From Timor Leste into Murky UMNO Waters of Malaysia

December 1, 2015 (30 days to 2016)

From Timor Leste into Murky UMNO Waters of Malaysia

by Cmdr (rtd) S. Thayaparan

“In history, truth should be held sacred, at whatever cost … especially against the narrow and futile patriotism, which, instead of pressing forward in pursuit of truth, takes pride in walking backwards to cover the slightest nakedness of our forefathers.”

– Col Thomas Aspinwall


Henceforth my commentary on our failing state will be sparse. Others are doing a fine job of wading into the murky UMNO waters of Malaysia.

Since returning from my academic hiatus in Timor Leste or as my Indonesian friends refer to it as Tim Tim, I will be looking back on a life and professional career spent in the service of a country fast becoming foreign to me.

Everything old is new again. In diplomatic circles and among academics, the South China Sea, the efficacy of regional cooperation but especially the influence of China, dominates the discourse.

Depending on who you talk to, generally cynicism replaces what popular spin du jour the power brokers far more interested in political survival than regional stability are serving up. As one ambassador told me, “there is no country without a ruler”.

All this talk of an ASEAN community is merely propaganda for a neo-Cold War between hegemonic interests that small troubled countries find themselves caught between.

As the late S Rajaratnam (who was then serving as Singapore’s Foreign Minister) said at the formation of ASEAN – “a stable Southeast Asia, not a balkanised Southeast Asia. And those countries who are interested, genuinely interested, in the stability of Southeast Asia, the prosperity of Southeast Asia, and better economic and social conditions, will welcome small countries getting together to pool their collective resources and their collective wisdom to contribute to the peace of the world” – alluding to the powerful vested foreign interest that signified the Cold War.

The neo-Cold War dominated by American and Chinese interests, will eventually change the political and social landscape of Southeast Asia. Behind the political rhetoric and yes, the economic advantages brought upon by so-called regional cooperation, lays the dark truth that the constant struggle for individual autonomy and self-interest is in conflict with broader hegemonic stratagems.

ASEAN Community

ASEAN, or the ASEAN community, has to deal with a whole range of issues ranging from a black economy, human trafficking, political corruption and the very real threat of Islamic extremism. The feel-good economic numbers are not one part of the story; it is the least important part when it comes to maintaining regional stability and individual integrity.

Next area of global conflict

In the early 80s, I attended the Indonesian Naval Staff and Command College course (Seskol at Cipulir, Jakarta).

During a seminar about potential areas of conflict, I presented a seminar paper to the commandant of the Staff College and four senior officers from the Indonesian Navy. I posited that the next area of conflict would the South China Sea and gave detailed socio and political commentary about the realities of regional interests and conflicts.

The commandant, Vice Admiral Adang Safaat and two admirals chewed me up. They berated me on the fact that I did not acknowledge the efficacy of Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (Zopfan), another Cold War relic signed in Kuala Lumpur in 1971. Furthermore, they were horrified that I did not place emphasis on the bilateral joint military exercises amongst ASEAN countries.

The two colonels were strangely silent. After the presentation or humiliation as I saw it, the two colonels, Lt Col (Navy) Krisna Rubowo and a retired colonel of Chinese ethnicity who was an active participant of Indonesia’s war of independence (he facilitated the smuggling of arms from Singapore to the Freedom Movement in Indonesia), met me in private.

They told me in confidence that although they did not want to contradict their senior officers, they agreed with my summation. The South China Sea would be the next area of global conflict.

Before I go any further, I wish to speak of the enigma who is General Abdul Haris Nasution. The former Defence Minister and Security Minister of Indonesia is a Batak from Sumatra and a member of Generasi 45, who fought and played a key role in the Indonesian War of Independence.

General Nasution was also a key player and confidant of Sukarno who was one of the founding fathers of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and a close friend of Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito.  He had written books on guerilla warfare informed by actual experience and was on a personal level subjected to the worse of political infighting with the murder of his five-year daughter as collateral damage.

I will expand more on the nature of my friendship with the good General in subsequent pieces, but here was a man who was figuratively and literally scared by military and political life.

I needed a reality check. Was my paper the result of youthful anti-imperialism and seeing shadows where they were none? We were living in the nuclear age and those of us who served in the military felt the resulting anxiety most keenly. I needed the clear-sighted opinion of someone who was close to power but not enthused by it.

Systemic dysfunctions

General Nasution had the reputation of wanting to clean up corruption in the military and someone so inclined had very little use for pandering to conventional wisdom.

I took my seminar paper to General Nasution, who took them and told me he would review them. I got word to meet him a week later in his house. His house was not the palatial structures of most senior retired military personnel. It was small modest house; behind it, was General now President Suharto’s house when he was in the army.

Nasution (photo, in white shirt with author) agreed with my paper but with some caveats. Concerning Zofpan, he was skeptical as to how small nations, with small navies could “persuade” larger hegemons to maintain the integrity of Zofpan.

He was also skeptical on continued allegiances to so-called regional pledges of community building and neutrality when individual successive governments found it profitable to align their interests, with specific hegemons in lieu of maintaining regional solidarity.

The former Defence Minister was well aware of the political vagaries that were part of the reality of Southeast Asian countries. Indonesia’s own experience as (some would refer to as American proxyism) a pawn in American hegemonic interest in this part of the world, demonstrated the disconnect between regional harmony and state self-interest, that fueled the Cold War and now the neo-Cold War.

What I took away from my discussions with people from various military and civilian disciplines at that time was a deep pessimism of speaking with “one voice”. This problem arises not because of diversity or even self-interest. This problem arises because of the systemic dysfunctions that plague individual Southeast Asian countries.

If you listen carefully, we can hear the same sentiment in what Rajaratnam cautioned, “we must also accept the fact, if we are really serious about it, that regional existence means painful adjustments to those practices and thinking in our respective countries.“We must make these painful and difficult adjustments. If we are not going to do that, then regionalism remains a utopia.”

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. Having spent some time in Dili, Timor Leste, the former Naval Commander is back home for good in the murky UMNO waters of BolehLand. I hope he will find to time to write about his experiences of living and working in a newly emerging country, which is seeking to be a member of ASEAN.

I  was in Dili when Tim, Tim was emerging from Indonesian colonialism– thanks to the farsighted President B. J. Habibie– for a MIER-Sosokawa Foundation forum on Preparing TL for entry into ASEAN some years ago (2007). I am today a supporter of Timor Leste’s entry into ASEAN. At that forum I presented a Paper titled Lessons from Cambodia in ASEAN, which was later issued by The Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace– [PDF]Cambodia’s Engagement with ASEAN: Lessons for Timor ……/Working%20Paper/CICP%20working%20paper%20…by D Merican – ‎2007. –Din Merican

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Addressing Strategic Domain Issues in U.S.-China Relations

September 27, 2015


Few dispute that the world’s most important bilateral relationship is in deep trouble. From the US perspective, China’s reckless behavior in the South China Sea, unrestrained cyber attacks against American targets, protectionist economic policies, and escalating political repression at home have demolished the belief that a globally integrated China would be a responsible and cooperative partner. Indeed, recent Chinese actions directly challenge vital American interests and core values.

Chinese leaders, for their part, view America’s strategic “pivot to Asia” as a thinly veiled step to tighten its geopolitical containment of China. Moreover, they have become obsessed with US dominance in international finance and technology and, most important, America’s ideological commitment to liberal democracy, which they regard as an existential threat to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The toxic mix of mutual mistrust and tit-for-tat behavior has brought Sino-American ties to their lowest point since the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. There is now widespread concern that the US and China may be headed for a new cold war. —

Addressing Strategic Domain Issues in U.S.-China Relations

 by Wang Dong, Roy Kamphausen, and Travis Tanner

Wang Dong is Deputy Executive Director of the Institute for China-U.S. People to People Exchange, Peking University; Roy Kamphausen is Senior Vice President for Research at the National Bureau of Asian Research; and Travis Tanner> is Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the 100K Strong Foundation.

On September 22, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Seattle and began a state visit to the U.S. that will culminate in a summit meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Mr. Xi in the White House. Mr. Xi came at a critical moment, especially as recently there have been signs of emerging strategic rivalry in U.S.-China relations.

US President Barack Obama (L) chats with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they walk from the West Wing of the White House to a private dinner across the street at Blair House, in Washington, September 24, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

US President Barack Obama (L) chats with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they walk from the West Wing of the White House to a private dinner across the street at Blair House, in Washington, September 24, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

For a bilateral relationship that is becoming increasingly more complex and interdependent in the areas of cyber, maritime, nuclear, space, military to military relations, and people to people exchange–what can be defined as “strategic domain issues”–are among the most consequential ones. How to expand cooperation while managing differences in those strategic domains will, to a great extent, determine the strategic trajectory of U.S.-China relations.

In a major project run jointly by The National Bureau of Asian Research and the Institute for China-U.S. People to People Exchange at Peking University, leading Chinese and U.S. scholars are studying these strategic domain issues. Based on the joint study our team has done, we believe it is of crucial importance for the leaders of our two countries to face squarely strategic-domain issues, which are among the most sensitive and thorny issues in U.S.-China relations. Below we recommend initial steps toward bilateral progress in each of these strategic-domain areas.

China and the U.S. are highly interdependent in cyberspace, notwithstanding cyberespionage concerns. Our two countries have shared interests in countering cybercrimes and cyberterrorism. These areas can become the first steppingstones toward building mutual trust and expanding cooperation in the cyber domain. The two countries should also seek common ground on cyberattacks, Internet governance, and cyber infrastructure. Essential to this will be a return to a dialogue mechanism to reach agreement on how to protect key information infrastructure and establish a code of conduct in cyberspace.

Maritime security is the strategic domain that China and the U.S. have perhaps the greatest potential for cooperation and mutual benefits—though also great potential for conflict. Put simply, the South China Sea is not and should not be the whole picture of U.S.-China relations. The two sides should clarify their strategic intentions and avoid misunderstanding or misperception. Both sides have shared interests and responsibilities in ensuring freedom of navigation as well as maintaining regional peace and stability. We should put in place crisis prevention and management mechanisms and other confidence-building measures (CBMs). The U.S. and China should sign the air-to-air annex to the U.S.-China Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) On the Rules of Behavior for the Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters signed last November. The two coast guards should expand cooperation in law-enforcement missions, and the two navies in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Nuclear weapons are a critical dimension in U.S.-China strategic relations. On the basis of changing understandings of a credible Chinese second-strike capability, the two sides should begin a nuclear strategic stability dialogue. The two presidents should reaffirm their commitment to denuclearization, particularly as North Korea has restarted its nuclear facilities and is posed for a missile launch. They should impress upon Pyongyang that a nuclear North Korea will never be accepted by the international community, take measures to actively head off the looming crisis, and try to break the impasse by resuming the Six Party Talks.

Space is a strategic domain characterized by high risk of strategic competition with relatively fewer common interests. In order to control strategic risks, China and the U.S. should actively seek to expand cooperation. For instance, the two sides should consider establishing a periodic notification mechanism and regularly exchange information regarding space debris. The two sides should also consider promoting CBMs in the space domain, such as reciprocal commitment to not to disrupt or destroy the other side’s space assets.

A mature and stable U.S.-China military-to-military relationship is crucial for fostering a new model of relations between the two countries. The two militaries should consider bilateral or multilateral military cooperation in non-traditional security arenas. For instance, the two sides might begin with exchanges on peace-keeping operations. The two militaries should deepen their cooperation in maintaining regional security and stability, including in Afghanistan.

People-to-people exchange has become one of the solid pillars of U.S.-China relations. Using people-to-people exchange as a strategic mechanism will help to reverse negative trends and address the trust deficit in the bilateral relationship. The two sides should invest in more opportunities for student exchange and language learning, ensuring these future leaders are equipped with the skills to collaborate with each other.

When the two Presidents meet for a summit in Washington, D.C. on September 25, it is imperative that they engage in a real conversation on these strategic-domain issues. Fully addressing those areas head-on will help mitigate the signs of budding strategic rivalry between China and the U.S., chart the roadmap for the new type of great-power relationship between the two, and anchor U.S.-China relations on a more stable and durable basis in the years and decades to come.

President Xi’s 6-Point Proposals for China-US Relations

by Xunhua News

WASHINGTON, September 25 (Xinhua) — Visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday put forward a six-pronged proposal for next-stage development of China-U.S. relations.

Xi and ObamaXi made the suggestions in his talks with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, which culminated his four-day first state visit to the United States.

– The two sides should maintain close exchanges and communication at all levels. Major bilateral mechanisms like the Strategic and Economic Dialogue and the High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange should be brought into full play.

– The two countries should expand and deepen practical cooperation in various fields, including economy, trade, military, anti-terrorism, law enforcement, energy, environment and infrastructure.

– China and the United States should promote people-to-people exchange and consolidate the social basis for bilateral relations.

– The two countries should respect their differences in history, culture, tradition and social system, as well as development path and development stage, and learn from each other.

– The two sides should deepen dialogue and cooperation in Asia-Pacific affairs.

– They should jointly deal with regional and global challenges, enrich the strategic connotations of their relations, and provide the international community with more public goods.

The Chinese and the U.S. sides agreed to continue the endeavor to build a new model of major-country relationship between the two countries.

Noting that the China-U.S. relationship is one of the most important bilateral ties in the world, Xi pledged to push it forward along the right track.

Since the establishment of diplomatic ties 36 years ago, China-U.S. relations have forged ahead and achieved historic developments despite ups and downs. Xi said since he and Obama reached consensus on building a new model of major-country relationship between their countries at the summit in Annenberg Estate in June, 2013, bilateral ties have kept making new progress, bringing abundant benefits to the people of the two nations and the world at large.

The President said China is ready to work with the United States to hold fast to principles of non-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation, to constantly expand practical cooperation at bilateral, regional and global levels, to manage differences and sensitive issues in a constructive way, so as to push forward bilateral ties always along the right track.

Obama said the United States and China shared common interests on many issues and have made important progress in cooperation in many areas.

The U.S. side thanked China for its important role in such areas as Iran‘s nuclear issue, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and reconstruction in Afghanistan, Obama said, adding his country is willing to maintain close coordination with China in these respects.

The U.S. President called on the United States and China to also enhance cooperation in areas such as climate change, health care and in fight against smuggling of wild animals and plants.

Before visiting the U.S. capital, Xi concluded a busy two-and-a-half-day stay in the West Coast technology and aviation hub of Seattle, where he put forward a four-point proposal on developing a new model of major-country relationship between China and the United States.

Xi-Obama-12The Chinese President will be in New York from September 26 to 28 for a series of summits and meetings marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.

The American Plan for a South Asian “Kosovo” In Rohingyaland

June 18, 2015

The American Plan for a South Asian “Kosovo” In Rohingyaland ( Part 1)

by Andrew KORYBKO (USA)

“As complex as it may appear at times, the main consistency of US foreign policy is that it covers its pursuit of geopolitical self-interest with humanitarian and democratic rhetoric. There’s always an ulterior motive behind the US lecturing countries about ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’, and those two key words should raise immediate red flags to any concerned decision makers in the targeted state that the US is addressing. Being the expert image manipulator that it is, the US never shies away from exploiting human tragedy for its own strategic ends, a lesson that everyone would do well remembering when considering the Rohingya issue in Myanmar“.–Andrew Korybko

As complex as it may appear at times, the main consistency of US foreign policy is that it covers its pursuit of geopolitical self-interest with humanitarian and democratic rhetoric. There’s always an ulterior motive behind the US lecturing countries about ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’, and those two key words should raise immediate red flags to any concerned decision makers in the targeted state that the US is addressing. Being the expert image manipulator that it is, the US never shies away from exploiting human tragedy for its own strategic ends, a lesson that everyone would do well remembering when considering the Rohingya issue in Myanmar. While there certainly are some legitimate grievances that the Rohingya are leveling against the authorities, it’s evident that the US is already exploiting them for its own geopolitical ends. Washington wants to establish a military presence in the Bay of Bengal in order to control China’s pipelines through Myanmar (both of which go through Rohingya-inhabited Rakhine State), but in order to get to that point, it first needs for the Rohingya to have their own autonomous or independent government there.

The first part begins by unraveling the layers of complex context related to the issue, before going into the specifics of the current migrant crisis. Part II then explains how the US aims to create an autonomous or independent Rohingyaland by capitalizing on this tragedy, and concludes with an examination of the multifaceted benefits it would receive through the creation of the South Asian “Kosovo”.

Unscrambling The Context

The plight of the Rohingyas and their place in the bigger picture of American geostrategy against China can appear to be an overwhelmingly complex topic, but it can be subdivided into three simpler categories of general understanding; American grand strategy; Myanmar’s domestic affairs; and the Rohingyas’ situation. By breaking down the bigger, thematic picture into smaller, finer details, one should be able to acquire a more solid understanding of how the US is relentlessly pursuing its own self-interest at the Rohingyas’ expense.

American Grand Strategy:

The US’ post-Cold War foreign policy has hinged on adhering to Brzezinski’s ‘Eurasian Balkans’ concept, which essentially stipulates that the US could manipulate preexisting ethnic, religious, and territorial issues in Eurasia in order to prolong its control of the supercontinent. This can be done in two ways: the method of indirect disorder has the US utilizing proxy actors to stir endless chaos, much as it’s currently doing with ISIL in the Mideast; while direct control involves the US conventionally asserting its on-the-ground dominance, just like it did by building Camp Bondsteel (one of its largest European bases) in occupied Kosovo after the 1999 War on Yugoslavia. Indirect disorder can be used as a modus operandi for establishing direct control, and this is precisely the game that’s at play with Rohingyaland along the Bay of Bengal.


No place in South or Southeast Asia is more susceptible to the Eurasian Balkans concept of American-directed strategic state fragmentation than Myanmar, which has been fighting the world’s longest-running civil war since 1948. To unduly simplify the conflict, it involves the majority Burmese ethnic group in the central part of the country fighting against the myriad minority groups along its periphery, with the rebels seeking a federation but the government fighting for the status quo unitary nature of the state. While the war has been at a stalemate for quite some time, the opening of a new rebel front in the Rohingya’s Rakhine State could be the strategic shift that’s needed to turn the tide against the government, as none of the other rebelling regions or ethnicities is located along the coast.

This factor is exceptionally important since it could enable a slew of foreign patrons to ship massive amounts of material support to the rebels, perhaps even using plausibly deniable methods such as flying other nations’ flags above their arms-running vessels. The inland rebels have no such tactical advantage in this regard, which may be part of the reason why they have yet to be successful in their half-century-long campaign. The addition of a pro-federation rebel movement capable of receiving such supplies could make the decisive difference in finally tipping the balance of power against the government’s forces.


The demographic subject of the present article is at odds with the Myanmar government over its identity. The 800,0001-million-plus Rohingyas claim that they constitute a unique ethnic group, but Naypyidaw sees them as nothing more than the descendants of illegal Bengali migrants, some of whom even fought against the state on several occasions. As such, the government refuses to confer them with citizenship, thus leaving them stateless and unwittingly complicating the present migrant predicament (to be described in the next section). Worse still, because they’re not considered to be citizens, the state is reluctant to actively protect them from the sectarian purges carried out by the ‘Buddhist Bin Laden’ and his pro-Western hyper-nationalist thugs. Instead, it’s settled on a policy of segregation, preferring to force them into separate communities ostensibly out of concern for their own safety. Many Rohingya protest these living conditions that some claim are contrary to their human rights, hence why so many of them have decided to flee the country. Sensing a convenient opportunity for geopolitical benefit, the US has taken up the torch of Rohingya guardianship, advocating loudly in their favor and becoming their de-facto international patron.

The Current Crisis

The Rohingya had already been on the Western media radar since their 2012 persecution, but it’s the current migrant boat crisis that’s made their cause seemingly more urgent. While there are no clear-cut numbers available, the UN estimates that around 100,000 of them have fled by sea in the past three years, which would represent between 10-12% of their total population in Myanmar. These discomfiting numbers clearly indicate that there are some serious domestic issues in Myanmar motivating their exodus, but in and of themselves they’re not cause for direct humanitarian concern. The problem arose when it was reported in early May that around 6000 Rohingya were thought to be lost in the Andaman Sea after having been abandoned by their human traffickers, and genuine horror was experienced when 139 graves were later unearthed in Malaysia, believed to be of dead Rohingyas who perished before reaching their ultimate destination. The squalid camps alongside the Thai-Malaysian border that the illegal Rohingya migrants are regularly kept in have led many to believe that they’re either being abused or held captive by their traffickers. All of these dangers have combined to generate what the UN referred to early last month as a “looming humanitarian crisis”, and the deluge of fake images and internet memes related to the issue have contributed to a feeling of global urgency in addressing it.

Regional Response:

Aung San's Hands Up for GenocideHands Up for Genocide

The destination states of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia don’t want to accept any more migrants, having already absorbed tens of thousands of them in the past couple of years, and previously refused to let the stranded boats land on their territory. According to officials, Malaysia already has received 120,000 Rohingyas, while Thailand claims to be housing 100,000 as it is. Nonetheless, because of the exorbitant international pressure directed against them, all three states countries have agreed to temporarily house the at-sea migrants until they can be sent back home or to a third country, thereby abandoning their earlier policy of turning back the boats. While this may temporarily de-escalate the crisis and give the floating migrants a safe reprieve from the dangerous high seas, it doesn’t address the root cause of why the Rohingya are risking their lives to leave Myanmar in the first place, which is something the US intends to resolve.

Official Myanmar And Bengladeshi Positions:

The issue becomes even more complicated when one takes into account Myanmar’s official position on the matter. Naypyidaw asserts that human trafficking networks are to blame, not government persecution, and that many of the illegal migrants in question are actually from Bangladesh. Government representatives have accused some of them of pretending to be Rohingyas so as to receive preferential aid from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that they wouldn’t be able to procure with their actual Bengali identity. While critics might hark that Myanmar is lying about Bangladesh’s connection to the migrant boat crisis, the latter’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina decreed that those leaving the country illegally would be punished because they’re “tainting the image of the country in the international arena and putting their life into danger”, on top of being “mentally sick” in their pursuit for money abroad. No matter how one feels about Hasina’s comments, the fact that she addressed the topic in such a way confirms that the Bengali government acknowledges that their citizens are involved in this crisis and that it’s not completely about Rohingyas. Her statement lends credence to Myanmar’s claims that many of the migrants may actually be Bengali and inconveniently dismantles the Western media myth that anti-Rohingya persecution is to blame for the boat crisis.

The American Plan for a South Asian “Kosovo” In Rohingyaland (Part 2)

Carving Out The Asian “Kosovo”

There was no way that the US could resist politicizing such a tempting geopolitical crisis, and as expected, it found a way to diplomatically intervene. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell spoke out against the Myanmar government and sprinkled his statement with strong shades of ‘humanitarian intervention/responsibility to protect’ rhetoric when he announced that “There’s the need for the government to do all it can to protect and assume responsibility for members of a long-suffering religious minority group, the Rohingya, thousands of whom have been forced to take to the high seas on dangerous makeshift vessels to escape persecution .” By claiming that the government is responsible for whatever happens to the Rohingya overseas (an utterly ridiculous assertion to level against any state), McConnell is slyly inferring that it has blood on its hands for initiating the highly publicized crisis. This opens the door for the US to potentially deepen its involvement in ‘mediating’ the situation and dictating proposed ‘solutions’ for bringing it to an end. In fact, President Obama already drew a connection between ‘democratization’ and the government’s treatment of Rohingyas, and the State Department demands that they be given immediate citizenship. The US is clearly pursuing ulterior interests by using the humanitarian crisis as a cover for lecturing Myanmar, but what exactly is its end game?

Towards A Federation Model:

More than anything, the US wants to weaken the centrality of the Myanmar state and impose a federation model on the country. While such a governing template could be constructive step towards resolving certain countries’ internal crises (e.g. Ukraine), in others, it may only accelerate the unravelling of the state. Myanmar falls into the second category, as a federation system would inevitably lead to an archipelago of autonomous nation-states scattered all along the country’s periphery, and empowered within their new framework, they can more efficiently oppose central rule. Not only that, but they’d be extremely vulnerable to foreign lobbying in support of their anti-government positions, and the US could coopt them in order to guarantee that Myanmar remains weak and divided for the foreseeable future. If need be, the US could also manipulate each of the autonomous nation-states against one other in order to manufacture a territorial or political crisis that it could then exploit in intensifying its involvement in Myanmar’s internal affairs. It might even one day make the decision to dismantle the Union of Myanmar (the official name of the state) entirely, using the bloody Yugoslav model as a precedent in coaxing a disastrous ‘Reverse Brzezinskiintervention from China.

The Rohingya Autumn:

To get to this point, however, the US needs to deal a critical blow to the Myanmar government so that it reverses its decades-long policy of unity and finally accedes to devolving into a federation.   As explained previously, the most conceivable way in which this could be achieved is if the Rohingya begin a full-scale rebellion against the authorities. A serious uprising in the coastal Rakhine State could more easily be supported by foreign patrons (i.e. the US) than the ones that have been ongoing for decades along the periphery, but if the latter are strategically ordered to renew their anti-government campaign in concurrent coordination with a Rohingya rebellion, then the authorities would be placed in an extremely precarious and unprecedented situation.

The trigger for all of this destabilization could likely be the upcoming autumn general elections, scheduled to take place in either late October or early November. It’s for this exact reason that the US is so insistent that Myanmar grant the Rohingyas citizenship, since it wants them to partake in the election and throw the results for Rakhine State in a predetermined direction. This could take the form of voting for a fringe ‘protest candidate’ or party that has scarcely any hopes of an electoral victory, and when the Rohingya-affiliated candidate or party predictably loses, it could be a general signal for them to initiate their preplanned protest movement against the government. Under such a scenario, the Rohingyas could stage a Color Revolution demanding autonomy or outright independence as ‘compensation’ for what they allege was a ‘rigged election’ (echoing expected US and Western statements on the topic), and per the US’ new patterned approach to domestic interference, this could easily transition into a full-fledged Unconventional War. A similar scenario is that a Rohingya Color Revolution/Unconventional War breaks out sometime this summer in the run-up to the elections, which would be intended to pressure the government in making political concessions to them and the other ethnic rebels prior to the nationwide vote.

The Syrian Model:

The US’ Hybrid War against Myanmar could most likely follow the Syrian Model in extensively involving supportive regional states, in particular, those in which many Rohingya have already settled. This means that Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are candidates for joining the covert ‘coalition of the willing’ against Myanmar, as each of them could potentially train some of their Rohingyas in Color Revolution and/or Unconventional Warfare techniques before sending them back to their home country for future deployment. Such a plan would mirror what Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are doing against Syria, since each of them has already been training regime change-minded Syrians (and members of dozens of other nationalities) on their territory for years now. What the highlighted Asian states would be doing against Myanmar is no different, since it follows the same tried-and-tested pattern that the US has perfected in the Mideast.

Not all of those four countries may participate, however, since political considerations in Bangladesh and Thailand might preclude their involvement. Malaysia and Indonesia, while having their respective reservations, might be tempted to play an active role in the forthcoming conflict if the US succeeds in convincing them that they’d be fighting against anti-Muslim discrimination in Myanmar. It could also sweeten the deal by throwing in certain economic incentives, such as agreeing to bankroll most or all of the operation so long as those respective countries’ territories can be used as training bases. Additionally, it might pressure Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta by making the continuation of existing support (be it political, military, or economic) contingent on them joining the ‘coalition’ in their intended capacities. In exchange for their cooperation, the US might assure them of its support in combating ISIL if it ever establishes a foothold in the Mindanao-Sulawesi Arc, as was nervously speculated upon at the Shangri-La Dialogue meeting late last month. It doesn’t matter whether the US is sincere in this pledge or not (it might even receive some strategic benefit by setting ISIL loose in the region), but what’s important here is that this promise alleviates Malaysia and Indonesia’s greatest insecurity fear and consequently influences them in agreeing to the Rohingya operation.

Chaos For Creative Ends

Weakening Myanmar isn’t the only reason why the US is supporting the Rohingyas, as it has more grand objectives in mind which would be greatly facilitated as well. Here’s what the US has in store for South Asia:

US Bases:

The creation of an independent or largely autonomous Rohingyaland could lead to the establishment of the first American base in mainland South Asia, just as the manufacturing of “Kosovo” led to Camp Bondsteel as its first outpost in the Balkans. The US may exploit the humanitarian concern surrounding the Rohingyas to press for Western ‘observers’ to ‘monitor’ the situation in Myanmar, and the outbreak of any large-scale rebellion there could possibly invite an international intervention (‘justified’ on the false basis of ‘humanitarian intervention/responsibility to protect’) for their support. Whichever way it develops, it’s evident that the US has an interest in gaining a strategic military foothold in the region, since this would then allow it to simultaneously exert more direct influence on the rest of Myanmar, Bangladesh, Northeast India (which the US could contribute to further destabilizing in order to punish Modi for any major forthcoming multipolar moves), and China’s multiethnic and pivotal province of Yunnan.

Break Tf04da2db112214f8b07818he BCIM:

The US’ interest in this corner of South Asia is predicated on the BCIM trade corridor that would connect Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar. Should this ambitious plan be implemented, then the resultant South Asian Silk Road would markedly decrease tensions between India and China, stabilize India’s restive Northeast and Myanmar’s rebellious periphery, and lay the groundwork for tangible development in this impoverished cross-border region. All of these benefits would advance multipolarity within the four-country corridor and fortify its defenses against creeping unipolarity, hence why the US has an important stake in sabotaging the project via its Rohingya manipulations.

Pipeline Ploys:

Energy geopolitics is the guiding motivation for the vast majority of American geopolitical decisions, not least of which is its described designs against Myanmar. China recently opened two strategic oil and gas pipelines running through the country, which incidentally end in Rakhine State. As is known, Beijing is disproportionately dependent on energy shipments transiting the Strait of Malacca chokepoint, and the opening of alternative routes is of the highest strategic order in ensuring China’s energy security. While its moves in Myanmar are certainly a step in this direction, if Rakhine State is destabilized with a future crisis (Color Revolution and/or Unconventional War), or becomes autonomous/independent under American tutelage, then the strategic benefit that Beijing derived from these pipelines would be nullified and conversely become a considerable vulnerability.

Anti-China Proxy War:

The article earlier mentioned how destabilization in Myanmar could be exploited to tempt China into a conventional intervention, which is certainly probable, but it could also be used to destabilize it by other means as well. A return to full-scale warfare could lead to a humanitarian crisis in Yunnan with hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into the province. Limited fighting between the Myanmar government and Kokang rebels earlier this year created a minor international sensation when an unexpected number of people fled to China, some of whom were supposedly turned back. The People’s Republic has reportedly had difficulty accommodating the refugees, demonstrating that it was relatively unprepared for the situation. One should understand that the fighting which prompted the humanitarian exodus was relatively small scale and of minor intensity, and that any real resumption of ethnic warfare along the entire Myanmar-China border would dwarf the earlier refugee crisis and create severe challenges for Beijing.

Jihadist Playground:

Last but not least, the Rohingya issue could become a rallying cry for international jidhadists due to the shades of Buddhist-on-Muslim violence. Experts are already warning that ISIL could recruit disgruntled Rohingyas, and one mustn’t forget that its Al Qaeda rival is also looking to set up shop in the region as well. While a plethora of exploitable regional opportunities present themselves for whichever jihadist group is interested , the Rohingya cause is the only one which has already received global recognition and near-universal sympathy, thereby implying a degree of ‘moral legitimacy’ for aspiring terrorists. Should ISIL or Al Qaeda nest themselves in Rakhine State, the destabilizing repercussions would be enormous and reverberate throughout the entire region. In fact, it might even prompt India and/or Bangladesh to stage some sort of intervention, especially if Rakhine-based terrorists carry out attacks against their countries. Suffice to say, the introduction of Islamic terrorism to Rakhine State would assuredly lead to the further internationalization of the Rohingya issue and constitute a dire security threat for the region’s governments.

Concluding Thoughts

The plight of the Rohingyas elicits understandable concern from many, but the unfortunate aspect is that the US is manipulating the world’s short-term emotional response to the current migrant crisis in order to pursue its long-term geopolitical interests in South Asia. The intended creation of a pro-American autonomous or independent Rohingyaland is akin to the same strategic pattern that it first spearheaded in “Kosovo”, except the US can now achieve its goals via the indirect Hybrid War lessons that it’s perfected in Syria. The crusade for state creation is inherently tied to the destruction of the targeted host state, which in this case would see Rohingyaland (and perhaps many other ethnic nation-states) being baptized through a sea of fire in separating from Myanmar. The US has concrete geopolitical reasons for why it supports the Rohingyas, chiefly concerning the establishment of its first intended base in mainland South Asia and its desire to cut off China’s non-Malacca pipeline routes through Myanmar. Additionally, with a firm regional outpost in Rohingyaland (whether direct or via proxy), the US can obstruct the multipolar BCIM trade corridor and leverage influence in Bangladesh, Northeast India, the rest of Myanmar, and perhaps even further afield in Yunnan Province. The coming months will be indicative of how far the US plans to go in supporting Rohingyaland, but by all current indications, it seems that this is a cause which Washington won’t give up on anytime soon.

Andrew Korybko is the political analyst and journalist for Sputnik who currently lives and studies in Moscow, exclusively for ORIENTAL REVIEW.

China at the Crossroads

June 17, 2015

Elliot School of International Affairs @ The George Washington University, Washington DC:Lecture by Dr. David Shambaugh–China at the Crossroads

Published on May 1, 2015

Professor  Dr.David Shambaugh discusses China’s political future and the reform challenges faced by the ruling Communist party.

CSIS on China

Claimant Tactics in the South China Sea: By the Numbers

June 16, 2015

EWC AP BulletinNumber 314 | June 16, 2015


Claimant Tactics in the South China Sea: By the Numbers

By Christopher Yung and Patrick McNulty

About the Authors

Christopher Yung is an independent consultant and Senior Advisor at Asia Taktik, LLC. He was formerly a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University. He can be reached at Patrick McNulty, at the time of writing, was a contract researcher at the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs, National Defense University. He now works at the George Washington University’s Language Center. He can be reached at

IN 2012 the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University embarked on a year-long effort to examine the tactics of the rival claimants to the South China Sea maritime dispute. NDU collected data on and categorized the types of tactics being employed by the various claimants between 1995 and 2013 through an extensive open source internet search. The data were then entered into a comprehensive data base and the results analyzed to discern patterns of claimant behavior. The results provide important findings as tensions in the South China Sea continue to be acute.

The first noteworthy finding is that China is the most extensive user of the tactics identified by this research. In terms of sheer volume of numbers of actions, China accounted for over 500 actions dating back to 1995. The Philippines registered just over half of that number with just over 300 actions. Vietnam undertook about 150 actions, and Taiwan, about the same, whereas Malaysia took just over fifty and Brunei registered the smallest number of actions with fewer than twenty. China is also the most active user of both military and paramilitary actions to protect its maritime territorial claims. The research found 89 and 59 uses of military and paramilitary actions respectively in support of China’s maritime territorial claims between 1995 and 2013. This comprised 55% of the total incidents of the use of military and paramilitary actions in support of maritime claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines registered 43 and 17 uses of military and paramilitary actions in the same period and Vietnam registered under 15 combined uses of military and paramilitary actions in the same time period. We recorded Malaysia as using military and paramilitary actions 9 times and Brunei 5 times. Taiwan was recorded to have used paramilitary actions 10 times and the military 22 times. In evaluating this data it is important to recall that this is unclassified data. It is likely that many more military and paramilitary actions have taken place and these have not been publicly recorded. The one category of action where China’s actions are exceeded by one of its rivals is in the legal sphere. The Philippines initiated sizeably more legal actions than did China between 1995 and 2013.

One of the persistent topics of hot debate is: what is the origin of the tensions in the South China Sea? The Chinese argue that the U.S. “pivot” to Asia emboldened China’s rivals to act provocatively in the region, thus triggering Chinese actions. U.S. observers have argued that in the 2009 time frame (prior to the “Rebalance to Asia” policy announced in 2011) China started acting aggressively. The data bear out this latter assertion. The Chinese claim that it was responding to greater aggressiveness of its rivals is not borne out by the data . Although the Philippines registered more actions in 2008 than in previous years, the specific actions recorded do not suggest they would prompt China to ramp up military/paramilitary actions in the South China Sea.

When the research team examined both the ADMM+ and the DoC/CoC negotiations it found a wide array of diplomatic activity being employed. China vigorously pursued an approach that we labeled “Coalition Diplomacy” in which it either sought to build coalitions or break up coalitions against it (Vietnam and Philippines seeking to have ASEAN issue a joint statement identifying the South China Sea as a security problem needing resolution). China was eventually successful in preventing the issuing of such a communique.

The smaller states of Malaysia and Brunei actively supported ASEAN statements and positions on the territorial disputes, even though they were reluctant to specifically state these positions themselves. All of the claimants actively pursued “dispute management” diplomacy by agreeing in principle that maritime territorial disputes should be resolved peacefully, but China would not agree to a binding code of conduct.

A number of U.S. policy implications are derived from this research. The broad policy instruments that China seems to have been willing to use to advance China’s claims suggests that the U.S. must be prepared to be equally nuanced in its policy response. At a minimum, a greater inter-agency approach to U.S. management of the South China Sea appears to be in order. Also, given the Chinese use of a wide range of tools to advance China’s claims, the United States and its partners in the region will need to think through the possible repercussions and benefits of using a wide range of policy instruments of their own as sticks as well as carrots; or to put it another way, whether there is something to be gained from horizontal escalation if China’s behavior becomes too aggressive.

“The U.S. can and probably should be even more encouraging to put these territorial disputes before international courts and the U.S. should strongly consider directly aligning its policy stance on management of South China Sea territorial disputes directly with international law.”

Second, and related to this first point, the U.S. may need to think carefully how it might utilize the U.S. Coast Guard as a possible response to Chinese extensive use of maritime law enforcement vessels to advance China’s claims. This policy recommendation is much more complex than it sounds because at present the U.S. Coast Guard enjoys a very good relationship with the Chinese Coast Guard and the former will not want to needlessly sacrifice the good working relationship.

A third implication is that China appears to be willing to take action to bolster its position in the SCS while eroding or directly challenging U.S. credibility in the region. This strongly suggests that the United States needs to pay particularly close attention to its alliance partnerships and emerging relationships with friends in the region. It also strongly suggests that in order to forestall the erosion of U.S. credibility the United States national security establishment should internally engage in thinking through thresholds of Chinese activities, beyond which the U.S. would need to consider a more forceful response.

Fourth, China appears to have one “soft spot”–legal actions. That suggests that the U.S. can and probably should be even more encouraging to put these territorial disputes before international courts and the U.S. should strongly consider directly aligning its policy stance on management of South China Sea territorial disputes directly with international law. The recent State Department paper on its legal analysis of the South China Sea claims is a solid step in this direction.

Finally, since it is apparent that China’s diplomatic efforts are designed to keep the ASEAN states divided and off-balance, it is in American interest to promote the exact opposite. Anything the United States can do to assist the ASEAN countries in increasing the political and diplomatic costs to Chinese intransigence is a good thing.

Related Articles:

China’s Grand Strategy is not Absent, Just Contradictory, by Denny Roy, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 292, December 3, 2014

Asia’s Importance, China’s Expansion and U.S. Strategy: What Should Be Done?, by Robert Sutter, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 283, October 28, 2014

China’s New Calculations in the South China Sea, by Yun Sun, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 267, June 10, 2014

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‘The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security’

March 9, 2015


‘The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security’

In foreign policy, every success is just the start of the next crisis. Brent Scowcroft (above with President G.H.W. Bush) has pointed this out often in his four ­decades at the top of the American national security establishment. When the Soviet Union was conceding defeat in the nuclear arms race, he wondered if Gorbachev would instead “kill us with kindness.” When the Evil Empire was crumbling, he fretted about loose ­nuclear weapons and ethnic slaughter. When American troops were routing Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf war of 1991, he worried that “Iraq could fall apart,” leaving us to pick up the pieces. Again and again, this taciturn Mormon has been the Woody ­Allen of American foreign policy.

In “The Strategist,” his informative but inelegant biography of Scowcroft, Bartholomew Sparrow argues that this former national security adviser (to both Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush) and still-reigning wise man (as he nears his 90th birthday) could also be considered “the United States’ leading foreign policy strategist of the last 40 years.” But just as there are writer’s writers, Scowcroft is a foreign policy strategist’s foreign policy strategist, not widely known outside the guild. One of Ronald Reagan’s national security advisers cited him as a model; so did one of Barack Obama’s. “They all wanted to be Scowcroft,” one study says of his successors. Sparrow, a professor at the University of Texas, wants to narrow the gap between guild esteem and public acclaim.

But the qualities that account for this esteem make Scowcroft a tough subject for a biographer: How do you give color to the classic gray man? Journalists have ­described him as having “the gaunt demeanor of a church elder,” his words “carefully weighted to ensure that they contain not a gram more of information than their author wishes to convey.” Even after hours of interviews, Sparrow’s Scowcroft remains a steely and reticent figure.

As national security adviser, Scowcroft was known for being a trusted “honest broker,” scrupulous about presenting different views and sticking to a fair process for debating and deciding among them. He also brought an unglamorous focus on details, since strategies, he said, “succeed or fail depending on whether they are implemented effectively.” Sparrow tries to discern a strategic vision as he traces his subject’s central role in many of ­recent history’s main events. What emerges is less a coherent vision than a distinct ­temperament — one resistant to the temptations of wishful thinking and suspicious of promises of either easy war or easy peace. “We’re humans,” Scowcroft has said. “Given a chance to screw up, we will.” That temperament has surely frustrated more than one commander in chief looking for the simple choice or smooth way forward. But it also may, more than anything, explain Scowcroft’s celebrated record.

When he was coaxing the Cold War to a peaceful end, a foreign policy triumph for which Scowcroft deserves a nontrivial share of credit, he rejected triumphalism in favor of caution. He was always “very worried about all that could go wrong,” one former aide told Sparrow, ordering preparation for all manner of unintended consequence as others gloated. Soaring rhetoric made him wince; Reagan’s thunderously cheered call to “tear down this wall” struck him as a “lousy statement” that only “made it less likely that Gorbachev would tear down the wall.” When it did come down, Scowcroft resolved that there would be “no jumping on the wall.” If ever there was a real mission-­accomplished moment, this was it. Yet compare that response to the later Bush administration’s triumphant reaction to the fall of Baghdad.

This caution held true of more controversial turns in Scowcroft’s career as well. In the wake of the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989, Scowcroft was caught by news cameras giving a respectful toast on an unannounced trip to China. He thought it less important to project outrage or serve up punishment than to get the United States-China ­relationship back on track. What seemed the morally ­upright stance, Scowcroft argued, would do little more than provoke a backlash by an insecure Communist leadership. “If this meant appearing less than zealous about defending the human rights of Chinese dissidents,” Sparrow writes, “so be it.” But Scowcroft was denounced as “supine” by the just-departed American Ambassador, Winston Lord, “obscene” and “embarrassing” on the floor of Congress.

Scowcroft has called his approach ­“gardening,” designed to patiently foster long-term change. For vindication of the long view, Sparrow considers an earlier diplomatic effort that met with ­opprobrium: the Helsinki Accords of 1975, which at first seemed to trade acceptance of Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe for token concessions on self-determination and human rights. When the ­agreement was signed by the Ford administration, some White House aides protested, the president’s approval rating fell and even Ford’s own party blasted him in its 1976 platform for “taking from those who do not have freedom the hope of one day getting it.” Yet to Scowcroft, Helsinki’s token concessions would create a framework for more meaningful change. And ultimately, far from bolstering Soviet power, the ­accord turned out to be, in the assessment of the historian John Lewis Gaddis, “the basis for legitimizing opposition to Soviet rule.” Eastern-bloc human rights organizations started calling themselves Helsinki groups.

Since Scowcroft long prided himself on a “passion for anonymity,” it was a “shocking gesture,” in Sparrow’s words, when he took to The Wall Street Journal in 2002 to warn, under the headline “Don’t Attack Saddam,” of the dire consequences of an invasion of Iraq. The administration was staffed by protégés and former colleagues, and George W. Bush is the son of one of his best friends. To them, this public counsel was an act of betrayal — ­prophetic perhaps, but betrayal just the same. All the more so because, a decade earlier, Scowcroft had been a key advocate of using American military power to respond to Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Scowcroft and His GeneralHonest broker: Scowcroft with General H. Norman Schwarzkopf in 1990

In both cases, despite the apparent tension, Scowcroft had been focused on the same goal: preserving order. When ­Hussein threatened to upset the ­existing order, he felt Washington had to respond. And when the Bush administration threatened the existing order, he also ­responded.

In the final years of the Cold War, Scowcroft’s conservative focus on order may have been sufficient: Progress was on his side. But today, at a time when the international system is changing, for better or worse, the imperatives have ­become more complicated, less clear-cut. Scowcroft ­acknowledged later that once the Cold War ended, “we were confused, ­befuddled. We didn’t know what was ­going on, and we didn’t think it mattered much.” Or as Sparrow puts it, he does not try to “alter the nature of the game; . . . he plays the game set before him.” It was Scowcroft who helped momentarily push and then retract the widely derided concept of “the new world order.”

At one point in “The Strategist,” ­Sparrow paraphrases Seneca: “Luck is the result of preparation coupled with ­opportunity.” Scowcroft would most likely agree. In looking back at his accomplishments, he talks of “guiding and managing forces,” of “not bucking a tide.” Even if the imperatives today are different, Scowcroft’s temperament is still a useful tonic. For if anything makes Scowcroft a “great man,” it is that he does not see great men (or women) as all that significant.

Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, a member of the secretary of state’s policy-planning staff from 2009 to 2012, is an Eric and Wendy Schmidt fellow at the New America Foundation. He is writing a book about George Marshall.

A version of this review appears in print on March 8, 2015, on page BR24 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: On His Watch