Haris Ibrahim of ABU Fame

September 1, 2016

My Superman: Haris Ibrahim of ABU Fame

by FA Abdul



Haris Ibrahim of ABU (Anything but UMNO) Fame

A few weeks ago, during one of my usual breakfast get-togethers with my close friends, I saw a familiar face walking towards an empty table next to us. It was Haris Ibrahim, a social activist whom I have a very high regard for. For a moment, our gazes crossed and I took the opportunity to smile at him – he nodded and returned my smile.

Throughout my conversation with my girlfriends, I kept an eye on Haris, for I am truly and utterly in awe of him and his incredible personality. Truth be told, I secretly hoped he would turn to look at me too – which he never did (total potong stim on my part).

Image result for Haris Ibrahim and Bernard Zorro Khoo

Anyway, being a Facebook queen, on my way home, I updated my status. It read: “Met Haris Ibrahim at my usual breakfast place and I feel like a little girl who just met Superman.”

In a matter of a few seconds, comments started pouring in. Many of my Facebook friends had very nice things to say about Haris while others shared stories about his dedication to his cause and his courage. One friend, who claimed not to know Haris, was ‘educated’ by means of a long thread of comments on who this ABU champ was.

What happened next totally blew me away. “Ting!”

A few notifications on Messenger informed me about screen shots of my status that had been sent to Haris! Apparently some of them were mutual friends of his. Ayoo kadavuleh, this is gonna be a major embarrassment, I thought.

An hour later, a text message arrived: “Fa, Haris is asking for your convenient time for tosai meet up.” I almost died. And so we did meet up for tosai one fine morning.

Haris was not as gregarious as I thought he’d be – he was a lot more. Star-struck, I utilised our breakfast time to ask him everything I wished to know. This was not going to be an encounter I would waste. We spoke about a lot of things that morning. Race, religion, education, discrimination, corruption, power abuse, hypocrisy, bigotry, faith, trust and hope.

As we spoke about our family and children, I asked him how he separated his time for his children with that of his struggle to fight for what he believes in.

“I have always found it tough to carry out my responsibility as a mother and still be able to find time to do my part in fighting for what’s right for the country. How do you do it, Haris, how do you find the time to be a good father to your children?” I asked while he took a sip of his kopi.

With his natural charm, Haris replied: “I have 10 million children…”

In just one short sentence, he answered a very tough question. Clearly, not everybody is capable of doing what my Superman does. To dedicate your entire being for one single purpose takes a lot. And to be ready to give away your freedom for your struggle is a whole different thing.

Image result for Haris Ibrahim and Bernard Zorro Khoo

Yes, Haris is currently waiting for his appeal following his eight-month prison sentence by the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court for allegedly delivering a seditious speech in 2013.

I tried imagining being in his shoes – I could think of a thousand things I would be doing before I ended-up facing four walls for eight long months. Spending time with my family, friends, traveling within the country, watching movies, going for a karaoke session, hitting the beach, eating all the food I love – the list would never end.

But there he was, answering calls in between our conversation, still attending to people who needed his expertise as a lawyer. Clearly, this man never gives up fighting.

Talking to him, time flew by. After a few more rounds of drinks, it was time to leave – and I managed to ask him one final question.

“I don’t believe in our current government,” I said, “and I fear our Opposition is no different. So what do we do?”

Haris tilted his head, raised his eyebrows and while looking sharply at me, he said, “Look to your right. Look to your left. If the one on your right is not reliable and so is the one on your left – then it is time to take a step forward.”

Profound words indeed. Profound words from my Superman.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution– What It Means and How to Respond

August 25, 2015

Image result for klaus schwab fourth industrial revolution

…we must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater potential peril. Today’s decision-makers, however, are too often trapped in traditional, linear thinking, or too absorbed by the multiple crises demanding their attention, to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future. –Professor Klaus Schwab, Chairperson, World Economic Forum


The Fourth Industrial Revolution– What It Means and How to Respond

By Klaus Schwab

We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.

Image result for klaus schwab fourth industrial revolution

The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.

The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.

Already, artificial intelligence is all around us, from self-driving cars and drones to virtual assistants and software that translate or invest. Impressive progress has been made in AI in recent years, driven by exponential increases in computing power and by the availability of vast amounts of data, from software used to discover new drugs to algorithms used to predict our cultural interests. Digital fabrication technologies, meanwhile, are interacting with the biological world on a daily basis. Engineers, designers, and architects are combining computational design, additive manufacturing, materials engineering, and synthetic biology to pioneer a symbiosis between microorganisms, our bodies, the products we consume, and even the buildings we inhabit.

Challenges and Opportunities

Like the revolutions that preceded it, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world. To date, those who have gained the most from it have been consumers able to afford and access the digital world; technology has made possible new products and services that increase the efficiency and pleasure of our personal lives. Ordering a cab, booking a flight, buying a product, making a payment, listening to music, watching a film, or playing a game—any of these can now be done remotely.

In the future, technological innovation will also lead to a supply side miracle, with long-term gains in efficiency and productivity. Transportation and communication costs will drop, logistics and global supply chains will become more effective, and the cost of trade will diminish, all of which will open new markets and drive economic growth.

HUBO, a multifunctional walking humanoid robot performs a demonstration of its capacities next to its developer Oh Jun-Ho, Professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (W

At the same time, as the economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee have pointed out, the revolution could yield greater inequality, particularly in its potential to disrupt labor markets. As automation substitutes for labor across the entire economy, the net displacement of workers by machines might exacerbate the gap between returns to capital and returns to labor. On the other hand, it is also possible that the displacement of workers by technology will, in aggregate, result in a net increase in safe and rewarding jobs.

We cannot foresee at this point which scenario is likely to emerge, and history suggests that the outcome is likely to be some combination of the two. However, I am convinced of one thing—that in the future, talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production. This will give rise to a job market increasingly segregated into “low-skill/low-pay” and “high-skill/high-pay” segments, which in turn will lead to an increase in social tensions.

In addition to being a key economic concern, inequality represents the greatest societal concern associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The largest beneficiaries of innovation tend to be the providers of intellectual and physical capital—the innovators, shareholders, and investors—which explains the rising gap in wealth between those dependent on capital versus labor. Technology is therefore one of the main reasons why incomes have stagnated, or even decreased, for a majority of the population in high-income countries: the demand for highly skilled workers has increased while the demand for workers with less education and lower skills has decreased. The result is a job market with a strong demand at the high and low ends, but a hollowing out of the middle.

Given the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s rapid pace of change and broad impacts, legislators and regulators are being challenged to an unprecedented degree and for the most part are proving unable to cope. This helps explain why so many workers are disillusioned and fearful that their own real incomes and those of their children will continue to stagnate. It also helps explain why middle classes around the world are increasingly experiencing a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction and unfairness. A winner-takes-all economy that offers only limited access to the middle class is a recipe for democratic malaise and dereliction.

Discontent can also be fueled by the pervasiveness of digital technologies and the dynamics of information sharing typified by social media. More than 30 percent of the global population now uses social media platforms to connect, learn, and share information. In an ideal world, these interactions would provide an opportunity for cross-cultural understanding and cohesion. However, they can also create and propagate unrealistic expectations as to what constitutes success for an individual or a group, as well as offer opportunities for extreme ideas and ideologies to spread.

The Impact on Business

An underlying theme in my conversations with global CEOs and senior business executives is that the acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate and that these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed. Indeed, across all industries, there is clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution are having a major impact on businesses.

On the supply side, many industries are seeing the introduction of new technologies that create entirely new ways of serving existing needs and significantly disrupt existing industry value chains. Disruption is also flowing from agile, innovative competitors who, thanks to access to global digital platforms for research, development, marketing, sales, and distribution, can oust well-established incumbents faster than ever by improving the quality, speed, or price at which value is delivered.

Major shifts on the demand side are also occurring, as growing transparency, consumer engagement, and new patterns of consumer behavior (increasingly built upon access to mobile networks and data) force companies to adapt the way they design, market, and deliver products and services.

A key trend is the development of technology-enabled platforms that combine both demand and supply to disrupt existing industry structures, such as those we see within the “sharing” or “on demand” economy. These technology platforms, rendered easy to use by the smart phone, convene people, assets, and data—thus creating entirely new ways of consuming goods and services in the process. In addition, they lower the barriers for businesses and individuals to create wealth, altering the personal and professional environments of workers. These new platform businesses are rapidly multiplying into many new services, ranging from laundry to shopping, from chores to parking, from messages to travel.

On the whole, there are four main effects that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has on business—on customer expectations, on product enhancement, on collaborative innovation, and on organizational forms. Whether consumers or businesses, customers are increasingly at the epicenter of the economy, which is all about improving how customers are served. Physical products and services, moreover, can now be enhanced with digital capabilities that increase their value. New technologies make assets more durable and resilient, while data and analytics are transforming how they are maintained. A world of customer experiences, data-based services, and asset performance through analytics, meanwhile, requires new forms of collaboration, particularly given the speed at which innovation and disruption are taking place. And the emergence of global platforms and other new business models, finally, means that talent, culture, and organizational forms will have to be rethought.

Overall, the inexorable shift from simple digitization (the Third Industrial Revolution) to innovation based on combinations of technologies (the Fourth Industrial Revolution) is forcing companies to reexamine the way they do business. The bottom line, however, is the same: business leaders and senior executives need to understand their changing environment, challenge the assumptions of their operating teams, and relentlessly and continuously innovate.

The Impact on Government

As the physical, digital, and biological worlds continue to converge, new technologies and platforms will increasingly enable citizens to engage with governments, voice their opinions, coordinate their efforts, and even circumvent the supervision of public authorities. Simultaneously, governments will gain new technological powers to increase their control over populations, based on pervasive surveillance systems and the ability to control digital infrastructure. On the whole, however, governments will increasingly face pressure to change their current approach to public engagement and policy making, as their central role of conducting policy diminishes owing to new sources of competition and the redistribution and decentralization of power that new technologies make possible.

Ultimately, the ability of government systems and public authorities to adapt will determine their survival. If they prove capable of embracing a world of disruptive change, subjecting their structures to the levels of transparency and efficiency that will enable them to maintain their competitive edge, they will endure. If they cannot evolve, they will face increasing trouble.

This will be particularly true in the realm of regulation. Current systems of public policy and decision-making evolved alongside the Second Industrial Revolution, when decision-makers had time to study a specific issue and develop the necessary response or appropriate regulatory framework. The whole process was designed to be linear and mechanistic, following a strict “top down” approach.

But such an approach is no longer feasible. Given the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s rapid pace of change and broad impacts, legislators and regulators are being challenged to an unprecedented degree and for the most part are proving unable to cope.

How, then, can they preserve the interest of the consumers and the public at large while continuing to support innovation and technological development? By embracing “agile” governance, just as the private sector has increasingly adopted agile responses to software development and business operations more generally. This means regulators must continuously adapt to a new, fast-changing environment, reinventing themselves so they can truly understand what it is they are regulating. To do so, governments and regulatory agencies will need to collaborate closely with business and civil society.

A robotic arm by Mitsubishi Electric assembles a toy car at the System Control Fair SCF 2015 in Tokyo, Japan December 2, 2015.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will also profoundly impact the nature of national and international security, affecting both the probability and the nature of conflict. The history of warfare and international security is the history of technological innovation, and today is no exception. Modern conflicts involving states are increasingly “hybrid” in nature, combining traditional battlefield techniques with elements previously associated with non-state actors. The distinction between war and peace, combatant and non combatant, and even violence and nonviolence (think cyber warfare) is becoming uncomfortably blurry.

As this process takes place and new technologies such as autonomous or biological weapons become easier to use, individuals and small groups will increasingly join states in being capable of causing mass harm. This new vulnerability will lead to new fears. But at the same time, advances in technology will create the potential to reduce the scale or impact of violence, through the development of new modes of protection, for example, or greater precision in targeting.

The Impact on People

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, finally, will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associated with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, meet people, and nurture relationships. It is already changing our health and leading to a “quantified” self, and sooner than we think it may lead to human augmentation. The list is endless because it is bound only by our imagination.

I am a great enthusiast and early adopter of technology, but sometimes I wonder whether the inexorable integration of technology in our lives could diminish some of our quintessential human capacities, such as compassion and cooperation. Our relationship with our smartphones is a case in point. Constant connection may deprive us of one of life’s most important assets: the time to pause, reflect, and engage in meaningful conversation.

One of the greatest individual challenges posed by new information technologies is privacy. We instinctively understand why it is so essential, yet the tracking and sharing of information about us is a crucial part of the new connectivity. Debates about fundamental issues such as the impact on our inner lives of the loss of control over our data will only intensify in the years ahead. Similarly, the revolutions occurring in biotechnology and AI, which are redefining what it means to be human by pushing back the current thresholds of life span, health, cognition, and capabilities, will compel us to redefine our moral and ethical boundaries.

Shaping the Future

Neither technology nor the disruption that comes with it is an exogenous force over which humans have no control. All of us are responsible for guiding its evolution, in the decisions we make on a daily basis as citizens, consumers, and investors.

We should thus grasp the opportunity and power we have to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution and direct it toward a future that reflects our common objectives and values.

To do this, however, we must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater potential peril. Today’s decision-makers, however, are too often trapped in traditional, linear thinking, or too absorbed by the multiple crises demanding their attention, to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.

In the end, it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails.

In the end, it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails.

The Horrors of the War in Syria– Failure of Diplomacy

August 18, 2016

The Horrors of the War in Syria–Failure of Diplomacy

by Elle Hunt


A photograph of a boy sitting dazed and bloodied in the back of an ambulance after surviving a regime airstrike in Aleppo has highlighted the desperation of the Syrian civil war and the struggle for control of the city. The child has been identified as five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, who was injured late on Wednesday in a military strike on the rebel-held Qaterji neighbourhood.

The startling image shows him covered head to toe with dust and so disoriented that he seems barely aware of an open wound on his forehead. He was taken to a hospital known as M10 and later discharged.

The image is a still from a video filmed and circulated by the Aleppo Media Centre. The anti-government activist group has been contacted to confirm details about when and where the footage was shot. The group posted the clip to YouTube late on Wednesday, shortly after Omran was injured.

The fight for control of Aleppo has intensified in recent weeks following gains made by rebel groups battling the forces of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

The fighting has frustrated the UN’s efforts to fulfil its humanitarian mandate, and the world body’s special envoy to Syria on Thursday cut short a meeting of the ad hoc committee chaired by Russia and the United States tasked with deescalating the violence so that relief can reach beleaguered civilians.

The UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura, said there was “no sense” in holding the meeting in light of the obstacles to delivering aid. The UN is hoping to secure a 48-hour pause in the fighting in Aleppo.


No political leadership in failing ASEAN

August 4, 2016

 No political leadership in failing ASEAN

by Dr. Munir Majid


The Transformation of Munir Majid: From  an ASEAN Activist to an ASEAN Skeptic

ASEAN is failing. It is not working in the way grand declarations and pronouncement of community just last year proclaim it would. Yet, in a pattern of self-deception which has become a regional characteristic, ASEAN – and its intellectual apologists – continue to deny what is plain for all to see.

If not before it is piece of fiction now to speak of ASEAN centrality. This was again proclaimed when the ASEAN Political and Security Community was pronounced last November. ASEAN Foreign Ministers even agreed in September on a “work plan” to strengthen this.

But, however ASEAN muddles through with a definition on what this centrality means, it is gone.Surely, the first and foremost thing about ASEAN centrality must be that it is central to its member states. Is it? Certainly not in respect of how to project and defend an ASEAN position on the South China Sea.

Some have described ASEAN as toothless in this regard. This is unfair. You cannot expect ASEAN to bite or even bark at mighty China. However you would expect ASEAN to stand up for its principles and sovereign rights of states, big or small. Therefore ASEAN should more appropriately be described as spineless.

This did not use to be the case. When ASEAN declared ZOPFAN (Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality) in 1971, through the leadership of Malaysia’s Tun Razak among others, it was in no position to defend it in a very hot phase – the Vietnam War was raging – of the Cold War. Nevertheless it drew a line in a joint commitment to establish a cordon sanitaire.

When ASEAN so creatively promulgated the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in 1976 – with leaders such as Indonesia’s Suharto and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew at the fore – it was in actuality the origin of ASEAN centrality: when states from outside the region want to come and treat with ASEAN, they had to accede to the TAC, one of whose main tenets was the legal undertaking to resolve disputes peacefully.

Thus it was that China acceded to the TAC in 2003 and the US in 2009. It is interesting to note that in the joint communique in Vientiane last weekend, where ASEAN Foreign Ministers struggled to forge a weak consensus, there was allusion to the TAC – as if, whistling in the dark, ASEAN wanted to remind its outside partners, especially in relation to the South China Sea, of their commitment to the peaceful conduct of states.

If there was some agreement in Vientiane not to make big the arbitration award on the law of the sea which so infuriates China, to lower the temperature in a situation that was spinning out of control, to engage in bilateral negotiations with China among the claimant states, but also to return to the Declaration of Conduct of Parties (2002) framework which will be fulfilled by a legally binding Code of Conduct, it is actually a good thing.

But where is the leadership in ASEAN to pursue the matter with the commitment that is needed? Leaders and ministers meet and then they go back to domestic concerns. Who follows through?

Certainly not the weak secretariat. Who provides the leadership in ASEAN today of the type which saw its establishment of Asean 50 years ago, of the panache and imagination of Tun Razak, Lee Kuan Yew and Suharto, to name just a few of the luminaries of ASEAN days gone by?

This lack of leadership is the reason why ASEAN is failing today. Asean has been happily organising meetings, with rotating chairs, among its members, with its partners (the so-called Asean Plus countries), at the Asean Regional Forum (established in 1994, now with 27 members) and the East Asia Summit (set up in 2005, now with 18 members), where they all come and attest to Asean centrality. Which Asean believes while they do their own thing.

After the hoopla and the linking of arms, there is poor follow up and follow through, except for the organising of more meetings. All too often you hear the assertion: ASEAN will do this and that, will take on the challenge of one thing or the other. Who? Which ASEAN? Doing what exactly?

There is no doubt there are big problems in the region. The biggest is the new regional geopolitics in South-East Asia informed by strategic contest for influence in the region between China and the US.

Weighty academic conclusions have been reached such as South-East Asia has become “the decisive territory, on the future of which hangs the outcome of a great contest for influence in Asia.”

ASEAN – here we go again, ASEAN as one when there is not any – is not able to contend with this new geopolitical reality. There is now an environment in the region out of the control of ASEAN’s institutional capabilities, such as they are. Another comment by a regional expert: “ASEAN suffers from inherent institutional paralysis.”

However, the situation was not any easier at the height of the Cold War at the time ASEAN was established, when the Vietnam war was raging, later when the genocidal Pol Pot regime reigned in Cambodia, which was then invaded, the war between China and Vietnam in 1979 – one thing after another – but ASEAN held together and fashioned a regional order even if it did not exclusively determine its remit.

There was leadership in ASEAN to make it possible to talk about an ASEAN position. Nowadays even the simplest of things take forever to happen.

The leaders talk grandly about a “People-Centric”. Yet they cannot even make sure there are ASEAN lanes at all ASEAN airports and points of entry.


ASEAN’s South China Sea ulcer

July 27, 2016

COMMENT: Why the gloom and doom about ASEAN just because the regional organisation is unable to craft and issue a joint statement on the question of the South China Sea.

That is not unusual. Members can agree to disagree and yet ASEAN can remain a cohesive and purposeful organisation to serve the common interest of its members. The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia is a key document that forms the glue that binds members and its partners reinforced by the ASEAN Charter. The ASEAN way operates on consensus, consultation, and dialogue.

ASEAN is, therefore, not structured like the European Union centered on a huge and overpowering bureaucracy in Brussels. One of the reasons for BREXIT is the United Kingdom’s desire to preserve its sovereignty and free itself from mountains of EU rules and regulations. The Jakarta based regional grouping, on the other hand,  is a collection of sovereign and independent nations, each acting in accordance with the dictates of their respective national interest, yet agreeing to come together to pursue their collective interest to preserve regional peace, security and stability, and promote trade and investment for socio-economic development. So far, ASEAN is a success story. Since 2015, it is working towards becoming an economic community.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen gestures as he delivers a speech during his presiding over an inauguration ceremony for the official use of a friendship bridge between Cambodia and China at Takhmau, Kandal provincial town south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, file photo.

Cambodia’s Foreign Policy is one of equidistance and neutrality with ASEAN as one of its pillars. (pic above Samdech Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia)

South China dispute is a convenient diversion. To label it as ASEAN’s ulcer–academics are prone to using colorful descriptions and cliches–is to me a bit of an exaggeration. To suggest that Cambodia is a surrogate of China is way over the top. It is a sovereign and independent nation and an active member of ASEAN and the United Nations. As such, Cambodia has the right to pursue good relations with China, Russia and United States and other countries. Its foreign policy is one of equidistance and neutrality.

Using labels has never helped to solve problems among nations. One can easily get away by saying that in the case of its dispute with China over the South China Sea, the Philippines is a proxy of the  geo-stategic interest of United States and talking tough because Filipinos think they can rely on US military power to defend their interest. This is to deny that the Philippines may have its rights over the disputed area. What purpose is served if Cambodia, a non claimant state, is seen to be taking sides?  Rightly, Cambodia has been promoting peaceful settlement of disputes and urging China to sign a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea which is an ASEAN initiative. Lest we forget the South China Sea issue simply  put is a complex one, one that will engage our diplomats over a long time. –Din Merican

ASEAN’s South China Sea ulcer?

by Dr Mathew Davies

http://www.newmandala. org

The just concluded meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Vientiane, Lao PDR, looked like it was going to be a high profile failure.  The fear was that the meeting would repeat the 2012 experience of being unable to produce a final communiqué in the face of Cambodia’s insistence that nothing was said that would criticise China over the South China Sea.

Four years later ASEAN may have avoided such a public display of disunity but the released communiqué, together with a JointStatement between ASEAN and China on the SCS, suggest that nothing has been resolved.

The Joint Statement is an insipid document that does nothing to address the cause of the flaring tensions in the region. It is full of bland endorsements of the international legal principles that many have shown a flagrant disinterest in and calls for handling differences in a ‘constructive manner’. If the word constructive in this context is intended to cover the building of military landing strips, the placing of advanced weapons systems and aggressive military posturing, then even given ASEAN’s ability to obfuscate this is a linguistic feat to marvel at.

The Communiqué certainly contains more words on the South China Sea than does the joint statement, a whole eight paragraphs, but it is just as damning. Paragraph 174 notes that only ‘some ministers’ were concerned about ongoing issues (for which read, not the Cambodians). No mention was made of the recent Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling on the South China Sea which had so decisively rejected China’s claims in the region in favour of the Philippines.

Image result for cambodia and south china sea

Instead all states were called upon to work together to both implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and work towards building a Code of Conduct to better manage affairs. These are laudable in themselves but hardly helpful given the Declaration was agreed in 2002 and has conspicuously failed to curtail regional tensions and any Code of Conduct would seriously curtail China’s freedom of action in the region, which is completely unimaginable at this stage.

ASEAN’s continued failure to address the South China Sea in anything approaching an effective manner is not only a short term failure – it now represents a significant and ongoing risk to ASEAN’s health. This challenge will not take the form of a heart-attack, a sudden and existential shock to the system. Instead it is an ulcer, a constant pain in the guts that threatens, slowly but inexorably, to flood the system with bile. This challenge takes two forms.

First ASEAN from 1967 has always been about protecting the sovereignty of its members from the encroachment of great powers – as Alice Ba has memorably put it the ‘regional resilience’ of Southeast Asia. ASEAN was founded in the belief of regional self-determination – in the wake of colonialism and amidst the Cold War it was a call to ensure that Southeast Asian states remained in the driving seat of Southeast Asian affairs.

Today, with ASEAN member Cambodia serving as a surrogate for China against the interests of other ASEAN members, it no longer seems to be that the organisation serves the interests of the region.

Failure in the South China Sea to offer even the most tepid of support for member states claims against a rising China, especially the more moderate of those claims, strikes at the heart of what ASEAN was designed to achieve. If ASEAN cannot talk of member states sovereign claims against external great powers, what is the value of ASEAN to those members?

Second ASEAN’s own quest for centrality in Asia-Pacific security is revealed to be a fruitless quest when there is so much reason to question even ASEAN’s relevance to the most pressing of regional security issues. ASEAN has always sought to spread the norms of consensus decision making that it is supposed to follow internally across the Asia-Pacific as a way to exert some sort of pacifying effect on the great powers of the region. Yet if those same norms are now preventing ASEAN’s ability to engage in a meaningful way with China in what way can they be said to be positive and worthy of others following?

The South China Sea issue, then, is not an external threat to ASEAN, but an internal health risk – a sore that if not addressed will continue to leach its poison into the regional organisation and the faith that its members have in it.

The challenge is not a superficial one. It is not about whether ASEAN will unite in the defence of an American designed international order as was the wish of Obama at the Sunnylands Summit or whether it will continue to forge its own path.

The challenge is about whether ASEAN can continue to be valued by its members for the reasons it was created – whether it has the strength of purpose to defend its members from external interference, whether it can continue as a vehicle for regional self-determination rather than a generator of regional discord, and whether it can choose centrality over irrelevance.

As with any health risk, this challenge needs to be confronted sooner rather than later and with a coherent measured response, not a random assortment of lowest common denominator actions. I fear that the prognosis has just deteriorated.

Dr Mathew Davies is head of the Department of International Relations in the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs.


Beijing manipulates Malaysia’s foreign policy to its advantage

July 14, 2016

Beijing manipulates Malaysia’s foreign policy to its advantage

by Philip Bowring (June 15, 2016)


Although China claims vast areas of sea within Malaysia’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone and the Spratly Islands, some of which are occupied by Malaysia, China’s purchase of assets from the scandal-ridden 1MDB has enabled it to manipulate Malaysian foreign policy to its advantage. –Philip Bowring, Asia Sentinel

Malaysia is succumbing to China’s efforts to undermine the solidarity of other littoral states in standing up to China’s aggressive claim to almost the whole South China Sea. Just at the point when China seems likely to face a judgment against it in the case brought by the Philippines in the Court of Arbitration in The Hague. Although China claims vast areas of sea within Malaysia’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone and the Spratly Islands, some of which are occupied by Malaysia, China’s purchase of assets from the scandal-ridden 1MDB has enabled it to manipulate Malaysian foreign policy to its advantage.

ASEAN Solidarity is also being eroded by the election process in the United States, which is bringing into question the American trade and strategic commitments to East Asia, without which none of the ASEAN countries will resist Chinese pressure for long.

On the face of things, ASEAN Foreign Ministers took a firm line with China at their just-ended meeting in Kunming. Their statement after the meeting said they “express their serous concern over recent and ongoing developments that have eroded trust and confidence, increased tension and which may have the potential to undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.”

“We stressed the importance of maintaining peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea,” the Ministers said. This, they said, was in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

ASEAN retraction

However, the statement was then retracted by the Ministers in an amazing about turn engineered by Beijing with the help not merely of its usual client states, Cambodia and Laos, but also Malaysia. The retraction was also an astonishing embarrassment for Singapore and its Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. Singapore is current coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue.

The Malaysian move followed a remarkable article in The Star newspaper a day earlier by the Chinese Ambassador to Kuala Lumpur, Huang Huikang.  Huang used this platform for an open attack on the Philippines, supposedly a friend and ally of Malaysia. President Benigno S. Aquino III was described as having “acted as a pawn in an outsider’s political strategy” and described the arbitration case as a “farce.” Aquino’s “political legacy will only be a pile of pills from the tribunal.”

Huang went on to praise Malaysia, describing relations with China “the best in history” and urging the incoming Philippine President to follow its example in dealing with China.

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte is wavering in his attitude to China. He clearly wants Chinese money for infrastructure projects that would be forthcoming if he gives ground the sea issue and agrees to bilateral talks, and possible joint resource development. On the other hand, he can hardly walk away from any decision in Philippines’ favor, nor go back on his commitment to the Philippines claim on the Scarborough Shoal, which lies just 120 nautical miles off the coast of Luzon.

Arrogant abuse

The arrogance of Huang in abusing his diplomatic position to attack the President of a neighbor and ASEAN partner should have drawn immediate condemnation from Malaysia. But Huang is accustomed to getting away with this kind of behavior, which suggests he already regards Malaysia as a Beijing tributary and himself as the proconsul. In September 2015, Huang made a highly publicized walk through KL’s Chinatown to indicate that China would look after the interests of its ethnic brethren in Malaysia. Beijing has thereby reversed China’s longstanding commitment not to interfere in other countries internal affairs or use ethnic Chinese minorities for its own political purposes. These are now being used to enhance Chinese interests in claiming a sea whose coastline is only about 25 percent Chinese.

Beijing views Malaysia as the weakest link in the solidarity of maritime states partly by using the position of the Chinese minority as leverage, and partly through the power of money to influence decisions made by the UMNO-led government. The 1MDB case arose at a particularly opportune moment for Beijing, enabling China to come to the rescue of embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Beijing has long focused its military attentions on Vietnam and, more recently with its seizure of Scarborough Shoal, the Philippines. Malaysia has been left alone for now. But Chinese claims are now less of a threat, encompassing as they do waters already exploited by Malaysia as well as others with oil and gas potential, not to forget islands such as Layang-Layang where Malaysia has an airstrip and dive resort. But do not imagine an UMNO government cares about national interests over its own power and money needs.

Hollow Washington

Meanwhile, the US provides little encouragement for a reliable and long-term ally. The emergence of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee is a poor advertisement for western democracy. His anti-Muslim attitudes are offensive to much of Asia, Malaysia included. And his isolationist attitudes suggest that his presidency would see a reduction in the US presence in the region and the withering of the network of cooperation with countries from Japan to Australia and India and including many ASEAN members. President Obama’s “rebalance” Asian rather than Middle East interests would be forgotten.

A US turn away from its traditional promotion of free trade is also a concern. Not merely is Trump critical of free trade agreements but Hillary Clinton too now says she opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), one of the cornerstones of the US tilt towards Asia to meet the challenge of China’s rising influence.

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