The ASEAN Non-Alignment Option

April 25, 2015

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The ASEAN Non-Alignment Option

by John

AS the annual ASEAN Summit opens in Kuala Lumpur this weekend, there is a certain sense ofASEAN Summit KL 2015 foreboding about where the world is headed and ASEAN — which is often described as the most successful regional grouping in the developing world — along with it. This comes on the heels of the commemorative Afro-Asian Summit that Indonesia just hosted. It is a throw-back to the era of Sukarno, when the country’s first President fancied his country (and himself) a leading light of the emerging “Third” World.

A newly democratising Indonesia must now look towards the future. And, that future surely means ASEAN retaining its centrality in the wider region, with Indonesia as its natural “first among equals”, propelling ASEAN’s economic dynamism to a higher plane, so it remains the fulcrum through which critical regional issues are coursed.

ASEAN must zealously safeguard its position as a critical region in an increasingly critical part of the world, where the interests of rising and existing global superpowers may soon intersect. Nobody now questions the rise of China, and while whether the United States is on a trajectory towards absolute decline is still debated on, there is also no question that China’s rise has already meant the relative decline of US global influence. It is absolutely crucial that ASEAN plays right this coming contest for regional and, indeed, global influence between China and the US.

Obama and XiThe two global giants seem determined to make everyone else choose, so there will likely be no easy middle path that traditionally is how ASEAN saves its own skin to live another day. It has been successful till now by taking this default position and it seems still a good position going forward, if ASEAN can negotiate the tricky tightrope. The eye-watering sums in the region of US$50 billion (RM181 billion) that China has just announced it will channel to strategic, but violence-wracked Pakistan are a foretaste of China’s increasingly unbeatable economic sway worldwide.

How much more will China be prepared to commit to an equally, if not more strategic, Southeast Asia right in its own backyard? But, if China is increasingly able and willing to buy its way into the hearts of countries the world over, will an increasingly wary and, perhaps, even insecure US — unable to match Chinese economic diplomacy — seek to throw a spanner in the works instead?

China is not gaining itself unalloyed favours with its newly expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea that overlap those of several ASEAN states, including Malaysia’s, and backing up those claims with building activities that create new facts in the disputed sea. In so doing, China may have already succeeded in driving a wedge into the very heart of ASEAN, making its maritime territorial contests a diplomatic minefield that every succeeding ASEAN chairman must delicately negotiate at each summit meeting.

ASEAN will do itself no favours either if it falls one way or the other for the equally delicate dance for influence that the US and China are performing and trying to get ASEAN, or bits of it, to join in lock-step. Ironically, diplomatic non-alignment — the by-product of Afro-Asian solidarity — may have fallen by the wayside with the end of the Cold War, but its spirit may yet prove rather useful now for ASEAN in the opposing offensives that both China and the US deploy to gain friends. Seeking cover under “international” rules and norms may be a safe default position for ASEAN under normal circumstances, but we cannot be under any illusion that global rules are written by powerful nations, usually after victories in wars. The US flouts such rules when it suited the country — even when those rules were largely written at its behest — so rules apply to lesser countries and not necessarily the powerful ones, such as China.

Huge White, the Australian strategic thinker, arguing for the US to “share power” in the region with China in his book, The China Choice, writes that China has willingly accepted US primacy in this region “for as long as Beijing believes that it works for China, and no longer”. He further argues that as China’s rise reaches a tipping point, preserving US regional primacy becomes increasingly untenable. Until and unless such Sino-American strategic “rebalancing” happens, ASEAN’s best policy should remain with its time-tested hedging. Thus, while high-principled clarity out of this latest ASEAN Summit on dealings with the major powers may make its unsurprising appearance, the muddied waters of the South China Sea may not become clearer soon.

The writer is a Kuching-based journalist

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The Trial of Henry Kissinger–by Christopher Hitchens

April 23, 2015

The Trial of Henry Kissinger–by Christopher Hitchens

I have just finished re-reading the late Christopher Hitchens’ book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger and have come to conclusion that it is time for Americans to call for an investigation of Mr. Kissinger’s activities when he was National Security Adviser and US Secretary of State. He is the last of the quartet (Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew and Attorney-General John Mitchell and Kissinger himself) who remains free. Mr. Kissinger must be held to account.  Listen this debate on the subject.–Din Merican

Stop flattering Najib, Envoy Zahrain told

April 23, 2015

Stop flattering Najib, Envoy Zahrain told

 by FMT Reporters

He should stick to diplomacy and stay out of politics, says Khairuddin Abu Hassan.

Zahrain Hashim khairuddin abu hassanPETALING JAYA: A former UMNO official has denounced the Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia, Zahrain Hashim, for issuing a public statement in defence of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s allegedly lavish lifestyle.

“He has crossed the line that separates diplomacy from politics in his eagerness to flatter Najib,” said Khairuddin Abu Hassan, who was recently sacked from his position as Vice Chairman of the Batu Kawan UMNO division.

Zahrain, in an interview with Utusan Malaysia, reacted to a magazine article about the spending habits of Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, by implying that they could afford an expensive lifestyle because the Prime Minister is of upper-class birth.

Khairuddin said in a press statement today that Zahrain seemed oblivious of the current political developments in the country and the moral issues being raised in connection with questions regarding Najib’s suitability as Prime Minister and Umno President.

“Perhaps Zahrain is forgetful,” he said. “Recently, Najib’s brothers issued a statement defending their father, former prime minister Tun Razak Hussein, from any insinuation that he accumulated wealth during his tenure.”

The statement from Najib’s brothers came after the New York Times quoted the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) as saying: “Neither any money spent on travel, nor any jewellery purchases, nor the alleged contents of any safes are unusual for a person of the Prime Minister’s position, responsibilities and legacy family assets.” The PMO’s statement was a response to questions about Rosmah’s spending.

“Even if the Prime Minister comes from a noble family with a lot of money,” Khairuddin said, “he must, if he wants to be an effective and successful leader, display a moderate lifestlye. That would be more in keeping with Malay culture. The Malays look highly upon people of high birth who live moderately.

“Unfortunately, some UMNO leaders have forgotten this. They love to exhibit a lavish lifestyle. Such ostentation has invited all kinds of negative perceptions among the rakyat.”

Khairuddin reminded Zahrain that he used to be a member of PKR, whose leaders would often criticise UMNO leaders for their extravagance.

“I hope Dato Seri Zahrain would focus only on his responsibilities as our Ambassador to Indonesia and restrain himself from getting involved in Malaysia’s domestic politics,” he said.

Khairuddin also took issue with Zahrain’s insinuation that one of former premier Mahathir Mohamad’s son, Mokhzani, got rich by taking advantage of his father’s position. He said Mahathir’s children found success after decades of hard work. “They did not become rich in their youth,” he added.

Khairuddin, who shot to fame with his Police and MACC reports against 1MDB, is seen as aligned to Mahathir’s camp. He has become a frequent critic of the Najib administration, occasionally releasing press statements in his individual capacity.

In today’s statement, he referred to the current political battle between Mahathir and Najib, claiming that the ex-premier’s criticisms were motivated by a sincere wish to ensure that voters would continue to support UMNO and Barisan Nasional.

TEMPO stands firm on the Najib-Rosmah Article

April 23, 2015

COMMENT: You cannot expect TEMPO, a respected magazine in Indonesia, to stand down on its article on Najib-Rosmah’s lavish spending habits. 

The magazine is known since the days of Goenawan Mohamad to be fiercely independent and thorough in its reporting. I feel sorry for our Ambassador to Indonesia Dato Seri Zahrain Hashim  who has to defend our first couple, now in Bandung to  attend the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Asia- Africa Conference.

Goenawan (right) is the founder and editor of Tempo (“Time”) magazine in Indonesia, which wasGoenawan M of Tempo twice forcibly closed by the Suharto‘s New Order administration because of its vocal criticism of the authoritarian regime. In 1999, Mohamad was named International Editor of the Year by World Press Review magazine. In 1998, he was one of four winners of the CPJ International Press Freedom Awards, and in 2006 he received the Dan David Prize award. The World Press Review awarded him its International Editor of the Year Award in 1999 (wikipedia).

It is fortunate that TEMPO did not report on the missing rm27billion in 1MDB.  Read  –Din Merican

TEMPO stands firm on the Najib-Rosmah Article

Purwanto SetiadiIndonesia’s premier current affairs magazine Tempo is standing by their article on Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor’s lavish lifestyle entitled ‘Hidup mewah sang perdana menteri’.Tempo senior editor, Purwanto Setiadi (left), said the magazine believes its sources for the story and although from secondary means, they (the sources) were vetted carefully before the said article was published.

“Like previously, we choose our sources (of the news) carefully. As of today, we believe in the source which was used,” he said when contacted by Malaysiakini.

Purwanto, who is the magazine’s editor for international news, was commenting on Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia Zahrain Mohamed Hashim’s statement that he wanted to meet Tempo editors to correct alleged misconceptions contained in the article. Purwanto, who is also on Tempo‘s editorial board,  pointed out their article had also quoted the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) as dismissing the sources for the article as used by Tempo.

However, Purwanto said if Zahrain or the Malaysian government had other versions, Tempo was open to publishing it.

Step-son’s luxury properties

Zahrain, Purwanto added, was welcome to visit the magazine’s office again, his second visit after a recent one. “It is an honour if he comes occasionally,” said the senior editor.

Tempo had reported on the lavish lifestyle of Najib and Rosmah in a special issue following the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Asia- Africa Conference currently being held in Banding, Indonesia for which Najib flew in today to attend. The write-up touched on Rosmah’s (centre above) penchant for luxury handbags and jewellery, and Najib’s step-son Riza Aziz’s wealth used to purchase luxury properties in the US. The article also mentioned Rosmah’s RM1,200 hairdo expense.

26th ASEAN Summit hosted by Malaysia is a logistical nightmare

April 22, 2015

Published: Wednesday April 22, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday April 22, 2015 MYT 7:20:00 AM

26th ASEAN Summit hosted by Malaysia is a logistical nightmare

by S Paul

ASEAN SUMMIT KE-26I READ with concern the report “Tale of two locations at this ASEAN Summit” (The Star, April 21). [Read ]

Malaysia is playing host to the 26th ASEAN Summit this weekend. All the previous 25 ASEAN AnifahAman2summits were held in one location but Malaysia has chosen to be different. The said meeting will be held both in Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi, which is giving everyone a massive headache.

In these trying times, the Government has time and again pleaded with the rakyat to be frugal and advised us to spend prudently. At the same time, the Government should “walk the talk”. Hence, I cannot understand why the Foreign Affairs Ministry has chosen to incur unnecessary expenditure not only for its officials but also the members of the other ASEAN delegations, media personnel and the ASEAN Secretariat personnel.

 Mind you, some 3,000 officials and secretariat staff will be involved in the summit so one can imagine the cost, as well as the inconvenience, in moving from one location to another. The Foreign Ministry owes the rakyat an explanation.


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.

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