back of no-strings financing that did not require the Indonesian government to act as guarantor.

China and Japan are going head to head to secure other high-speed rail projects, including one linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, as well as bidding against each other for ports, power stations and other infrastructure deals across this fast-growing region.

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister, said in a speech that Japan’s official development assistance must keep pace with the speed of change in Asia.

Xi and Abe with Jokowi

“We will drastically reduce the time needed for going through the procedures for ODA loans by as much as one and a half years compared with the current system,” he said, promising a significant reduction from the current average processing time of three years. We will also revise the current practice of requiring without exception recipient governments’ payment guarantees.”

A senior Japanese diplomat said that Tokyo had to become more “expeditious” in executing infrastructure projects in Asia, rather than simply highlighting that it has a better record than China in terms of quality, safety and social and environmental protection.

Beijing also pledged to accelerate and deepen its economic co-operation in Southeast Asia with Premier Li Keqiang promising $10bn of new loans for infrastructure as well as an increase in grants to the region’s less developed nations.

Sale of 1MDB Power Assets to China

China rescues Najib Razak from 1MDB scandal

While China clashes at sea with Japan and some Southeast Asian nations including Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, Beijing and its rivals are competing to build alternative spheres of economic influence.

Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan and the US were among 12 nations that recently signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact that excludes China and is designed to promote a rules-based trading and investment system in the region.

Beijing has backed a rival trade deal with Southeast Asia, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership,  that has fewer requirements for economic liberalisation.  But hopes to conclude RCEP by the end of the year received a blow on Sunday when Malaysia, which is chairing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said that negotiations would not be concluded until next year because of the “challenges faced”.

Xi Jinping, China’s President, made an implicit criticism of the TPP on Wednesday when he warned at another regional forum in Manila that “with various new regional free trade frameworks cropping up, fragmentation is becoming a concern”. Despite Beijing’s concerns, since the TPP was agreed last month other Southeast Asian nations including Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand have said they are interested in joining.

“With the TPP now finally coming to fruition, it increasingly seems like it is the best game in town in terms of driving economic development,” said a minister from one of the Southeast Asian nations keen to sign up. “But given the state of our economy and the fact that the existing TPP participants must ratify the deal first, it will take several years before we can join.”

Barack Obama, US President, welcomed the new interest in the TPP from Southeast Asian nations, claiming that the pact would “write the rules for trade in the Asia Pacific for decades to come”, promoting the resolution of economic disputes through dialogue rather than “bullying or coercion”.