How ASEAN can be resilient


September 11, 2018

How ASEAN can be resilient

Borge Brende and Justin Wood / Khmer Times
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ASEAN has long been praised for its ‘open regionalism’ whereby it pursues economic integration among member states without discriminating against non-ASEAN economies. 

 

As other powers rise, ASEAN is at risk of losing its collective commitment to a shared vision for the region and a common stance on geopolitical issues. Unless ASEAN remains united as a bloc, write Borge Brende and Justin Wood, it will lose its ability to convene regional actors, mediate disputes, and shape principles of international behaviour and interaction.

Is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) resilient enough to thrive amid the regional and global transformations taking place today? While the global economy continues its broad-based expansion, disruptive economic, geostrategic, and technological forces may threaten Asean’s gains of recent years. To survive, Asean members must make important decisions about the role of their community in regional affairs. With the right choices, the region can convert disruption into an opportunity for a resilient future.

ASEAN has undergone an impressive turnaround in the past five decades. A region of turbulence, disharmony, and underdevelopment in the 1960s is today one of relative peace and economic success. Much of the credit belongs to the community-building efforts of the countries under the Asean umbrella. But the region also benefited strongly from the post-World War II global architecture and institutions that promoted inward flows of investment and outward flows of exports.

Today, this global backdrop is in a state of profound transformation. The benefits of free and open trade are being questioned, international institutions are being challenged, new geopolitical powers are rising, and – despite ups and downs – the global economy continues to tilt further toward emerging markets. All of this creates an opportunity for new and competing visions of how the world should be organized and run.

Alongside rising geopolitical uncertainty, ASEAN countries must grapple with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The exponential development of technologies such as artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, precision medicine, and autonomous vehicles is transforming economies, businesses, and societies.

ASEAN members will feel the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution acutely. Consider the future of jobs. The working-age population in the bloc is increasing by 11,000 people daily and will continue to grow at this rate for the next 15 years. This demographic expansion is happening just as many existing jobs will be substituted by intelligent automation and AI. Systems of taxation that rely on labour income will come under pressure. National budgets will be challenged at exactly the moment when Asean members must increase their investment in reskilling labour forces and developing infrastructure for this new age.

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Or consider the future of manufacturing. Technologies such as 3D printing and cheap industrial robots are enabling products to be made in small, highly-customized forms rather than large batches of uniform goods. For ASEAN, the shift from centralized global supply chains to localized production systems could have a serious impact on export revenues and the investment by which it is driven.

Faced with these disruptive shifts, ASEAN must strengthen its community. Economically, regional resilience can be bolstered by building a genuine single market: ASEAN has 630 million citizens with rapidly rising spending power. Fully implementing the ASEAN Economic Community will be key. With a strong regional market, ASEAN can drive its own economic destiny, rather than relying on demand from external markets, and will be better insulated against potential protectionist shocks.

Creating a single market for services will be critical. Here, especially, ASEAN members must respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, tackling issues such as harmonization of rules governing the use of data. New technologies – including digital platforms, big-data analytics, and cloud-based services – do not recognize national borders and function best when they operate at scale. With a single digital market, ASEAN can develop truly pan-regional services in finance, health care, education, and e-commerce.

Of course, ASEAN should not build a fortress that keeps out the world. Indeed, the bloc has long been praised for its “open regionalism,” whereby it pursues economic integration among member states without discriminating against non-ASEAN economies. This approach has been integral to its economic strategy from the beginning, and continues with the soon-to-be concluded Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership joining ASEAN with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand.

Strengthening the political-security community is equally essential. With the architecture of global governance being challenged, ASEAN members must make their voices heard if they want a world that supports their interests. Individually, Southeast Asia’s countries carry little weight; collectively, however, they represent almost a tenth of the world’s population and nearly 5 percent of its GDP.

Historically, ASEAN has played a pivotal role in facilitating regional relationships, giving rise to the notion of “ASEAN centrality” in Asia. In 1993, the bloc established the ASEANn Regional Forum – now with 27 members – to foster dialogue on political and security concerns. It established the East Asia Summit, currently with 18 member states, in 2005.

Today, however, the geopolitical context is evolving. As other powers rise, ASEAN is at risk of losing its collective commitment to a shared vision for the region and a common stance on geopolitical issues. Many observers believe that other countries are undermining ASEAN n unanimity by developing dependencies with individual countries, built on investment, trade, and assistance. Unless it remains united as a bloc, ASEAN will lose its ability to convene regional actors, mediate disputes, and shape principles of international behaviour and interaction.

The so-called ASEAN way, characterized by consensus-based decision-making and non-interference, has served ASEAN well, and the bloc would be unwise to jettison it. But a reassessment is needed if ASEAN is to speak with a strong voice on regional matters, rather than allowing dissenting voices within the group to prevent the adoption of collective positions. Given that existing global institutions are being challenged, and given the rise of Asia in global affairs, Asean must reinforce its ability to influence the debate.

The World Economic Forum on ASEAN will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam, on September 11-13 and will provide an opportunity for such a reassessment. In an increasingly uncertain world, the need for the countries of ASEAN to deepen their community and their commitment to integration and collaboration is stronger than ever.

Copyright Project Syndicate 2018.

Borge Brende is President of the World Economic Forum; Justin Wood is Head of Asia Pacific and a member of the Executive Committee of the World Economic Forum.

 

 

Data Driven Preventive Diplomacy For ASEAN Member States


July 6, 2018

Data Driven Preventive Diplomacy For ASEAN Member States

by Hana Hanifah and Askabea Fadhilla, The Habibie Center

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

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ASEAN countries are no strangers to conflict and violence. As a region comprising diverse nation-states, Southeast Asia has experienced a number of inter- and intra-state conflicts. Political stability in the region has improved over the last decade, especially due to a decline in inter-state disputes. But intra-state disputes in the form of ethnic conflicts, violence against minorities and violent extremism — including terrorism — are gaining ground.

 

There are ongoing reports about Rohingya trying to escape from Myanmar and seeking refuge in Malaysia. Amid the Myanmar army’s denial of its alleged atrocities against the Rohingya, about 700,000 Rohingya have reportedly fled the country since August 2017.

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Meanwhile, according to the Global Peace Index, the Philippines is one of the least peaceful countries in the region due to its bloody war against drugs and crime that has resulted in increasing rates of homicide, incarceration and extrajudicial killings. Based on the same report, Indonesia had the greatest performance drop in the Asia Pacific in terms of peacefulness due to an increase in politically-motivated terrorism and growing tensions between hard-line fundamentalists and minority groups. Indonesia is also more and more vulnerable to the threat of an alliance between the so-called Islamic State, Darul Islam and some local violent extremist groups, as shown in the recent Surabaya bombing.

Even decades before the United Nations’ An Agenda for Peace report in 1992, ASEAN had committed to maintaining peace in the region without using the label of ‘preventive diplomacy’. From its inception, ASEAN was intended to be a regional conflict-prevention mechanism that internalised the practices of peaceful dialogue, consultation and consensus building among its members, amid the geopolitical uncertainty and diplomatic breakdowns that characterised the Cold War period.

The ASEAN Regional Forum defined preventive diplomacy for ASEAN in 2001 as member states’ diplomatic or political action to prevent disputes or conflicts that could pose a threat to regional stability, with the purpose of preventing such disputes from escalating to armed confrontation and minimising the impact of those conflicts and disputes on the region.

But in practice, preventive diplomacy in ASEAN is limited to the execution of forums and meetings that do not necessarily producing binding mechanisms to resolve potentially destabilising intra-state conflicts. ASEAN seems to be stuck in confidence-building measures and has not completely implemented preventive diplomacy as envisioned by the United Nations.

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Critics point to the development gap and significant political differences between ASEAN member states. The ‘ASEAN way’ that rests on the principles of consensus building and non-intervention is often cited as one of the factors that undermine a deeper commitment to implementing preventive diplomacy. ASEAN’s limited definition of preventive diplomacy is also criticised for constraining the practice of preventive diplomacy in the region to only include conflicts between and among states. This excludes non-state and intra-state conflicts or violence, which are seemingly growing in the post-Cold War era.

But the biggest challenge to preventive violence in ASEAN yet to be taken seriously is the lack of knowledge about conflicts and violence. To this day, it remains a challenge to pinpoint the general trend and exact number of violent events and conflicts within ASEAN. Some instances were allegedly perpetrated by the state, while others were committed by non-state entities and individuals. Although some reports intuitively indicate that violence in ASEAN is increasing, it is hard to identify the exact number of incidents because the data is scarce and rarely updated.

The limited reliable data that is available reveals that each country in Southeast Asia has its own patterns and characteristics of conflict and violence. In terms of intensity, there are also differences in the number of casualties and frequency of incidents. The types of violence also differ and include civil wars, insurgency, crimes, communal conflicts and violence against minority groups.

Relatively little data on violent incidents existed until recently, and the data is generally focused at the national level. Data on regional trends is patchy and scattered across various sources, which makes it difficult to generate a quick and accurate analysis to aid policy making processes. Not all countries have the capacity to record such data, which itself can be a controversial process in a number of ASEAN member states where conflicts are sometimes highly political.

Knowledge about the distinct features of violence in ASEAN is crucial to enable policymakers and stakeholders to identify shortcomings in the region’s approach to responding and preventing conflict. Such knowledge would also equip them to come up with effective policies and strategies to promote peace and stability in ASEAN.

A knowledge-based approach would enable stakeholders to resolve conflicts more effectively — not only by managing the impacts but also by preventing the escalation of future conflicts and violence. It would also encourage better practices of data collection and recording violence in and between ASEAN member states — which is essential to monitoring and evaluating preventive diplomacy and progress towards peace in the region.

Hana Hanifah and Askabea Fadhilla are Researchers at the ASEAN Studies Program, The Habibie Center, Jakarta.

 

Can Japan learn from Malaysia too?


June 30, 2018

Can Japan learn from Malaysia too?

Yes, Kim Beng, what you say resonates with me. We can share our experiences and also learn from one another. What we need is  a clear heart, an open mind and lots of humility. It is not about America First or building Fortress America. It is about our capacity and willingness to learn from one another. We must first understand that we are not islands unto ourselves.  Why look EAST only? Look everywhere.  I welcome comments.–Din Merican

COMMENT | Japan, unknown to many, is a hybrid. It has an imperial system steeped in ancient Japanese culture and Shinto religion. But it also has a Whitehall parliamentary system, and a bureaucracy that recruits on the basis of what top universities like University of Tokyo, Waseda University and Tokyo University of Foreign Studies can produce. The latter is not unlike the practice of France that tends to pick its best elites from ENA (or Ecole Nationale Administration), indeed, also Sciences Po.

More importantly, Japan has a security alliance with the United States, that is predisposed to relying on the nuclear deterrent provided by Washington DC, even though Japan purportedly cannot house, base and allow any nuclear warships to traverse through its ports, according to the doctrine once laid down by Prime Minister Eisaku Sato.

Yale historian,Paul  Kennedy. who wrote the book ‘The Rise and Fall of Great Powers’ in 1988, referred to Japanese foreign policy as “omnidirectional.” Neither East nor West, Japan is the best – only that the so-called definition of the “best” in Japan involves a high degree of adaptation, adjustment and innovation to suit Japan.

By anecdotes, none of the anime characters, for example, are truly Western. Not even Eastern. But the end product is a Japanese anime that is imbued with huge eyes, sharp features, and accentuated shapes, all of which have been innovated to achieve that distinctive flavour that only anime fans can associate with.

But even as Malaysia Look East, what can Japan learn from Malaysia though? It is high time that Tokyo looks at Malaysia (anew) for three specific reasons.

First, at a fertility rate of 1.34 according to the UN Population research, as reported in NHK, Japan is greying and shrinking in future. Japan is growing older, and in human demography, smaller. Second, Japan has a serious security problem viz a viz North Korea and China. Both countries may want to trade with Japan, even ultimately gain from it, but they are not in a position to let Japan off lightly on historical issues, especially Japan’s previous colonisation of them.

Thirdly, the aging of Japanese society has repercussion in terms of its security outlook and posture too, even democracy. As the people become older, they demand Japan be a responsible power, too, one that can stand up on consistent Japanese principles of honour, dignity and values, all of which play into the hands of the right-wing political elements who may argue that ancient Japanese values are strongest in right-wing parties. If this is the trajectory, Japanese politics would turn right even before it can become centrist, let alone leftist in future.

But, regardless of the permutations above, Japan can learn from Malaysia in terms of our democratic experimentation and consolidation too. At the ripe old age of  93 in a couple of weeks – Dr Mahathir Mohamad has shown that “age is a number” – one can be a democrat if one is committed to it. Indeed, Prime-Minister-in-Waiting Anwar Ibrahim, too, is already 71.

In his speech in Istanbul on June 19, Anwar explains that he is not young too. But he is vested his life into promoting and protecting democracy by virtue of the political imprisonment that he had gone through, causing him to lose 10.5 years of his life in prison. In the outlook of Mahathir and Anwar, age is not a factor in reeling back from pursuing peace, freedom and democracy, which are lessons that the whole of Japan should be learning from Malaysia. Old is gold.

More importantly, while close to four million Malaysian youths did not register to vote in the 14th General Election, the total voter turnout was 82 percent, just four percent less than 2013. The ones who voted out the kleptocratic excesses of the government of Najib Razak were the youth too. In fact, 75 percent of the membership of Bersatu, a party led by Mahathir, is less than 35 years of age.

Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, a top youth leader of Bersatu, even gave up his Oxford graduate scholarship twice to fight for a better Malaysia. One of Mahathir’s top strategists, Dr. Rais Hussin, is barely 50. But he fought against all odds to defend the Malaysian democracy, and recruited the likes of Dr. Maszlee Malik, his peer in International Islamic University, to be the education minister.

Women’s power

Japan can also learn from Malaysia in terms of the women participation. Prior to May 9, which was the day of the electoral upset, seven out of 10 female voters in Malaysia were usually pro-establishment.

But on the day of the election, the women refused to go with the systemic abuses and flagrant corruption of Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor). Many rooted for Mahathir and Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the wife of Anwar Ibrahim. Wan Azizah, who is an eye specialist is now the deputy prime minister. Words have it that the speaker or the deputy speaker of the parliament could be Hannah Yeoh, again, another woman.

Fourthly, the Malaysian election is establishing the norm to help China understand that “lopsided agreements,” and “uneven contracts,” the likes of which have been seen not only in Malaysia, but throughout the international trading system spanning from Asia to Latin America.

These agreements have to be thoroughly reviewed. Malaysia does not want any bad relationship with the world’s largest market, as that as would be the equivalent of practising destructive trade practices. But Malaysia is an emerging trading nation that merely broke into the top 20 trading nations of the world only in the last 20 years.

Malaysia cannot squander away the hard work and labour of the previous generations while allowing another economic juggernaut to walk over us. This is how Malaysia has reacted to the United Kingdom in 1982 with the “Buy British Last” campaign. Back then, Malaysian government merely wanted the fees imposed on Malaysian students to be reduced so that more Malaysian students can benefit from the necessary academic training and skills transfer.

When then prime minister Margaret Thatcher, herself a tough negotiator, refused to relent, Malaysia had no choice but to diversify the number of locations the Malaysian government can send its students abroad. Malaysia is not about to impose any protectionist measure on China. But improper and suspicious trade agreements involving China and the previous regime have to be reviewed with a fine-tooth comb.

Indeed, there may not be a one-to-one analogy between Malaysia of the past and now, even though the administration is once again back in the hands of Mahathir. But there are many things that Japan can learn from Malaysia. Just because Japan is a member of the G7 while Malaysia is a member of Asean, the latter must learn from the former. As Malcolm Gladwell the author of ‘David vs Goliath’ made plain – small does not mean weak; silence too does not mean consent.

On May 9, Malaysians staged a strategic electoral upset quietly and deftly, precisely because Malaysians at large have given more than enough chances to Umno and BN to reform themselves. They didn’t. Hence, what happened on May 9 was a reformation pioneered by the likes of Anwar and subsequently led by Mahathir when the former was still under imprisonment. With good coordination and partnership, Pakatan Harapan achieved the impossible.

Japan, being a country based on creating new breakthroughs, should take Malaysia as a major democratic breakthrough, and a shiny example of what peaceful transition of power can achieve.


PHAR KIM BENG is a Harvard/Cambridge Commonwealth Fellow, a former Monbusho scholar at the University of Tokyo and Visiting Scholar at Waseda University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

The Diplomatic Big Bang


June 16, 2018

The Diplomatic Big Bang

by Ahmed Charai

https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/12515/diplomatic-big-bang

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Clinton, Albright, Kissinger, Kerry, Baker and Powell–Past Secretaries of State

Diplomacy is changing before our eyes.

“The unspoken objective is to constrain the U.S., and to transfer authority from national governments to international bodies. The specifics of each case differ, but the common theme is diminished American sovereignty, submitting the United States to authorities that ignore, outvote or frustrate its priorities…. By reasserting their sovereignty, the British are in the process of escaping, among other things, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.” — Ambassador John R. Bolton, Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2017.

The Singapore summit is indeed historic. First, it is so because just a few weeks ago we were closer to a nuclear war than to even the semblance of a peace process. The way we got here is surprising, because it did not obey the usual rules.Image result for The Singapore Summit at Sentosa

A few days ago, during the G7 summit held in Canada, US President Donald Trump upheld his decisions on tariffs and his positions on the trade deficit. These stances followed his decision to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement and the Iranian “nuclear deal”. It is clear that the new US administration challenged the alliances inherited from the Cold War. President Trump, a businessman, not a politician — one of the reasons he was elected — is asking America’s trading partners just to have “free, fair and reciprocal” agreements. It is probably not all that unusual to feel affronted when asked for money or to regard the person asking for it as mercenary or adversarial. It does not always mean that this feeling is justified.

Pictured: Donald Trump and other heads of state deliberate at the G7 summit on June 9, 2018 in Charlevoix, Canada. (Photo by Jesco Denzel /Bundesregierung via Getty Images)

In short, President Trump’s arguments, which sound like a leitmotif, go back to the economic aspect of things. NATO? Why should it be normal that, in order to defend Europe, the American taxpayer pays the heaviest part. Free trade? Why should America suffer a trade deficit with so many countries? Climate change? The results of the Paris Climate Change conference, COP 21, were apparently not only costly but questionable, and to critics, looked like a list of unenforceable promises that would not have come due until 2030 — if ever.

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A new paradigm is shaping up on the international scene: This is the first time that the US domestic policy is to prevail over its so-called “strategic” role — sometimes possibly to the detriment of allies.

Ambassador John R. Bolton, before he was appointed National Security Advisor, rejected any external constraints or supranational authority — starting with the WTO’s trade dispute body, the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU):

“The unspoken objective is to constrain the U.S., and to transfer authority from national governments to international bodies. The specifics of each case differ, but the common theme is diminished American sovereignty, submitting the United States to authorities that ignore, outvote or frustrate its priorities…. While many European Union governments seem predisposed to relinquish sovereignty, there is scant hint of similar enthusiasm in America…. By reasserting their sovereignty, the British are in the process of escaping, among other things, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.”

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America’s Walras John Bolton–The Trade Wracking Ball

Unfortunately, Europe is the first to suffer from this new reality. But is the European Union able to stage a showdown? Probably not. The populist wave flooding the EU countries is primarily the result of the social impacts of the fiscal policy imposed by Germany. While the US has an unemployment rate effectively past full employment, the rather sluggish growth in Europe produces a near-zero effect on this indicator. With 27 members, and because of the rule of “one country one vote,” as well as a possibly outdated view of how to incentivize growth and finance pensions, Europe has been slowing down even the possibility any development on issues such as immigration or common defense. Europe is shattered, all the more that there does not seem to be any solution on the horizon.

The group called the European Union does not weigh much against the forced march of Donald Trump. The US President only believes in bilateral agreements when it comes to international relations. The use of the principle of ex-territoriality, or diplomatic immunity, has taken the agreement with Iran out of the equation. The big French and German companies have already withdrawn from it.

Diplomacy is changing before our eyes. “The Western camp,” it seems, is becoming nothing more than a specter that does not rest on any on-the-ground reality.

Inevitably, each power will have to adapt, according to its own interests. As Europeans continue to cast their votes, these adjustments may, in turn, feed current divisions even more.

Ahmed Charai is a Moroccan publisher. He is on the board of directors for the Atlantic Council, an international counselor of the Center for a Strategic and International Studies, and a member of the Advisory Board of The Center for the National Interest in Washington and Advisory Board of Gatestone Institute in New York.

© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Foreign Policy Perspective: The Return of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in an Election Stunner


May 18, 2018

 

Foreign Policy Perspective: The Return of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in an Election Stunner

By Richard Javad Heydarian

https://www.cfr.org/blog/strategic-implications-malaysias-election-stunner

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Malaysia’s recent national election was a stunner for many reasons. Not only did the election return a nonagenarian to power, but it also ended the six-decades-long one-party hegemony of Barisan Nasional (BN). For the first time in Malaysia’s post-independence history, the opposition is in power. Crucially, long-time opposition leader and democracy activist Anwar Ibrahim has been pardoned and released from prison, enabling him to eventually take the helm of the Malaysian state, paving the way for deep political reforms.

Yet Mahathir Mohamad’s return to power is not only potentially transformative for Malaysian domestic politics. It also has far-reaching strategic implications. First of all, Malaysia may revisit its increasingly cordial, if not acquiescent, bilateral ties with Beijing, which heavily invested in upgrading relations with the previous Najib Razak administration.

Similar to the case of the Philippines during the Benigno Aquino III administration, domestic anti-corruption initiatives in Malaysia could have a significant impact on external relations with China. Former President Aquino III’s good governance reforms primarily targeted Beijing-backed projects launched under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration. These anti-corruption efforts against China-backed projects, along with Aquino III’s tough South China Sea policy, led to an overall deterioration in Philippine-China bilateral ties, which reached its apotheosis in 2016 as the Philippines won a decision at an international tribunal in The Hague against Beijing’s claims to an expansive “nine-dash line” of territory in the South China Sea.

Malaysia under Mahathir may quickly implement anti-corruption reforms; he has already apparently barred Najib from leaving the country, and vowed that the government will reopen investigations into the 1MDB state fund scandal. A major issue driving the Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan coalition victory was the nationwide uproar against the 1MDB corruption scandal.

The former Prime Minister and his associates have been accused of embezzling as much as $1 billion from the state fund. The 1MDB debacle also sparked international investigations into the Najib government, as the United States, Singapore, and Switzerland, among other countries, froze accounts and launched investigations against Malaysia’s investment fund body.

But as Western governments began threatening criminal probes against top Malaysian officials, Najib began to fortify strategic and economic relations with China, which became a key source of investments for Malaysia. And the former prime minister was unapologetic about it.

As the new Mahathir government moves towards potentially prosecuting Najib after placing him under a travel ban, greater scrutiny of Chinese investments could be coming. Before the election, Mahathir complained about the potential for rising housing costs for Malaysians triggered by an expansion in real estate projects by Chinese companies, and a potential influx of Chinese property buyers. “Here we gain nothing from the [Chinese] investment… [W]e don’t welcome that,” he recently lamented. Mahathir also has repeatedly expressed concerns about over-reliance on Chinese technology, engineering and labor for Malaysian infrastructure projects.

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Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad will review relations with Xi Jinping’s China

Among China-led projects that could be reconsidered is the $13 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) railway, connecting Kuala Lumpur with less developed eastern regions. Mahathir has indicated that he may scrap the whole project. He has also warned about the threat of a debt trap, citing the case of Sri Lanka, which was forced into humiliating debt-for-equity deals with China due to its inability to repay ballooning debts to Chinese state firms.

Secondly, Mahathir likely will take a stronger stance against China’s growing strategic assertiveness across Southeast Asia. Under the Najib administration, Malaysia remained reticent to openly highlight Beijing’s behavior in the South China Sea, eager to maintain booming economic ties with China.

Under Mahathir, Malaysia’s policy of strategic acquiescence toward Beijing could change. Unlike Najib, Mahathir seemingly views China as a potential strategic threat. He has described the Xi administration as “inclined towards totalitarianism” and increasingly belligerent, a government that “like[s] to flex [its] muscles” and “increase [its] influence over many countries in Southeast Asia” in a “very worrisome” manner. Mahathir further has warned against growing militarization of the South China Sea, where Malaysia is one of the four Southeast Asian claimant states.

Malaysia is currently occupying multiple land features, including the Swallow Reef, a reclaimed island with its own naval base. Historically, China has been less assertive within Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea than it has been in the economic zones of the Philippines and Vietnam, due to cordial bilateral relations with Malaysia. In recent years, however, Chinese navy and coast guard have been more active within Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone in the area. Nonetheless, the Najib administration adopted a softer tone than other Southeast Asian states such as Vietnam and the Philippines, which filed an arbitration case against China.

Finally, Mahathir could place his country, once again, at the center of Southeast Asian affairs, where senior, high-profile figures tend to play an outsized role in setting the regional agenda.

 

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In fact, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional organization largely owes its existence as well as peaceful evolution over time to the efforts of powerful, often domineering regional leaders like former Singapore Prime Minster Lee Kuan Yew as well as Mahathir during his previous two-decades-long stint as Malaysian Prime Minister from the 1980s to early 2000s Mahathir shaped ASEAN’s relations with great powers, including China, and its response to regional economic and strategic crises, especially the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.

Mahathir’s return to the center of power in Malaysia could also provide leadership and foster internal coherence within ASEAN, which has increasingly lost its way in recent years due to in-fighting among member states and the growing influence of China in Southeast Asia.

Mahathir is expected to build on the efforts of his predecessors, who managed to improve historically tense relations with neighboring Singapore, the current chairman of the ASEAN, over the past two decades. His personal gravitas, as a regional elder statesman, could also mean greater deference among his significantly more junior colleagues in the regional body.

“Notwithstanding his age (ninety-two years old) and his need to focus on domestic political challenges including the 1MDB scandal, rising inequality, and rebuilding political institutions, Mahathir’s return to the stage could give more purpose and substance to the ASEAN.”–Richard Javad Heydarian

In recent years, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has a dominant figure within ASEAN. Yet Duterte has been mired in controversy, coming under fire for his human rights record and, especially, too cozy relations with China. Last year, with the Philippines holding the organization’s rotating annual chairmanship, ASEAN kept largely silent over South China Sea disputes as well as the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, probably the two largest regional challenges. As a result, ASEAN often appeared irrelevant in shaping regional affairs.

Notwithstanding his age (ninety-two years old) and his need to focus on domestic political challenges including the 1MDB scandal, rising inequality, and rebuilding political institutions, Mahathir’s return to the stage could give more purpose and substance to the ASEAN. Throughout the decades, Mahathir has been a constant fixture in regional meetings, seen as a regional bigwig and an indispensable source of strategic wisdom across Southeast Asia. Indeed, it is likely that Malaysia’s Prime Minister will once again try to leverage his influence within ASEAN to advance not only his country’s interests, but also make the regional body a more relevant player in addressing key challenges, including in the South China Sea. Mahathir’s unlikely and stunning return could be not only a game changer domestically, but for the whole Southeast Asian region.

Richard Javad Heydarian is a nonresident fellow at ADR-Stratbase Institute, Manila, and the author of The Rise of Dutere.

Malaysian Joker


March 20, 2018

http://www.sarawakreport.org/talkback/malaysian-joker/

Image result for Zahrain Mohamed Hashim

I know Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia Dato Seri Zahrain Mohamed Hashim very well. We have been close  friends for a long time. At one time, we were in Parti KeADILan Rakyat helping Anwar Ibrahim who was leading the coalition Pakatan Rakyat of PKR, DAP and PAS for GE-12 in 2008.

For reasons of our own, we left PKR. Dato Zahrain rejoined UMNO while I chose to remain a private citizen and a strident critic of the Najib  administration. We have remained close friends and we did not let politics divide us.

When he was appointed our Ambassador to Indonesia, he consulted me about the nature of the job, and sought my advice. I told him to accept the appointment but added that the job would be a challenging one since it would involve representing the elected government and the country at the same time. His duty, I said, was to do a professional job.

On the basis of the feedback I got from my Indonesian friends and associates, he is a good Ambassador with close ties to the business community, the media, the politicians, civil society leaders, and the Indonesian Foreign Ministry. While we may disagree on many issues, we have been have not allowed our differences to affect our friendship. In my opinion, Dato’ Seri Zahrain is not a Malaysian joker. He is our country’s Ambassador appointed by our King to represent Malaysia.–Din Merican

Malaysian Joker

Despite the probe into 1MDB in several countries, there is “no case” against it and all allegations involving it are part of a “political game”, Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia Zahrain Mohamed Hashim said.

“There is no case. The police, MACC and the attorney-general have studied (the 1MDB case) and found there are no elements of fraud. It is the same case in the Parliament.

“There is no theft involved, no missing funds and no illegal flow of funds from 1MDB. 1MDB is formally still in business,” he was quoted as saying.

Zahrain also said that it has been established that no money from 1MDB – started by the government to develop investment and business – had been channelled into Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s personal account, as alleged in a report by TheWall Street Journal.

The RM2.6 billion in Najib’s account was instead a gift from a Saudi Arabian donor, he stressed.

Zahrain also questioned why US authorities did not liaise with their Malaysian counterparts if they were “sincere” in addressing the 1MDB issue.

Our comment

There is a simple question to be put to the latest joker to dance naked on behalf of Najib  Razak. If the Attorney General’s report exonerates 1MDB, then why was it unconstitutionally declared an Official Secret?

Furthermore, if “there is no case” how does he describe the civil case in the US, now pending whilst the criminal side of the investigation gets under way?  If there is no action, how does he describe the forceable seizure of the yacht Equanimy in Indonesia and Jho Low’s jet in Singapore?

If no imprisonments, how does he explain the present incarcerations of Khadem Al Qubaisi, Mohammed al Husseini and Prince Turki in their various jurisdictions?  All were key players in the 1MDB scams.

And why are Jho Low, Casey Tang, Jasmine Loo, Nik Faisal et al all on the run afraid to show their faces?  Why did Jho Low buy himself a St Kitts & Nevis Island passport?

Lastly, why did Riza Aziz’s personally owned company Red Granite Pictures just plead a deal with the US authorities and pony up US$61 million, in a plain admission that the money was – as stated only too clearly in the DOJ submissions – stolen from 1MDB?

Sadly, the Malaysian government has now evolved into a fully fledged criminal enterprise and its representatives have been transformed into gangsters of the sort that deny even the most glaring and obvious facts when challenged.

If the people want to be governed by such shameful shysters it is up to them, but they ought not to forgive these thieves and liars for attempting to steal the election as well as the country’s wealth.